BP Plc’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico helped fuel environmentalists’ opposition to TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline, the company’s chief executive officer said.
“I never expected this kind of opposition,” Russ Girling, president and CEO of the Calgary-based company, said today at a news conference in Washington where he cited the effect on public attitudes from BP’s spill last year and pipeline breaks on land.
Girling spoke as environmentalists wearing blue T-shirts saying “No tar sands” filled most of the seats in a meeting room in Washington and applauded every opponent testifying during the final public hearing on TransCanada’s plan to build a 1,661-mile (2,673-kilometer) line to transport Canadian oil from Alberta to Texas refineries.
The U.S. State Department, which has jurisdiction because the project crosses an international border, has heard from more than 1,000 witnesses during nine hearings, Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones said during a press conference after today’s testimony ended.
The proposal poses “no significant impacts to most resources” along the route, according to a State Department environmental review released Aug. 26. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Aug. 4 that the department would make a decision by the end of the year. Jones said today that the department doesn’t have “any particular timeline” now.
Critics say the production of oil from Canadian sands releases more greenhouse-gas emissions than conventional oil and threatens the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies 30 percent of the water used in the U.S. for agriculture.
‘Yes, You Can’
“This pipeline is a dangerous, deadly, polluting pipeline,” Erich Pica, president of the U.S. unit of Amsterdam-based Friends of the Earth International, said during his testimony. “This pipeline should and must be stopped.”
TransCanada has been harassing Nebraskans to obtain access to land, doubling and tripling offers that ranchers keep declining for fear that a spill would taint water and make their property and cattle worthless, said Susan Luebbe, a third-generation rancher who traveled from Holt County, Nebraska, to testify. She told reporters she rejected an offer of $18,600 from TransCanada to let the pipeline cross her land.
Outside the building, hundreds of protesters gathered for a rally featuring music and speeches by environmentalists urging President Barack Obama to reject the TransCanada project.
“Yes, you can,” opponents shouted in the direction of the White House. “Stop the pipeline!”
The project won’t create lasting jobs, according to Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Takoma Park, Maryland-based Chesapeake Climate Action Network, one of the event’s organizers.
“The biggest job killer on this planet is rapid, global climate change,” he said in an interview. “There is no trade-off between jobs now and jobs later.”
About 15,000 miles of oil pipelines in seven states already cross the Ogallala aquifer, Girling, the TransCanada CEO, said today. “That resource will not be jeopardized,” he said.
The Keystone XL pipeline will create 20,000 jobs immediately, Girling said. “This is a shovel-ready project, and we’re ready to go,” he said.
TransCanada and Washington-based industry groups including the American Petroleum Institute have said the pipeline will ease U.S. dependence on crude shipments from the Middle East.
Protesters began gathering in Washington last night to voice opposition to the project.
14 Hours Early
“This pipeline is cutting through my state,” Ethan Nuss, 27, said in an interview. He said he is from Kansas and now lives in Washington. The pipeline’s contribution to the “threat of climate change” concerns him, Nuss said.
He said he arrived 14 hours before the hearing’s start to ensure he got on the witness list. Nuss said he was arrested in a protest against the pipeline in front of the White House.
Actress Daryl Hannah and James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, were also among those arrested during August sit-ins at the White House. Environmental-advocacy groups including the Center for Biological Diversity sued the federal government in U.S. District Court in Omaha, Nebraska, on Oct. 5, calling the review a “sham public process” and seeking to block the project because TransCanada is already clearing grass along the planned route in that state.
The opponents in blue in the hearing room at the Ronald Reagan Building were countered by a smaller contingent of Keystone project supporters, including orange-clad members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America and a group of people in green shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “Keystone pipeline means jobs.”
“We too care about” the environment, Terence O’Sullivan, general president of the Washington-based union, which represents construction workers, said at a rally in support of the pipeline in front of the building where the hearing was under way. “We also care about putting green in workers’ pockets.”
He said officials should take swift action to reduce the 9.1 percent U.S. unemployment rate.