In San Francisco, more than 1,300 miles from the proposed route of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, an agency charged with regulating air pollution from industrial plants and home heaters says the project is a threat.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has joined scores of municipalities and interest groups from California to Maine that have adopted resolutions on Keystone XL or crude from Alberta’s oil sands that the pipeline is designed to carry.
In Montana, Commissioner Richard Dunbar of Phillips County, the U.S. entry point for the pipeline if it is built, said he could only wonder why distant towns oppose the project.
“That just baffles me,” Dunbar said in an interview. “Why would they have an interest in something that doesn’t go through their county or state?”
The Bay Area air pollution agency, based more than 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers) south and west of the pipeline’s route, said the project proposed to deliver heavy crude from Alberta’s oil sands to Oklahoma will worsen global warming for everyone. It’s the first time the board has taken a stand on a project beyond its jurisdiction, Chairman Ash Kalra said.
“In order for us to meet really important air quality goals and greenhouse-gas emissions standards, we have to stop looking at 20th century technologies,” Kalra said in an interview. “That requires us to speak out on major issues about how we get our energy.”
The $5.3 billion pipeline proposed by TransCanada Corp. would carry heavy crude from Alberta’s oil sands to Steele City, Nebraska, across Montana, and North and South Dakota. Because it passes over an international border, the U.S. State Department is reviewing the project.
Proponents say it will create jobs, boost tax revenue for school districts and towns along the route, and displace oil imports from places such as Venezuela. Critics say the pipeline will worsen global warming and threaten streams, rivers and aquifers with the potential for a spill.
On Aug. 7, the air district’s board, made up of elected officials from nine San Francisco Bay Area counties, adopted a resolution that calls on President Barack Obama to deny a permit for the pipeline. It notes that developing Canadian oil sands produces more greenhouse gases than typical crudes.
Producing oil “carried by the Keystone Pipeline XL would counteract greenhouse-gas reduction achievements made by local climate protection efforts in the Bay Area and throughout California,” according to the air district resolution.
The resolution echoes comments by Obama, who has said the Keystone decision will be made based on the project’s contribution to climate change.
“The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward,” Obama said in June.
Dunbar, who is also president of the Montana Association of Oil and Gas and Coal Counties Inc., said the pipeline will have significant economic benefits. The association in 2011 passed a resolution backing Keystone that cited “great economic benefits” for Montana and the U.S. The coalition includes 34 energy-producing counties including Carbon and Petroleum.
“The oil sands are going to be developed whether this project gets approved or not,” Dunbar said. “There’s no rationale to their thinking.”
Keystone has become a flashpoint between Obama and U.S. House Republicans who three times this year approved measures that would allow the project to go forward without a State Department permit. The project will create more than 20,000 jobs and carry 830,000 barrels a day of “secure North American oil supplies to U.S. refineries,” according to the website of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
In a review that has stretched for four years, Obama first rejected the pipeline because its original route took it through Nebraska’s Sand Hills region, a national natural landmark. Calgary-based TransCanada changed the route and filed a new application, now under review by the State Department.
Environmental groups dismissed the State Department’s March 1 draft assessment that said the pipeline won’t raise the risk of global warming, because the oil from Alberta would find its way to market with or without the line. They say Keystone will show whether Obama will fulfill an inaugural-address vow to tackle global warming.
A decision is expected by year’s end. In the meantime, the type of crude to be carried through the pipeline, bitumen from Alberta, has spawned protests in New England towns.
Municipalities such as Burlington, Vermont, and Waterford, Maine, passed resolutions to prevent an existing pipeline from carrying oil sands crude. Vermont regulators told the Portland Montreal Pipeline Co. that it will need a new permit if it seeks to reverse the flow on a pipeline linking Portland and Montreal to carry Alberta oil to Atlantic coast refineries.
“The Town of Waterford expresses its opposition to the transport of tar sands through our town,” according to a resolution passed March 2. “Such transport is of no benefit to Waterford and entails unacceptable risk to our river, our public health and safety, property values, recreation resources, water quality, and the pristine natural resources upon which our community depends.”
Closer to the pipeline’s route, opposition has also come from Indian nations such as the Black Hills Sioux of South Dakota. The tribes say the project is a threat to drinking water and violates treaties with the U.S. government, according to Jennifer Baker, a Colorado attorney who has worked with tribes on the issue.
Indian nations have approved several resolutions calling on Obama reject the project.
“There’s a lot of land at stake here which tribes have some serious interest in,” Baker said in an interview. “There are probably countless sacred sites, burials, cultural resources in those lands. The tribes would like to see the project not built.”