Canada Support for Keystone Pipeline Falls, Nanos Says

TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline is losing popular support in Canada, a development that could embolden opponents of the project, according to a poll released today by Nanos Research Group.

Canadian support for the $5.4 billion link between Alberta’s oil sands and U.S. Gulf Coast refineries has declined to 52 percent in December from 68 percent in April, while opposition has increased to 40 percent from 28 percent. The survey of 1,000 Canadians taken between Dec. 14 and Dec. 16 has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, according to the Ottawa-based agency.

The poll adds to evidence that a push by environmental groups, aboriginal activists and celebrities such as musician Neil Young opposed to big oil projects may be affecting public opinion. President Barack Obama’s government is weighing whether to approve TransCanada’s plans. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a strong proponent of the pipeline, a key part of the country’s plans to find new markets for its oil.

The Canadian government “has to be concerned about the erosion of approval in Canada, not just in terms of its impact in Canada but also in terms of the U.S.,” Nik Nanos, president of Nanos Research and Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said in an interview. “This has implications for the anti-Keystone movement in both countries.”

Environmental Barometer

Keystone is becoming a barometer for many environmental groups on Obama’s commitment to addressing climate change.

The U.S. State Department is overseeing the review of the pipeline because it crosses an international border. The agency is preparing a final version of an environmental review that will assess whether Keystone would contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, which many scientists believe are warming the planet.

A State Department official said today the agency will give the public more time to comment on the pipeline, which could delay the final decision.

A Bloomberg National Poll in December showed support in the U.S. was at 56 percent of respondents. That survey also found that 58 percent said they want Canada to take steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as a condition for approval.

Canadian oil-sands developers are counting on Keystone XL to lift heavy crude prices by connecting them to the U.S. Gulf Coast, the world’s largest refining center, as they double production by 2025. Keystone would ship about 830,000 barrels a day.

Global Warming

Environmentalists are trying to block the line because they say it would encourage oil-sands development, which releases more of the carbon dioxide that scientists say is warming the planet than extracting some conventional crudes.

A glut of oil caused by a lack of transportation options for Alberta production has led to Canadian heavy crude selling last year for an average $24.46 a barrel less than the U.S. benchmark.

Other proposed pipeline projects for Albertan oil include Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline to the Pacific coast that also faces opposition from environmental and aboriginal groups and a separate TransCanada pipeline to transport oil to eastern Canada.

Canada’s government has been staging a public relations battle with opponents of the nation’s oil industry for years. The latest volley came from Neil Young, the Canadian folk singer famous for songs such as “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man,” who held a press conference and a concert in Toronto last week to protest development of the oil sands. He compared the environmental impact to the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima in Japan.

That comparison “is as inaccurate as it is insulting to victims,” Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver told reporters today on a conference call.

The Nanos poll also found that 94 percent of Canadians have heard of the project, up from 92 percent in April. Of those surveyed, 48 percent had a positive impression of the project, down from 60 percent in April.