Where does the approval process for Keystone XL stand?
After almost five years and about 12,000 pages of review, I hope it’s coming to a conclusion. The State Department issued a supplemental draft environmental impact statement in March. They’re due to issue a final environmental impact statement, hopefully in the next month or so. At that point, the State Department makes a final statement, and then they move to this thing called a national interest determination. Specific criteria are outlined: They include foreign trade, energy security, economic development, jobs. That process is supposed to last up to 90 days.
Why is it taking so long?
It’s become a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the fossil fuel industry. And the opposition has coalesced around this pipeline. The industry has had a number of catastrophic events over the last couple of years that have heightened public awareness about what pipelines do and the potential risks that they involve—things like [BP’s] Macondo blowout. People want to know that it’s being done safe. So in terms of our pipeline, through the permitting process, we’ve agreed to, you know, 57 new conditions which will make this pipeline even more safe. And this is brand-new technology that we’re using. And on top of that, we’re applying new standards and new equipment to it which will make it as safe as you can build the pipeline.
Do you believe there’s misunderstanding among those who oppose the pipeline from an environmental standpoint?
I’m not sure that there’s very much misunderstanding at all. Those that are opposed aren’t opposed to pipelines. They’re opposed to development of the Canadian oil sands and have used sort of every weapon in their arsenal to try to convince people that this pipeline is the fuse to growing the Canadian oil sands. This is in fact not a question of alternative energy vs. oil. This is really just a question of where the U.S. wants to get its oil from.
NASA scientist James Hansen has said the pipeline will be “game over for the planet.”
If you shut [the tar sands] down in its entirety, you eliminate one-tenth of 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The way that Hansen would describe it, this is the worst carbon bomb in the world. But if you shut it down, basically you shut down 3 million barrels a day of oil that flow to the U.S. And the impact that would have on oil prices and the U.S. economy is huge. The impact that it would have on GHG emissions is not even perceptible. The fact is that Keystone itself won’t actually impact the rate of growth of the Canadian oil sands, nor will it impact what the U.S. refines every day. If they don’t refine Canadian oil, they’re going to refine Venezuelan oil.
You’ve said that Keystone would be the safest pipeline your company has built. What makes it different? What makes it safer?
It’s not just safer than what we’ve built but what anybody’s built. Look at the way pipelines have done river crossings. When you’re moving crude oil, one of the most difficult things to manage is an incident around moving water. What we do now is drill a hole underneath the river, so if you have a break in the pipeline, it’s 30 to 90 feet below the river bed. We’ve pretty much eliminated the risk of a spill into a moving waterway.
With respect to how we monitor that, we’ve got satellite-driven monitoring sensors, 16,000 of them along the Keystone pipeline. We pick up that information—it’s refreshed every five seconds—so we know exactly what’s happening. If we have a change in pressure in the pipeline, which indicates that you may have a leak, we can isolate that section, and we have far more valves in the system than we’ve had in the past.
Some people have said the tragic oil-by-rail accident in Quebec bolsters the case for Keystone.
What we’ve seen, because of delays in building new pipeline infrastructure, is rail movement has increased exponentially. We know of a backlog in orders of tank cars. Any individual can look at those two methods of moving hydrocarbons and say which is better.