Oil Sands Pipeline Hearings Expected to be 'Contentious'

Industry supporters and environmental groups to offer input on Keystone project.

A battle between environmentalists and the oil industry is heating up over a proposed pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas.

Over the next two weeks the U.S. State Department will conduct nine public hearings throughout Texas, the Plains states and Washington, D.C., on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

The Obama administration is expected to decide on whether to grant a permit for the 1,700-mile pipeline by the end of the year. Input from the public hearings will be used along with data from an Environmental Impact Statement to determine whether the pipeline is in the national interest.

The project has been under review for three years as the federal government assesses Keystone KL's potential environmental impact.

If approved, Keystone XL could create 20,000 jobs, including 7,000 manufacturing positions to construct materials for the pipeline, says Marty Durbin, executive vice president for the American Petroleum Institute.

But environmental groups say the pipeline poses a major threat to natural resources, including contamination of drinking-water supplies. Actor and director Robert Redford, who serves as a trustee of the Natural Resource Defense Council, wrote in a Sept. 12 Houston Chronicle editorial that the pipeline "would put at risk the farmers, ranchers and croplands upon which our nation depends," exposing them to potential disaster from ruptures and blowouts.

TransCanada Corp., the company planning to build the pipeline, has said the State Department's final environmental impact study suggests there would be no significant impact to most resources along the proposed project route.

API has been coordinating with supporters of the project, including organized labor groups, to participate in the hearings, API's Durbin told reporters during a Sept. 19 conference call.

Durbin says he expects some of the hearings will be "contentious."

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