ATLANTA — A controversial proposal to pipe petroleum between Canada and Houston is causing a ripple in the Peach State.
The 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline is designed to transport a half-million barrels of crude oil each day from Alberta to refineries in Houston.
From there, the gasoline, diesel, heating oil and jet fuel will be shipped by existing pipelines to terminals in Rome, Ga.; Atlanta; North Augusta; Athens, Ga., and other parts of the East Coast for customers.
Supporters see it as a way to reduce U.S. dependence on overseas oil while providing jobs for the 50 Georgia companies that supply the drilling there. Environmentalists oppose the project because of the impact on the Canadian landscape, its route through an important aquifier in Nebraska, and the energy used in extracting the oil from tar sands – energy they say contributes to carbon emissions inherent in using gasoline.
“The effect for those of us in Georgia is going to be indirect but profound,” warns Stephen Smith, the executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which has challenged the pipeline in court. For example, he said, residents along the coast will continue to experience erratic weather because the carbon emitted contributes to the greenhouse effect.
Canada’s consul general in Atlanta, Stephen Brereton, is stressing the project’s benefit to Georgians.
“The oil sands are a key strategic resource, an economic engine contributing substantially to employment and (gross domestic product) on both sides of the border,” he said. “Almost 1,000 American companies, including companies in Georgia, provide goods and services to the oil sands. In short, expanding the capacity and increasing deliveries from Canada’s oil sands mean good things for Georgia jobs.”
OPPONENTS AT GEORGIA colleges have tried to raise awareness on campuses and traveled to Washington to circle the White House in demonstration of their position. Sierra Club member Don Dressell is one of them as a participant in the Atlanta Tar Sands Action Group.
“This pipeline is a threat to job growth and stands to kill more jobs than it creates by keeping our economy hooked on dirty fossil fuels instead of transitioning to clean energy, the fastest-growing job sector in America,” he said.
The project is on hold for now. President Obama is withholding a decision on whether to approve it until next year, a timetable some observers say is aimed at his political base during his re-election campaign.
“There’s no question about it. The president didn’t delay it for substantive reasons,” said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga. “You can’t have much more of a signal than that that it is about politics.”
Kingston favors the project for the jobs and the supply of fuel from a reliable, nearby ally. He also wants the U.S. to get the gas before China and Russia do, a point Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., made on the Senate floor Tuesday.
“If we default on the Keystone XL pipeline now, we are giving a wide open year for the Chinese to come back to Canada, make those investments, tie down that oil, and encourage that pipeline to go – not to Houston, Texas – but to Vancouver, Canada, and then on ships to China,” Isakson said.
Isakson and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., are co-sponsoring legislation to force the Obama administration to issue the construction permit within 60 days.
LAYING THE 36-INCH pipe is projected to create 20,000 jobs. Long term, oil sands development will spur 93,000 jobs a year in the United States, according the Canadian Consulate. Plus, all that economic stimulus will come from private financing, not American taxpayers.
Canada is the No. 1 customer for Georgia’s exports, and it already supplies more oil to the United States than any other country.
Georgia gets its gas supplies via two pipelines, except for cities supplied out of ships delivering to the Port of Savannah. A flow of gas from Canada will replace production to this country from Mexico and Venezuela, where U.S. sales are declining.
OPPONENTS RECOGNIZE they’ll have little ability to boycott what they call “dirty oil” after the pipeline is operating and its gas is mixed in the refineries with petroleum from other sources they consider less objectionable. So they want to make their point now.
“I think the tar sands are a distraction, and they take our eye off of the ball and keep us addicted to oil,” said Smith of the Southern Alliance.
Geologists long have known there was oil in Canada’s tar sands, but getting it out of the ground was difficult and expensive until recently. Smith laments that development.
“It delays even further this country going to alternative fuels and electric vehicles and getting us off of fossil fuels forever,” he said.