CALGARY - Environmental groups in the United States have launched a $500,000 US campaign against a proposed Canadian bitumen pipeline, calling for President Barack Obama to reject TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL pipeline proposal.
In a series of radio, television and print ads, the No Tar Sands Oil Coalition calls the pipeline a potential disaster that would endanger an key aquifer irrigating America's breadbasket.
The 2,700-kilometre pipeline will transport "the world's dirtiest oil through America," and slow a transition into a cleaner fuel economy, according to the coalition.
"Right now the Obama administration is considering whether to do additional analysis on the pipeline, and we want to make sure that the administration hears loud and clear from our coalition that we are opposed to the Keystone XL project," said Ryan Salmon of the National Wildlife Federation, coalition member.
Keystone XL would be an expansion of the existing Keystone pipeline which started shipping bitumen from Alberta this summer. It would traverse several states, including Nebraska, before reaching U.S. Gulf Coast refineries with up to 900,000 barrels per day of oil.
In October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised a media furor after saying the Obama administration was "inclined to" approve the pipeline.
Industry observers agreed the U.S. has a vested interest in seeing the Alberta-to-Gulf Coast pipeline flow oil.
"There is a desire that we have seen, on behalf of the U.S. government, to make sure that we have continued accessibility to that market," said Greg Stringham, with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
As supply to refiners on the Gulf Coast declines from Venezuela and Mexico due to political reasons and natural declines, the need for additional volumes from a secure source becomes more important, Stringham noted.
"With the myriad of pipelines that are in place right now, the piece that is missing is that piece from the Midwest to the gulf coast," he said.
The latest volley of anti-oil sands ads comes on the heels of increased political pressure from both Republican and Democratic senators against the massive pipeline.
Last week a group of 28 U.S. members of Congress asked for supplemental environmental impact statement be conducted on the proposed pipeline, saying it would promote climate change through "environmentally destructive extraction process and environmentally precarious transportation system."
Their letter follows one written in October by a group of 11 Democratic senators that warned approval of the Keystone XL pipeline would commit the U.S. to "significantly increase" its dependence on high-carbon Canadian fuel for decades.
A final decision was delayed this fall after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called a draft environmental impact statement inadequate.
James Millar, spokesman for Calgary-based TransCanada Corp., said the company was still confident the pipeline project would receive final environmental approvals, and be in operation by 2013.
While much of the protests have highlighted the pipeline crossing Nebraska and the Ogallala aquifer, Millar noted the state already is criss-crossed by 33, 800 kilometres of existing pipelines. He attributed some of the focus to backlash from the deepwater Gulf of Mexico disaster and July oil spill in Michigan waters.
"I think the project has become a lightning rod because of the BP and Enbridge spill incidents," Millar said. "I think we have to be more diligent in talking about the project and getting the facts out, and where appropriate, being a promoter of the oilsands industry."
Business professor Bob Schulz, with the University of Calgary, noted the average U.S. consumer doesn't really care where their oil comes from as long as they can still drive their cars.
Groups opposing oilsands could be expecting a groundswell of support on the popular level, but the U.S. government will make the ultimate decision, Schulz, with the Haskayne School of Business, said.
"The fundamental question is - is this the media complaining or there something in the U.S. government that says 'we don't want Canadian oil'," he said. "My impression so far is that this is still discussion in the media but the U.S. government will still going to be the one to make the decision."