Keystone or bust

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline crosses the Yukon River July 21, 2002 near Dalton Highway in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Kai Ryssdal: About a year ago, a million gallons of crude oil spilled from a broken pipeline into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. It was an especially sticky kind of crude from the tar sands up in Canada. The cleanup's still going on today -- which, as it happens, is when the House is set to vote on a bill to fast-track another major pipeline from the same source.

Marketplace's Eve Troeh reports.

Eve Troeh: The Keystone XL pipeline project is indeed extra-large. It would carry 1.2 million barrels of crude a day from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The company TransCanada has waited three years to build it -- double the normal permit time, says Marty Durbin at the American Petroleum Institute.

Marty Durbin: Everyone that had a concern about the pipeline had ample opportunity to weigh in with their concerns, so frankly, the expectation was that a decision would've been made last year.

He says even if the House bill get stopped in the Senate, it tells the White House this project's too big to wait. But the huge size and scope of the pipeline is exactly why critics say, "Let's wait longer."

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz at the Natural Resources Defense Council says this is a new type of oil, with a new set of risks.

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz: It's a fairly new product. We're not used to taking this raw tar sands oil in our pipes. It's more corrosive, it has more acids in it, it has more little sand particles.

The White House plans to have a full report on the Keystone XL pipeline by August, and give a thumbs up or down by the end of the year. The House bill demands a decision by November 1.

Michael Levi at the Council on Foreign Relations says that two-month gap isn't a big deal for the oil companies. And diligence is vital.

Michael Levi: If they rush the environmental assessment, and don't clear it with all the right people, they will expose the process to public challenge. And if that happens, the pipeline will also get into trouble.

He says the White House wants more input on the pipeline, but doesn't want debate to spill out too far beyond its control.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.
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@Jeff Hazle, this is not about synthetic crude. It is about diluted bitumen---raw tar sands oil. Until recently tar sands were partially refined before coming to the states, but that capacity has been eclipsed and the raw stuff, which is higher in acids and sulfur than the products that were traditionally sent south, is coming in increasing volumes. The aging pipeline system in the US was not designed for the higher temperatures and pressure that diluted bitumen requires to be moved. And the dozen spills already reported on the first Keystone pipeline implies safety issues to current designs too. Expect this issue to keep coming up as industry suggests we will be ratcheting up to 1.5 million barrels of raw tar sands oil per day in the next decade.

Synthetic crudes produced from oil sands have been produced in Canada since at least the 70's. This crude is not a new product and the industry has been handling it for decades. The engineers will be able to figure out how to transport it safely by pipeline.

Margaret - With the disaster in Michigan making the first pipeline so obvious...unsure what you are trying to say...

Concerned about this pipeline as well. The corrosive nature of the new product outlined in the story should concern us all.

BTW - The last word in your comment is a brand name...believe you meant "aquifer."

Why do reports never say this is a second pipeline. Tere is one running from Canada to Mexico already with large number of problems. This second line they want to put through the Nebraska Sand Hills which is an aqua pur.

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