There's the Keystone XL pipeline, and there's the other one

Students protesting TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline are set to stage a mass protest in front of the White House this weekend. The controversial pipeline still needs President Obama's approval and critics are trying to persuade the president it's a bad idea not only for the climate but for his legacy as well. But Keystone isn't the only tar sands pipeline that needs President Obama's blessing.

While environmenetal protests focus on the Keystone XL Pipeline proposed by TransCanada, the Alberta Clipper pipeline owned by TransCanada's rival, Enbridge, also carries tar sands crude oil from Alberta into the United States. The Clipper ends in Superior, Wis., connecting with other pipelines in the U.S. Right now, most of its oil ends up at Midwest refineries.

But Enbridge wants to expand the Alberta Clipper. Not to make the pipeline longer, but to add horsepower. That means pumping more oil faster, says Steven Paget, director of institutional research at First Energy Capital in Calgary.

Enbridge wants to pump about 800,000 barrels of tars sands crude oil a day through the pipeline. That's nearly double what it's delivering right now and close to what the Keystone pipeline can deliver at full capacity. Jim Murphy, senior counsel at the Wildlife Federation, says expansion plans for the Clipper have pretty much flown under the radar.

"But in terms of climate change, they're roughly the same," says Murphy. "This is another project that threatens to increase tar sands expansion, which is a very carbon intensive fuel."

Tar sands opponents did petition the State Department to review Keystone and the Alberta Clipper petitions together. They figured that paints a much scarier picture vis a vis climate change. So far the State Department hasn't budged. "What you see is that there's about 1.3 or so million barrels a day now that the tar sands industry wishes to get to market," says Murphy. "And the State Department can say no to that."

Enbridge originally expected the U.S. to issue a permit for the Clipper's expansion by mid-2014. Graham White, a spokesman for Enbridge, says the company now expects it won't be until the end of the year. The Keystone permit has been delayed several times and just last month Keystone opponents scored a legal victory in Nebraska, a win they hope will chip away at the oil industry's confidence and patience.

Bob McNally, a former energy advisor to President George W. Bush, says there is economic and political pressure to built the tar sands pipelines. One of the few things that could stop them, he believes, is another "massive recession" that would devastate oil prices. "Then the oil sands would not be economic."

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...