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Why is the Keystone XL pipeline so controversial?

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In this piece by Lois Beckett, a Harvard graduate who has written for The Times of India as well as other publications, ProPublica takes on deconstructing the Keystone XL Pipeline.  You've heard about it.  You know what it is, and why it's so controversial.  And you know where you stand.   And why you stand there.  Or do you? 

Why is the Keystone XL pipeline so controversial?

By the end of this year, the State Department will decide whether to give a Canadian company permission to construct a 1,700-mile, $7 billion pipeline that would transport crude oil from Canada to refineries in Texas.

The project has sparked major environmental concerns, particularly in Nebraska, where the pipeline would pass over an aquifer that provides drinking water and irrigation to much of the Midwest. It has also drawn scrutiny because of the company's political connections and conflicts of interest. A key lobbyist for TransCanada, which would build the pipeline, also worked for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her presidential campaign. And the company that conducted the project's environmental impact report had financial ties to TransCanada.

The debate over the pipeline is both complicated and fierce, and it crosses party lines, with much sparring over the potential environmental and economic impacts of the project. More than 1,000 arrests were made during protests of the pipeline  last summer in Washington, D.C.

Here's our breakdown of the controversy, including the benefits and risks of the project, and the concerns about the State Department's role.

Potential benefits — energy security and jobs for Americans — and how they're disputed

Proponents of the project point to two main benefits for Americans. First, it would improve America's energy security, because it would bring in more oil from friendly Canada and reduce our dependence on volatile countries in South America and the Middle East. Secondly, the pipeline would create well-paying construction jobs and provide a broader economic boost to the American economy. Labor unions have supported the project.

TransCanada estimates that the project would directly create 20,000 construction and manufacturing jobs for Americans. A study paid for by TransCanada [7] also estimated the economic impact over the life of the pipeline at about $20 billion in total spending.

But a report by Cornell University's Global Labor Institute  questioned those numbers, noting that the project would "create no more than 2,500-4,650 temporary direct construction jobs for two years, according to TransCanada's own data supplied to the State Department."

Critics of the project have also questioned whether the pipeline's oil, once processed in American refineries on the Gulf Coast, would actually be sold to Americans rather than being exported for sale elsewhere. As a New York Times editorial opposing the pipeline noted, five of the six companies  that have already contracted for much of the pipeline's oil are foreign companies — and the sixth focuses on exporting oil.

The Washington Post, which editorialized in favor of the pipeline, said this should not be a major objection. "The bottom line remains: The more American refineries source their low-grade crude via pipeline from Canada and not from tankers out of the Middle East or Venezuela, the better, even if not every refined barrel stays in the country," the Post editorial stated.

Cozy relationships with the State Department — and a compromised environmental report

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