Future of Keystone XL pipeline hangs in balance with U.S. midterm elections

As Americans head to the polls to vote in the midterm elections, many observers say the results could decide the future of Keystone XL, a controversial pipeline proposal by Calgary-based pipeline giant TransCanada. 

U.S. President Barack Obama has so far delayed a decision on the pipeline, which would bring 830,000 barrels of diluted bitumen from Alberta's oil sands to refineries in the Midwest and Gulf Coast. The project, while touted by many as a potential jobs creator, has been fiercely opposed by environmentalists and scientists for its potential to "lock in" decades of oil sands expansion and destabilize the climate. 

If the GOP manages to wrest back control of the Senate, the project will be approved, according to Republican National Committee president Reince Priebus. 

“We will pass a budget in both chambers, number one, and we will pass the Keystone pipeline, number two,” Priebus said Tuesday morning on MSNBC.

“And I actually think the president will sign the bill on the Keystone pipeline because I think the pressure — he’s going to be boxed in on that, and I think it’s going to happen.”

Although Republicans have pushed hard for the project, the majority of Democrats do not support the pipeline, which goes through important aquifers and farmland. Previous efforts to push the project through U.S. states have had mixed results: although a Republican governor in Nebraska tried to pass legislation to approve the pipeline, the court struck down the approval as "null and void" earlier this year, for bypassing landowners' rights.
 
Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska, a citizens' group opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline, argued that even a Republican majority would not guarantee the passage of the project.
 
"Even if the GOP takes control of the Senate, they will not have enough votes to sustain a veto by President Obama," Kleeb said.

"Nor will the GOP have enough votes to get to the 60 threshold to even sustain a filibuster which I am confident the Democrats would do if they tried to approve the Keystone XL pipeline...The Republicans are going to have to square with voters how they support TransCanada, a foreign oil corporation using eminent domain for private gain, over energy that protects land and water." 
 
But some critics say that Obama would likely not go as far as to veto the project. 

"[Obama] keeps kicking the can down the line.  He’s been chicken," said Dirk Lever, managing director of energy infrastructure at AltaCorp Capital in Calgary. 

“I think that KXL gets interesting next year.  Following the mid-terms… if Republicans get control of Senate, it would go to the President… [and the question is,] would he exercise his veto or not.  He can either veto it, or stand aside.  And hopefully, sometimes next year, the issue in the state of Nebraska gets dealt with.”

In Lever's view, the Keystone XL pipeline would get built "at some point". 

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper lobbied heavily for the pipeline's approval, and recently struck up a new TransCanada project called "Energy East" to transport crude across Canada for export abroad. 

Kleeb called the "alliance" between oil giants and politicians "corrupt", and said the oil industry's heavy-handed political influence was pushing average citizens to not only oppose the pipeline, but demand alternative energies in the U.S. 

with files from Mychaylo Prystupa

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