Environmental activists back Keystone XL pipeline delay

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said on Friday that delaying approval for the Keystone XL pipeline could end the project entirely.

I’m not sure this project would survive that kind of delay,” Flaherty told Bloomberg News at the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Honolulu, Florida.

It may mean that we may have to move quickly to ensure that we can export our oil to Asia through British Columbia,” the Minister said, referring to the Northern Gateway pipeline – a project which has gathered many opponents of its own, particularly in First Nations communities along the proposed routes.

A fatal delay for the pipeline?

"We believe that this delay will kill the pipeline,” said author and activist Naomi Klein in an interview with Democracy Now. Klein was arrested in Washington while protesting the pipeline.

“If it doesn’t, if this pipeline re-emerges after the election, people have signed pledges saying they will put their bodies on the line to stop it." 

Russ Gerling, TransCanada president and chief executive officer, said that the company remains confident that the Keystone XL pipeline will be approved. “This project is too important to the U.S. economy, the Canadian economy and the national interest of the United States for it not to proceed,” he said in a statement.

A nuanced victory for activists 

The United States’ decision to postpone the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline comes as a response to the concerns of many activists who warn about the pipeline’s detrimental impacts to the environment, along with controversies that the State Department’s hired contractor to assess the pipeline’s environmental impact had business connections with TransCanada.

Environmental activists from both Canada and the U.S. have been staging large-scale protests against the pipeline. Over 1,000 protesters were arrested in Washington this August, and over 100 were arrested in September while demonstrating in Ottawa against the Keystone XL pipeline project.

Three environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Western Nebraska Resources Council and Friends of the Earth, launched a lawsuit in early October against the US State Department, among others, for allowing TransCanada to begin work on the project before receiving approval.

The groups allege that TransCanada mowed a pipeline corridor through about 100 miles of native grasslands in Nebraska’s Sandhills.

Friends of the Earth president, Erich Pica, said that the State Department is running a “corrupt review process by giving TransCanada a green light to begin construction.” He said the lack of oversight by the US State Department “makes a mockery of the public and sends a message to Nebraska that their concerns don't matter.”

Among the defendants named in the lawsuit were the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, while TransCanada was left out.

If the State Department was truly doing its job, this lawsuit wouldn't be necessary,” said Pica.

U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement that he supports the State Department’s decision to delay the approval for the pipeline because “this permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment...” The president said that questions regarding the pipeline need to be “properly addressed” and its impacts need to be “properly understood.”

Many Nebraska residents have voiced strong concerns over the pipeline, as it crosses the Ogallala Aquifier – a major source of drinking water located below the grass-covered sandhills.

Gerling, president of TransCanada, warned that if the Keystone XL is not approved, Americans will be losing jobs and “long term energy security”, while still importing oil from repressive nations.

A final decision for the pipeline is not expected to take place until after the 2012 election.

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