WASHINGTON — Canadian oil and TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline were lauded by several Republican lawmakers on Thursday as a potential solution to many of America’s energy woes.
Canada was held up as a virtuous — and apparently non-foreign — friend and neighbour who could help sate the continuing American appetite for oil by politicians who contend the United States has to end its dependence on oil from abroad.
“Canada has been a friend, Canada will continue to be a friend and we’ll continue to work with Canada,” Albio Sires, a New Jersey congressman, told a House of Representatives hearing on Capitol Hill.
Sires, a member of the House subcommittee that held the hearing, said he used to have concerns about the environmental impact of both the oilsands and the pipeline.
“But now I’m convinced that it’s good for Canada and good for the United States,” he said.
A day after U.S. President Barack Obama described Canada as a “stable and steady” energy partner in his call to reduce American oil imports by a third, energy stakeholders, environmentalists and oil industry officials testified about Alberta’s oilsands.
“Canada tarsands and this pipeline system are not comprehensive and perfect answers to some of our energy security needs,” Paul Sullivan, an economics professor at National Defence University and Georgetown University, said in a written submission to the hearing.
“However, sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good, especially when we face increasing competition for resources, have to deal with oil-exporting countries that don’t like us, have to prop up some regimes we would rather not in order to get their oil, and have to face the whims of oil prices.”
The House of Representatives is now controlled by Republicans, and they’re decidedly more receptive to Canadian oil than some of their Democratic colleagues.
Thursday’s hearing, indeed, was entitled “Rising Oil Prices and Dependence on Hostile Regimes: The Urgent Case for Canadian Oil.”
Some Democrats concerned about climate change, on the other hand, have not only branded the oilsands “dirty oil” but are urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to put the brakes on the Keystone XL pipeline to Texas.
TransCanada has already brought the first two phases of the Keystone pipeline into service, which delivers crude to Illinois, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
Keystone XL, a controversial extension to that system, would expand capacity by 500,000 barrels per day and extend the line to the lucrative Gulf Coast market.
Refineries in the Gulf are well-tailored to handle the heavy oil Canada produces. As volumes of heavy crude from Venezuela and Mexico decline, demand for oilsands crude in that region has been increasing.
The hearing wasn’t all oilsands cheerleading. One ranking member of the subcommittee, Democrat Eliot Engel of New York, urged lawmakers to consider the environmental impact of the oilsands and the pipeline.
He also said the State Department was wise to deliberate long and hard about the pipeline.
Jeremy Symons of the National Wildlife Federation said Alberta’s oilsands were no energy saviour for the United States, calling it “the most destructive source of oil on the planet.”
Symons showed photos of the “strip-mined wasteland” in northern Alberta to the hearing.
“Expanding our dependence on Canadian oil further … won’t help improve our energy security,” he testified.
“Instead, it will lock in high gas prices, weaken our economy, lead to significant destruction of important North American wildlife habitat, increase greenhouse gas emissions and put some of the United States’ most important water supplies at risk.”
In his opening remarks, subcommittee chairman Connie Mack said he was pleased to hear Obama give the nod to Canada in his energy speech earlier this week.
Mack also frequently railed against Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, saying the U.S. must opt for Canadian oil rather than crude from a hostile nation and OPEC member. If the United States doesn’t buy Canadian oil, he added, Canada will find other customers.
The Florida Republican also beseeched the Obama administration to approve the pipeline as soon as possible. The State Department isn’t expected to make a decision on the pipeline until the fall.
By giving the green light to the pipeline now, Mack said, “this administration could create tens of thousands of jobs to help boost the ailing economy, and secure an additional 500,000 barrels of oil per day into U.S. refineries in Oklahoma and Texas.
“Delays in this approval process have cost the United States valuable jobs at a crucial time.”
Symons vehemently disagreed with the plea to swiftly approve the pipeline, saying there is already a surplus of pipeline capacity to carry all of Canada’s oil to the American Midwest.
“So why the rush?” he asked.
“Recently uncovered documents have revealed the true motivations for this pipeline: price manipulation,” said Symons, alleging that the pipeline will allow Canadian oil companies to boost the price of the crude it’s already selling to the U.S.
“This isn’t about Canada, this is about Big Oil,” he added.
Symons and other environmentalists have been issuing dire warning against the pipeline, arguing it will leave vital aquifers vulnerable in some of the most agriculturally dependent states in the U.S. They point to last summer’s devastation in rural Michigan following a Canadian pipeline leak.