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A Debate: Should the U.S. Approve TransCanada’s Massive Keystone XL Tar Sands Oil Pipeline?

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Thousands of environmental activists from across the continent plan to gather in Washington, D.C., tomorrow to launch a two-week protest against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to U.S. oil refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. The massive pipeline would cross the Yellowstone River, as well as the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest freshwater aquifer in the United States. Environmentalists plan to hold sit-ins and other acts of civil disobedience outside the White House every day in order to pressure the Obama administration as it decides whether to approve the pipeline’s construction. Supporters of the pipeline say the pipeline will create some 20,000 construction jobs, and the company behind it, TransCanada, has already signed agreements to employ the members of four international unions if the project is approved. Last month, the Republican-controlled House passed a measure that would force a decision on the Keystone XL by November 1. As the Obama administration faces industry pressure on one side and sustained grassroots protest on the other, we host a debate between Cindy Schild, the refining issues manager at the American Petroleum Institute, and Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, a group taking part in the Washington protests. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: An estimated 2,000 environmental activists from across the continent plan to gather in Washington, D.C., tomorrow to launch a two-week protest against a massive oil pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico. TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline would cross the Yellowstone River, as well as the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest freshwater aquifer in the United States.

Organizers have called the protest to pressure the Obama administration as it prepares to decide on whether to approve the pipeline’s construction. In a call to action signed by environmental activist Bill McKibben, the NASA climate scientist James Hansen, and the author and journalist Naomi Klein, the activists write, quote: “The Keystone Pipeline would […] be a fifteen hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet, the one place to which we are all indigenous.”

AMY GOODMAN: Over the next two weeks, demonstrators say they’ll hold sit-ins, commit other acts of civil disobedience outside the White House every day. In a videotaped message, the actor and activist Mark Ruffalo voiced his support for the protests.

MARK RUFFALO: Up north, where the tar sands are located, native people’s homelands have already been wrecked. All that new oil will worsen global warming. It’s time for us to get off fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are over. This August, hundreds of people are joining together in a sit-in at the White House to show President Obama he has the support to stand up against the gas, oil and coal industry and deny these permits to the tar sands pipeline.

JUAN GONZALEZ: As activists gather in Washington to oppose the pipeline, the oil industry is ramping up its campaign to garner support for the project. On Thursday, the American Petroleum Institute held a conference call with union leaders that emphasized the Keystone XL’s purported economic benefits. Supporters say the pipeline will create some 20,000 construction jobs, and the company behind it, TransCanada, has already signed agreements to employ the members of four international unions if the project is approved.

AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration is also under pressure from the Republican-controlled House, which last month passed a measure that would force a decision on the Keystone XL by November 1st. Republican Congress Member Ted Poe, whose home state of Texas hosts the refineries that would receive the tar sands oil, urged President Obama to back the pipeline.

REP. TED POE: To me, an easy choice for this administration: either they can force Americans to continue to rely on unfriendly foreign countries for our energy, like Venezuela and the Middle Eastern dictators, by depriving Americans of a reliable source of oil at a time when gas prices are around $4, or they can work with our friends in the north to supply over 1.4 million barrels of oil per day. Pipelines are the proven and safe, efficient source of energy. Best of all, this project creates thousands of jobs at a time when unemployment in this country is 9.2 percent.

AMY GOODMAN: Texas Republican Congress Member Ted Poe.

As the Obama administration faces both industry pressure on one side and sustained grassroots protest on the other, we turn now to a debate on the Keystone XL with two guests. Cindy Schild is refining issues manager at the American Petroleum Institute, took part in the conference call Thursday with business and labor leaders to support the Keystone XL. And Jane Kleeb is a leading activist opposed to the Keystone pipeline, executive director of Bold Nebraska, a group taking part in the Washington protests, where both of our guests are right now, in D.C.

Cindy Schild, Jane Kleeb, thanks so much for being with us. Cindy Schild, let’s start with you. Why do you think the XL pipeline is so important? Talk about its significance.

CINDY SCHILD: This is the largest shovel-ready project that we have right now at a time, again, as you heard Congressman Poe say, we need jobs in this country. You’ve seen Obama out this week on his tour saying that, you know, he’s ready to sign off on jobs. I cannot stress the importance enough of what this means to our country. You’ve got—this project alone can impact 20,000 American workers—and not just the workers. That impacts their families. We have this opportunity. You have a permit ready to be approved, after a thorough assessment. So we’re waiting. The President is going to see this on his desk soon. So it has great impacts for the American economy, as well as energy security from a source right next door, our friendly neighbor, Canada.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Cindy Schild, this agreement that you have with the labor unions, which unions signed onto this? And how long are these jobs expected to last, these construction jobs on the line?

CINDY SCHILD: The agreement itself that was referenced yesterday by the Teamsters is between the unions and TransCanada, the company proposing this project, so I can’t speak to the labor agreement specifics itself. But you are talking about any type of workers from folks in building trades, pipefitters, people that will be building the equipment to support the pipeline or move equipment to the pipeline, as well as, obviously, those building on the pipeline itself. So, you’re talking—the pipeline will take about two years to build, and then there will be obviously the jobs that will come from it afterwards, for maintenance, etc.

AMY GOODMAN: Jane Kleeb—Jane Kleeb is also with us. Jane, you represent Bold Nebraska, but you’re in D.C. You’re going to be part of these two weeks of protests. What are your concerns about the pipeline?

JANE KLEEB: You know, we have a lot of concerns, and it’s not the traditional kind of Big Environment versus Big Oil, which is what I know the kind of oil industry is what they want this argument to be. We have a bunch of farmers and ranchers, conservatives, even some folks that are part of the Tea Party, that will be part of the Nebraska delegation coming here, because we’re concerned that this pipeline is crossing the Nebraska Sand Hills. The Nebraska Sand Hills are a very fragile ecosystem. They’re literally made of sand, where a lot of our ag and cattle are raised. And so, to have a pipeline kind of cross that fragile ecosystem is just mind-boggling. And you have Republican state senator—Republican U.S. Senator Mike Johanns, as well as U.S. Senator Ben Nelson, who both agree that this pipeline should not go through the Sand Hills. But TransCanada continues to be arrogant and continues to be very bullheaded and essentially say that they will not change the route.

And it’s one of the reasons we’re here, essentially, to say to President Obama, “You have the power. And you promised us on the campaign trail that when you got elected, you were going to begin to heal the planet, that you were going to put policies in place to heal the planet.” Allowing this pipeline to cross the Sand Hills, and obviously cross the Ogallala Aquifer, our cleanest source of water, not only for drinking, but for agriculture, our main economic activity in our state, is just unconscionable. And so, Obama has a choice. He has a choice of whether he’s going to stand with landowners like Randy, who are refusing to give in to TransCanada’s demands and threats of eminent domain on his land that’s been in his family’s hands for generations, or he can decide to say no. He can just say no to TransCanada. And that’s why we’re here in D.C. this week.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the decision to stretch it out over two weeks of protests, what specifically do you envision in the development of these protests?

JANE KLEEB: When folks were trying to, you know, think about what type of action could we do on such a serious issue, we decided that the action had to be serious, as well, and that it couldn’t just be a rally with celebrity spokespeople and one day of action. So this is a sustained action. You’ll have about 100 to 200 folks every day gathering in Lafayette Park and then engaging in civil disobedience. And there will not be smiles or peace signs waived at any cameras that are there. This is our land, and this is our water. And API can give as many talking points as they want, but we are not going to essentially let a foreign oil company tell American landowners what they can and cannot do with their land. And we’re not going to let them threaten our water.

And despite what API and TransCanada says, that this will be the safest pipeline ever built, we know that TransCanada’s first Keystone pipeline, that also goes through our state, has already had 12 leaks in 12 months. And we also know that a UNL scientist, Dr. Stansbury, did a report that said that there would be 91 leaks on the Keystone XL pipeline, that could potentially put 6.5 million gallons of tar sands oil in the Ogallala Aquifer and essentially contaminate our drinking water. And it’s just not acceptable. So Nebraskans, across party lines, across the state, are standing up and saying, “No pipeline.”

AMY GOODMAN: TransCanada CEO Russell Girling spoke to Fox Business in March about efforts to expand the Keystone pipeline. He admitted the project would greatly benefit his company and shareholders.

FOX BUSINESS: What would this mean, with the expansion successful, for your shareholders? Would that mean more cash flow? Could it mean more dividends?

RUSSELL GIRLING: This is a big project for our company and part of our growth going forward. And so, obviously, it’s a—it would be a good investment for our shareholders. It would bring in additional cash flow and earnings, and hopefully result of improved dividends going forward.

AMY GOODMAN: Cindy Schild, why is the American Petroleum Institute, your organization, TransCanada, pushing so hard for this pipeline? What financial interests do you have invested in it being approved? How will you benefit?

CINDY SCHILD: API doesn’t have a financial interest in the pipeline. I mean, we’re looking out for, again, energy security, national security. We also see supply flexibility and reliability benefits to being able to bring the third-largest resource base from Canada, and our number one trading partner, down to our largest refining center in the Gulf. This is at a time where imports are declining from our typical resource base. We get most of our imports from there, that region. A lot of our imports are declining from places like Mexico and Venezuela. Canada has the ability to fill that gap. We currently do not have the ability to bring oil down from Canada to the Gulf Coast. Our refineries have invested to be able to refine this oil from Canada. So, you look at the flexibility in hurricane-type situations we experienced in 2005. This creates that ability to provide and fill in that gap, get that flexibility, as well as national security.

And, you know, getting to some of Jane’s points, the—90 percent of the easements have been signed off by now—

JANE KLEEB: That’s actually not true.

CINDY SCHILD: —by landowners.

JANE KLEEB: That’s not true.

CINDY SCHILD: And, you know, API’s talking points, there’s lots of talking points out there. There’s over 20,000 miles of pipe already under the aquifer.

JANE KLEEB: Also not true.

CINDY SCHILD: And it’s not API’s talking points that talk about the safety of this pipeline. The State Department has made those points. So, you know, we can’t mix messages and where the facts are coming from. So we need to be clear on these points, as well.

JANE KLEEB: You’re actually—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Jane Kleeb, your response?

JANE KLEEB: You are actually misleading—you’re misleading the public that is watching this.

CINDY SCHILD: I am not misleading the public.

JANE KLEEB: Yes, you are. Do you know how many crude oil pipelines cross the Sand Hills? How many?

CINDY SCHILD: How many talking points came from API, or is that from the State Department?

JANE KLEEB: How many crude oil pipelines? Zero. Zero cross the Sand Hills, because it is a really fragile ecosystem. And there is only five percent of the pipelines in Nebraska are crude oil pipelines. And the majority of that is TransCanada’s first pipeline that went through our state, that essentially went through our state without a lot of citizens knowing. And this is not about national security. This is not about energy independence for America.

CINDY SCHILD: No, it’s really about—

JANE KLEEB: This is about the Canadian economy and how much they have invested in the dirtiest fuel on the planet.

CINDY SCHILD: This is—this is about—this is about jobs. And when you really look at it—

JANE KLEEB: It’s not about jobs. And you guys come out with a different jobs number every time.

CINDY SCHILD: When you look at it—

JANE KLEEB: Today you say 20,000.


JANE KLEEB: Two days ago, it was 325,000.

CINDY SCHILD: No, there are two different—

JANE KLEEB: No amount of jobs—

CINDY SCHILD: There are two different numbers. And if you want to break it down a different way, if you look at—and this is from the U.S. Census Bureau or—as well as the Canadian Statistics Bureau. When you look at the reciprocity between the United States and Canada, the benefits are intangible. For every dollar spent on imported goods from Canada, 90 percent is going back to the U.S. economy, so 90 cents on the dollar. I mean, there are benefits between trading partners within North America that you’re not going to see from trading in other countries. And that’s just a fact and the way it is. And we’ve got to keep it within North America in order to be able to excel in the future.

JANE KLEEB: If TransCanada was serious about this energy coming to the United States, which is what they, you know, put in all of their slick ads and their fancy radio ads, then why won’t they guarantee that this oil is for the United States? And we know the answer: because they want access to the port in order to sell it on the international market to the highest bidder—

CINDY SCHILD: Why would you develop a pipeline to—

JANE KLEEB: —which is China.

CINDY SCHILD: Why would you develop a pipeline to bring it to the Gulf? That makes no sense to invest that sort—

JANE KLEEB: Because you want access to the port. So then—so if you’re—

CINDY SCHILD: Why wouldn’t you go to Seattle?

JANE KLEEB: So, here—

CINDY SCHILD: Why wouldn’t you go to the West Coast, to Canada? Why would you go all the way down?

JANE KLEEB: You guys have plans for that, actually. If you look on TransCanada’s website, you have plans to crisscross the United States eventually with your dirty oil pipelines.

CINDY SCHILD: They should—they—

JANE KLEEB: So this is why we need to stop it now, because this is not about energy—

CINDY SCHILD: Canada is absolutely going to be looking—

JANE KLEEB: Excuse me, are you going to let me talk, or are you just going to continue with your kind of, you know, fancy talking points here?

CINDY SCHILD: Alright, I’m—

JANE KLEEB: So, this is not about energy security for the United States, because if it were, then we would be building refineries in the United States. But all Canada wants to do is get access to our ports in order to ship this oil off to China. That is what this is about.

CINDY SCHILD: It makes no sense.

JANE KLEEB: Yes, it does.


JANE KLEEB: And there’s plenty of energy experts that agree.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Jane—Jane, can you hold it for one second?

JANE KLEEB: And TransCanada agrees.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Jane, for one second, I’d like to ask Cindy Schild to respond to the issue of the potential environmental dangers. It’s only been a year since we had the blowout in the Gulf on a blowout preventer that was supposed to prevent any possibilities of a spill into the Gulf. Your response to the issue of the concerns about the potential environmental hazards of this line?

CINDY SCHILD: Sure. I mean, safety is a top priority, and pipelines have been the safest mode of transportation. We certainly take every incident seriously and try to learn from every incident and investigate every incident. New standards have been put in place since the offshore incident. And based on the State Department’s assessment, the three assessments on the environmental review, the recent review has indicated that this pipeline will exceed all other standards. There’s 57 special conditions within this permit, should it be approved, and has stated that it—the State Department has stated that it will be state of the art, that its safety will exceed all others.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this year—

JANE KLEEB: Can I also talk about safety?

AMY GOODMAN: Just before, Jane, earlier this year, ExxonMobil faced mounting criticism of its cleanup efforts after one of its oil pipelines ruptured and leaked 42,000 gallons of crude oil into Montana’s Yellowstone River. Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer insisted the Keystone XL pipeline will be safer and not vulnerable to similar catastrophes. And Jane Kleeb, I’ll get your response to both Governor Schweitzer, as well. This is Governor Schweitzer speaking on PBS.

GOV. BRIAN SCHWEITZER: Actually, in my conversations with TransCanada, the company who’s proposed the Keystone XL, they’ve assured me that, A, they use this boring technique so that none of these pipelines will be laid into these riverbeds, and secondly, instead of having humans involved in the shutoff devices—you see, this device that was placed along the Yellowstone River was actually controlled out of Houston, Texas. Yeah, you got it: in Montana, they had controls in Houston, Texas. And after some seven minutes, they started shutting the pipeline down. It took about 30 minutes. TransCanada has explained to me that across every river and stream in Montana, that they would have automatic shutdown valves and backed-up systems by humans, so that this kind of catastrophe would not and could not occur. First, the pipeline is not in the river, and secondly, there are automatic, immediate shutdown systems, which ExxonMobil did not have in the Silvertip.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana. Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska, your response?

JANE KLEEB: Well, unfortunately, Governor Schweitzer is actually being misled by TransCanada. And if you listen to his words, he talks about TransCanada’s assurances. And I can tell you that farmers and ranchers in Nebraska do not feel good about TransCanada’s assurances. And we brought two folks from North Dakota to Nebraska to talk to our state elected officials, because one of the folks, Bob, he was on site for TransCanada’s first spill in North Dakota that essentially sprung a 60-story—a 60-foot-high geiser of oil. And when he called in to TransCanada’s, you know, 1-800 line, which is what they were told to do when they see something go wrong on the pipeline, TransCanada said that “This must be a prank call, because it’s not showing up on our sensors.” And so, you can have all the fancy sensors in the world, but practical experience with TransCanada has shown us that they don’t have the safest pipelines ever built.

And, you know, our first responders along the route of the pipeline are very concerned, because TransCanada essentially comes in, and they literally give first responders and landowners a brochure that has a 1-800 number on it and say, “If a fire, if a spill, if a leak happens, call this 1-800 number, and we’ll take it from there.” But it could take up to six hours for an emergency response team to get to a place where there is a leak or a spill in Nebraska. And they essentially tell the first responders, “Your job is to keep people away. We’ll come in and deal with it.” That’s not a good emergency response plan. Our first responders should know the contents of the pipe, which TransCanada continues not to tell us. And so, they wouldn’t even know how to respond to a fire, because they don’t know the chemicals that are mixed with the tar sands. And so, there are a lot of unanswered questions about safety. That’s why there are a lot of congressional reviews and a lot of letters from U.S. senators, as well as state senators in Nebraska, that want to have these answers before President Obama and Secretary Clinton grant this permit.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Jane Kleeb is executive director of Bold Nebraska, one of the leading activists opposed to the Keystone pipeline. Thousands are descending on Washington for this next two weeks, while President Obama is on vacation, but they’ll be at the White House engaging in civil disobedience and other acts. Cindy Schild, thank you very much for being with us, from the American Petroleum Institute.

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