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Analysts Debate Keystone Pipeline Report

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - August 29, 2011

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JEFFREY BROWN: Next: a friendly and safe new source of oil for the U.S. or an environmental disaster waiting to happen?

The tar sands of Alberta, in western Canada, are today considered one of the largest oil reserves in the world, a source of crude petroleum known as bitumen. But the extraction of oil there has come with concerns about the environmental impact. And now those concerns have exploded with a plan by the Calgary-based company TransCanada to build a massive pipeline to carry that crude oil deep into the U.S.

The proposed Keystone X.L. pipeline would run 1,700 miles through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma on its way to refineries in Texas. It's projected to cost $7 billion and carry an estimated 800,000 barrels of oil a day. The plan has galvanized a growing opposition from those who fear it would increase greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the prospects of leaks and spills in environmentally sensitive areas.

Activists are now in the midst of a two-week protest at the White House. Some 400 have been arrested so far. On Friday, they were dealt a blow by the U.S. State Department, which released a report finding the pipeline project will present no significant environmental problems.

A final decision to allow or reject the pipeline will come from Secretary of State Clinton and ultimately President Obama. It's expected by the end of the year.

And we have our own debate on the Keystone pipeline project now with Robert Bryce, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of "Power Hungry: The Myths of 'Green' Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future," and Bill McKibben, an environmentalist, author and organizer of the ongoing protests in Washington this week.

Bill McKibben, why these protests? What are -- what's the key problems you see with this project?

BILL MCKIBBEN, environmental activist/writer: You know, this has turned into the biggest civil disobedience action in the environmental movement in a generation.

And the reason is that this is -- this tar sands in Alberta is a big deal. It's the second largest pool of carbon on Earth, after the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. Jim Hansen of NASA, who was arrested today, really the world's foremost climate scientist, said -- as he was speaking this morning, said, if we go ahead and begin tapping these unconventional energy sources, of which the tar sands are the biggest example, it is -- and here I quote - "essentially game over for the climate."

Since, for once, Obama can stop a project without having Congress in the way, this has become the focal point. And these arrests have -- actually now over 500 people. The numbers are just growing and growing day after day.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we will go into some of the details. But, first, as a general proposition you support this.

ROBERT BRYCE, Manhattan Institute: Sure.

JEFFREY BROWN: Why do you think it should go through?

ROBERT BRYCE: I do.

Well, Jeff, I appreciate Bill McKibben passion on the issue. I understand his position. But my position is very simple. I'm for cheap, abundant, reliable energy, particularly now in the U.S., when we have over 45 million Americans on food stamps, we have more than nine million unemployed. The actually unemployed or underemployed is probably twice that number.

We need cheap, abundant, reliable energy. And this project will in particular provide abundant and reliable energy. The tar -- the oil sands in Canada have over 100 billion barrels of oil in them. And we need it no, given -- particularly because we want North American energy production. Better off if it's domestic. But we have been relying on Mexico and Canada for many years.

Over the last decade, Mexico's oil production has fallen by 600,000 barrels and Canada's has risen by more than 600,000 barrels. I would like that -- we need that reliable energy production as close to home as we can. And if we can buy it from friends and allies, that's even better.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so that's the argument. The U.S. needs the oil. Why not get it from a friend, rather than be more dependent elsewhere, and especially if it provides U.S. jobs.

ROBERT BRYCE: Sure.

JEFFREY BROWN: That's -- that's the argument we hear for it.

BILL MCKIBBEN: You know, there's got to be a better way to deal with our food stamp problem, especially when, as we're now beginning to see, after a year of the most violent and extreme weather we have ever recorded around the planet, after the price of food has gone up around the world 80 percent because we're missing harvest after harvest with drought and with flood.

We have got to take global warming completely seriously. I understand the realism that Robert brings to this, but there is a deeper realism at work here. And if we do not get to work on climate change now -- and this has become the proxy fight for climate change in the Obama administration.

This is a guy who when he -- the night he was nominated said, in my presidency, the rise of the oceans will begin to slow and the planet will begin to heal.

Congress has kept him from keeping many of those promises, but, this time, he can.

JEFFREY BROWN: And in the State Department report, if I understand this rightly, they're saying the extraction is going to happen anyway and the greenhouse gas emissions...

BILL MCKIBBEN: That's what's so interesting, because the Canadians aren't saying that. They have to have -- Alberta is a long way from anywhere. They have to have a pipeline to get it out.

The one they're trying to build west to the Pacific has been completely blocked for years by Indian tribes in Canada, who have a lot of legal power. The energy minister of Alberta said a couple of weeks ago, if we don't get this Keystone pipeline, we're going to be landlocked in oil.

And that's what we need. It's not that we're going to necessarily keep it in the ground forever by blocking this pipeline. But sooner or later, the world is going to come to its senses about climate change. And, therefore, preventing it for five or 10 years is a pretty good thing.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, one issue is the extraction.

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