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Congressional bill on Keystone XL pipeline expected in January

Protesting the Keystone XL in front of the White House, November 2011.

Protesting the Keystone XL in front of the White House, November 2011.

We may see a new momentum behind the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline now that the Republicans have the majority of seats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives following the mid-term elections earlier this week. Keystone XL is the proposed 1,897 kilometre pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta to Houston, Texas that would move 830,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen a day and produce more than 22 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions on an annual basis.

The Council of Canadians has travelled to Washington, DC on at least three occasions to join protests against the Keystone XL pipeline, including calling on the Canadian embassy in August 2011 to demand that they stop lobbying for the pipeline, participating in the Surround the White House action in November 2011, and the Forward on Climate protest in February 2013.

The Republicans will take control of Congress in January. Reuters reports, “U.S. Senate Republicans will push ahead early next year with a bill to approve the long-stalled pipeline.” In fact, Republican Senator John Hoeven says, “I think you’re going to see us bring up energy legislation right away and Keystone will be on of the first things we pass.” The Globe and Mail editorial board also notes, “The Republicans in Congress will surely introduce bill after bill authorizing the project.”

There is some question about whether the Republicans will have the votes needed to move this forward.

The Globe and Mail editorial board says, “They almost certainly won’t have enough votes to make those bills veto-proof.” But Forbes takes a different view and argues, “[Several attorneys who lobby Congress on behalf of energy producers] feel that legislation would pass both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate to build the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would be more than enough to override a potential presidential veto. Sixty votes would be needed, which would easily cover the new majority plus all supporting Senate Democrats. The House just needs a simple majority.”

Could Obama pre-emptively approve Keystone XL?

The Globe and Mail suggests, “Mr. Obama has never appeared to be personally opposed to the pipeline, but the green end of his Democratic base is – so he’s spent years keeping the project in limbo, refusing to give it either a yea or a nay.” They argue, “The President should get ahead of the Republican attempts to work a wedge issue – his union backers and most other Americans support Keystone – and approve the pipeline soon.” Slate senior writer Josh Voorhees also says this is a credible option, “Obama [could] relent and approve the pipeline—either by signing the Keystone bill or potentially even signing off on the project later this year before Republicans take control of the Senate.”

And while the Harper government has been an aggressive proponent of the pipeline in Washington, Finance minister Joe Oliver’s comments this week also seemed subdued. Oliver said, “We remain committed to the project. We believe at the end of the day it will achieve approval. We’re hopeful that will happen.”

Perhaps that’s because, as the Globe and Mail has reported, “Middlemen are increasingly opening paths of least resistance [to get Canadian crude to the Gulf Coast]. …Linkages to move Canadian crude to the Gulf have already been built, and workarounds to Keystone XL are under way. [That includes the] seven new or expanded pipeline projects aimed at moving Canadian crude to the Gulf Coast [that] are slated to start up by 2016, adding combined capacity of 2.5 million bpd. [As well, there are] more than a dozen rail or rail-to-barge projects along the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River can receive a total of 1.2 million bpd.”

And recognizing that the United States is now the world’s leading oil producer due to fracking, Oliver also noted, “We have a specific challenge, which is that we only have one customer, and that customer, the United States, has found vast amounts of shale and gas and oil. Those discoveries, which will be of enormous benefit to the United States, is changing the global energy picture. So we have to look at that and clearly have to diversify our markets and we’re going to be pursuing that.”

As such, it could be that the Harper government is now much more committed to the Energy East, Trans Mountain and Northern Gateway pipelines and the energy markets in Asia, Europe and India.