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The 2,670-km pipeline is designed to run from Canada’s province of Alberta, where vast resources of dirty tar sands are being exploited for oil, through the US Midwest and ending on the Texas coast of the Gulf of Mexico. It is being funded by a Canadian company, TransCanada, but will bring a certain amount of business to America through crude oil being pumped to US refineries.
The final decision will be made by US president Barack Obama. He delayed the project in early 2012, saying more research was necessary to make an informed decision. Earlier this year the US State Department completed a review of the project, but there is no deadline for Obama to make his decision. Following a court case in Nebraska where landowners objected to the proposed route of the pipeline, the State Department said on 18 April it would ‘provide more time’ for the project to be evaluated.
Keystone XL is a political problem for Obama. On one hand, it has become a major test of the importance he gives to the environment, but on the other there are several Democrats who support the pipeline, many of them who are standing for election to the Senate in November and basing their campaigns on support for Keystone. The State Department denies the postponement is motivated by election campaigning, but observers believe Obama is unlikely to make a decision before 4 November, the day of the mid-terms.
Tar sands are ultra-high carbon fuels that require vast amounts of energy for extraction and refining. According to the European Commission’s own official research, this dirty oil releases on average 23% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional crude oil.
Keystone XL supporters and opposition have put forward differing statistics on the economic value to the US of the pipeline. Members of the Republican Party have said it would create around 140,000 jobs, whereas the State Department estimates 5,000-6,000 construction jobs, while the Obama administration estimates 2,000 construction jobs and then 50-100 per year after completion.