Support for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline has fallen sharply in the U.S. though it continues to have majority approval, as the Obama administration weighs whether to allow the project to proceed, a new poll says.
The survey of 1,000 Americans by Nanos Research found that 79 per cent of respondents said they had heard of TransCanada Corp.'s proposed 830,000-barrel-per-day pipeline, which would carry diluted bitumen from Alberta's oil sands to the massive refining hub on the U.S. Gulf Coast. That's up slightly from last April when Nanos conducted a similar survey.
But support for the project has eroded over the past year. Of those who said they were aware of the proposed pipeline from Canada, 63 per cent said they supported its construction and 57 per cent said they had a positive view of it – down from 74-per-cent support and a 70-per-cent positive view in 2013.
The length of the approval process – which has been bitterly criticized by U.S. Republicans as well as the Conservative government – may be sending a warning signal to the American public about the project's risks, said Nik Nanos, chairman of Nanos Research and a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
"Approval being delayed is basically a signal to average Americans that maybe there is something wrong with this project – the project that can't be approved," Mr. Nanos said. "The longer the review period for the Keystone XL, the more likely it is to be politically at risk."
TransCanada filed for a presidential permit for the project nearly six years ago, and now calls it the longest and most intensive cross-border pipeline review in U.S. history. The company suffered a setback three years ago when the state of Nebraska demanded it redraw the pipeline's route to avoid the ecologically sensitive Sandhills region. As a result, TransCanada had to reapply for a permit for the rerouted line.
President Barack Obama has faced intense pressure from environmentalists and the liberal wing of his party to reject the pipeline, though many more conservative Democrats support it. In January, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird expressed Ottawa's frustration with the lengthy process, calling on the administration to quickly make a decision.
Mr. Nanos said the Harper government didn't help its case by criticizing the process, though Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has frequently delivered speeches in the United States that extolled the benefits of the pipeline – and Canadian energy exports generally – to the U.S. public.
At the same time, the lengthy review process gave critics of the pipeline time to get their message out. Billionaire activist Tom Steyer funded a $1-million advertising campaign – including a spot on MSNBC on the night of the President's State of the Union address – in which he attacked the environmental risks from pipeline.
A State Department review released in late January concluded the Keystone XL project would not increase greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands because the Alberta crude would find its way to market with or without the pipeline – a conclusion that has been roundly attacked by critics.