Skip to main content

President Obama should reject the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, The New York Times declared in an editorial Monday.

"He should say no, and for one overriding reason," the newspaper argued. "A president who has repeatedly identified climate change as one of humanity's most pressing dangers cannot in good conscience approve a project that – even by the State Department's most cautious calculations – can only add to the problem."

TransCanada Corp.'s proposed Keystone XL pipeline recently cleared a significant political hurdle in the United States after a State Department assessment concluded the project would not contribute to the warming of the planet.

Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones cautioned that the department's report does not provide a recommendation on the project.

Activists who oppose the pipeline condemned the work as a "botch job" that unduly minimizes the environmental impacts, while proponents welcomed its conclusions.

President Obama is expected to make his decision this summer after he has considered its impact on employment, energy security and the environment.

The Times editorial argued that the State Department report "acknowledges that extracting, refining and burning the oil from the tar-laden sands is a dirtier process than it had previously stated, yielding annual greenhouse-gas emissions roughly 17 percent higher than the average crude oil used in the United States.

"But its dry language understates the environmental damage involved: the destruction of the forests that lie atop the sands and are themselves an important storehouse for carbon, and the streams that flow through them. And by focusing on the annual figure, it fails to consider the cumulative year-after-year effect of steadily increasing production from a deposit that is estimated to hold 170 billion barrels of oil that can be recovered with today's technology and may hold 10 times that amount altogether.

"It is these long-term consequences that Mr. Obama should focus on. Mainstream scientists are virtually unanimous in stating that the one sure way to avert the worst consequences of climate change is to decarbonize the world economy by finding cleaner sources of energy while leaving more fossil fuels in the ground. Given its carbon content, tar sands oil should be among the first fossil fuels we decide to leave alone."

Keystone proponents – including the slew of Canadian premiers and ministers trekking south of the border to lobby the U.S. administration on the issue – tout the security, reliability and even the greenness of Alberta's carbon-heavy crude oil.

The Harper government – along with Alberta and Saskatchewan – has been lobbying heavily for approval of the $7.6-billion pipeline, which would transport 830,000 barrels a day of bitumen from Alberta to the major refining hub on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The Times argued that the president's ultimate decision "will say a lot about whether Mr. Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, are willing to exert global leadership on the climate change issue."

"… In itself, the Keystone pipeline will not push the world into a climate apocalypse. But it will continue to fuel our appetite for oil and add to the carbon load in the atmosphere. There is no need to accept it," the editorial concluded.