“The Obama Administration is facing a critical choice over whether to approve an extension of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. If approved it will carry heavy crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries in the Texas Gulf.
“The controversial extension (Phase IV of the pipeline) is designed to run the last stretch, from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur on the Gulf coast. President Obama issued provisional approval in March 2012 for the extension, after the pipeline company changed the route to one with less environmental impact.
“Since then, all the talk has been of “energy independence” and the pipeline’s role in turning the US from oil importer to possible exporter.
“Lobby firms such as Cambridge Energy Research Associates are heavily promoting the concept, while ignoring the costs in terms of locking the US into a fossil fuels future. Obama’s funding supporters are urging him to back away from the project, to take the US on a new energy trajectory.
“Pipeline ruptures should act as warning
“In late March the Pegasus oil pipeline operated by Exxon-Mobil, carrying high-pressure heavy oil down to the Gulf, suffered a rupture at Mayflower, Arkansas, spewing thick black “goo” into the surrounding streets and backyards of a suburban neighbourhood.
“In early May the same pipeline suffered a second, unrelated rupture 200 miles away, in Ripley County, Missouri.
“Exxon had been operating this pipeline more or less as a stopgap. It was built over 60 years ago to carry light refined oil north, from the Gulf coast to the industrial heartland of Illinois. But in 2006 Exxon reversed the flow, and instead pushed heavy tar sands oil under great pressure south to the refineries. It was ageing infrastructure pushed to the limits.
“And those limits were breached as the pipeline gushed oil into American suburban neighbourhoods.
“The Pegasus rupture couldn’t have come at a worse time for the interests promoting the Keystone XL extension.
“The incident itself — a major oil spill on the American mainland, caused by an American firm pushing ageing infrastructure to the limits — would be expected to attract maximum press coverage. But after an initial show of interest, major publications like the New York Times and Washington Post just seemed to back away. The New York Times, for example, ran two articles right after the spill, one reporting it and one a day later discussing the relevance of the rupture and spill to the debate over Keystone.
“After that, you would be forgiven for asking: Pegasus oil spill? What spill?”