| WASHINGTON, March 3
WASHINGTON, March 3 As the years-long fight over
the Keystone XL pipeline grinds toward resolution, green groups
are broadening their focus to include the possibility that the
Obama administration will loosen curbs on how much oil and gas
the United States exports.
One such group, Oil Change International, plans to declare
on Monday that lifting the decades-old ban on U.S. crude oil
exports would undercut promises made by President Barack Obama
last summer to protect the climate.
The focus on exports marks a bridge to the future from the
Keystone XL fight, which helped re-energize environmental
activists after legislation to take action on climate change
died in the U.S. Senate in 2010.
"Keystone XL is the issue that has brought more activists
into the street than any environmental question in a
generation," Bill McKibben, founder of green group 350.org,
wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times in February.
Transcanada Corp's proposed Keystone XL pipeline
would transport more than 800,000 barrels per day of crude from
Canada's oil sands region to the U.S. Gulf Coast. A final
decision on the pipeline could be made within months.
Long focused on the level of pollution created by digging up
tar sands in Alberta and then moving the gritty bitumen across
several U.S. states, opponents to Keystone are recasting the
debate into one on exports.
A television ad rolled out by San Francisco-based NextGen
Climate Action before Obama's State of the Union address in
January raised fears that oil from Canada would snake through
the United States, only to be exported to countries like China.
NextGen, a political action committee founded by billionaire
hedge fund investor and climate activist Tom Steyer, aimed to
counteract claims by TransCanada that the oil transported via
Keystone would remain in the North America.
Christopher Lehane, Steyer's political adviser, told Reuters
that the group's internal polling has found that voters respond
strongly to suggestions that oil moved on Keystone won't
necessarily remain in the United States.
"They quickly realize that there is no value proposition
that would justify the United States approving a pipeline that
will increase pollution, threaten thousands of miles throughout
the Midwest, all for the benefit of a foreign oil company,"
QUESTIONING THE BENEFIT OF 'ALL OF THE ABOVE'
Some environmental groups argue that the administration's
embrace of an "all-of-the-above" energy policy, with its backing
of fossil fuels as well as alternatives such as solar and wind,
contradicts the president's own climate plan announced last June
and gives industry more motivation to push for an easing of
existing curbs on energy exports.
Oil Change International, an advocacy group that targets the
fossil fuel industry, has taken note of a drive started this
year to lift the existing ban on most exports of U.S. crude oil.
In early January, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the top
Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, professed her support
for easing restrictions as the United States reaches record
levels of oil production and starts to look for new outlets for
Murkowski's call has been echoed by groups such as the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute,
although many lawmakers are still cautious on the topic.
"The industry push for exports is a symptom of the
President's disastrous 'all-of-the-above' energy plan, that puts
the interests of Big Oil over the interests of the American
people," said David Turnbull, campaigns director of Oil Change
"Removing the crude export ban would be a disaster for the
climate, just as the building the Keystone XL pipeline and any
energy policy choice that incentivizes the production of more
fossil fuels," Turnbull added.
Obama said in June that he would make his decision on
whether to approve Keystone based on whether it will have a
significant impact on the climate.
But Oil Change plans to say on Monday that lifting the U.S.
crude oil export ban, and likely raising oil prices in the
process, would have such an impact, and thus fail Obama's own
litmus test, according to a preview given to Reuters.
"Allowing U.S. crude oil exports will result in increased
profits that will in turn result in increased oil production,"
the report said.
A $10 per barrel increase in U.S. crude oil prices would
lead to an additional 9.9 billion barrels of production between
2015 and 2050, which would release more than 4.4 billion tons of
carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the lifetime emissions of 42
coal plants, it found.
LNG EXPORTS ALSO DRAW PROTESTS
Approvals of several liquid natural gas (LNG) export
proposals over the past year by the U.S. Department of Energy
have gone largely unchallenged, but are also starting to gain
notice among green groups, which are drawing parallels to the
In late February a few hundred protesters marched in
Baltimore carrying a long white plastic pipeline and headed to
the offices of Maryland's utility regulator. They were
protesting Dominion Resources' proposed Cove Point natural
gas export facility on Chesapeake Bay.
Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action
Network, said the movement to reject the project is resonating
with activists concerned about the environmental impact of
increased natural gas production and exporting fossil fuels.
"Like Keystone, the fight against the proposed Cove Point
fracked gas export facility is becoming, overnight, an
incredibly mobilizing and galvanizing force," he said.