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Congressman Tom Cole

Representing the 4th District of Oklahoma

Norman Transcript: Norman reacts to Keystone decision

November 6, 2015
News Stories

Norman Transcript - Joy Hampton 

Norman’s environmental activists are all smiles since President Barack Obama announced the rejection of TransCanada’s request to build the Keystone XL pipeline. While others say the decision is bad for the American economy, environmentalists are celebrating the victory as a win for the long term health of the nation and of Oklahoma which would serve as a hub for the pipeline in the Cushing area.

“This really gives me great hope,” said Norman resident Mary Francis, who traveled to Washington D.C. and was arrested during a massive Keystone protest in 2011. “President Obama is becoming the president we always hoped he would be. I just got through calling the White House and telling him, ‘thank you,’ and I encourage everyone to do that. We worked very hard, and everyone gave up a lot of their freedom as well as their time to accomplish this.”

Francis believes strong opposition against the pipeline made a difference in the president’s decision which was announced Friday just before noon. 

“Several years ago, the State Department began a review process for the proposed construction of a pipeline that would carry Canadian crude oil through our heartland to ports in the Gulf of Mexico and out into the world market,” Obama said in his announcement. “This morning, Secretary Kerry informed me that, after extensive public outreach and consultation with other Cabinet agencies, the State Department has decided that the Keystone XL Pipeline would not serve the national interest of the United States. I agree with that decision.”

Environmental activist Moriah Stephenson of Norman has participated in several protests against various legs of the Keystone Pipeline. Despite her efforts, the southern leg of the pipeline running from Cushing to the Gulf Coast was completed. The presidential announcement on Friday was a welcome, but not unexpected, victory.

“I am overjoyed that Obama rejected the construction of the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. It demonstrates that community action, community pressure and people power can impact decisions and create real change,” Stephenson said. “Tar sands extraction continues to burden First Nations communities in Canada and continues to exacerbate climate change. It is time to celebrate, acknowledge our collective power, and continue struggling for environmental justice.”

Stephenson said concerns about the impacts on indigenous communities in the U.S. and Canada fueled her passion to stop the pipeline. She said tar sands extraction requires that forest be clear cut, hurting native tribes that depend economically and culturally on the forest.

“It’s really an issue of social justice,” Stephenson said.

• Reaction from local energy industry: “Most of the pipeline in the United States has been built,” said local petroleum geologist Matt Biddick with Fractal Oil & Gas LLC. “The American portion of it will be built, it just won’t cross the Canadian border. Devon Oil has Canadian oil sands production, and it would benefit them for that pipeline to come across the border. He’s hurting American companies.” Locals also think campaign contribution dollars swayed the decision against the pipeline.

“We have the portion of the Keystone pipeline that is going from Oklahoma to Houston. Birds are not dying, wildlife is thriving, no water is being polluted — the claims that Barack Obama didn’t approve the keystone pipeline based off environmental concerns are clearly false on their face,” said Jack Dake, land manager for Baron Exploration, an oil and gas operator of several wells in the Norman area. “It was in America’s best interest, contrary to the false statement of the president to have the Keystone pipeline. As everyone in the political world knows, the pipeline was not in the best interests of one of the largest funding sources of the Democrat party and of the next Democrat president. That is why Barack Obama killed the pipeline.”

Safety and environmental concerns were raised by a series of accidents across North America involving crude oil transportation by rail—including a fire that caused numerous fatalities in Quebec, in 2013. From 1996-2007, however, railroads spilled less crude oil per ton-mile than trucks or pipelines.

TransCanada first submitted its construction request to the U.S. State Department on Sept. 19, 2008, and with opinions running so strongly pro and con, the long debate over the Keystone Pipeline decision isn’t likely to end anytime soon. Despite Norman and the state’s strong network of environmental activists, Oklahoma’s energy dominated economy and red state politics align it more on the side of supporting the pipeline than opposing it.

• Republicans denounce decision: Members of the Oklahoma delegation, including Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, and Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, each condemned the decision as an a move away from energy independence.

“I am disappointed but not surprised by the president’s decision to reject it,” Cole said. “As I’ve said before, opposing Keystone is economically, diplomatically and environmentally irresponsible. Studies have shown that pipeline transport is cheaper, more efficient and more environmentally sound than any other means of moving oil.”

During his announcement on Friday, Obama said gas prices are on the decline and the the pipeline would not lower them further. The president also pointed to the decrease of America’s “reliance on dirty fossil fuels from unstable parts of the world” that has occurred without the TransCanada section of the pipeline in play. 

And while Cole believes the president missed an opportunity to create jobs and encourage energy independence, Obama said the pipeline “would not make a meaningful long-term contribution to our economy.”

The president, instead, challenged Congress to pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that would create “more than 30 times as many jobs per year” as the pipeline. Traditionally, the Oklahoma delegation has supported funding for transportation infrastructure, but Oklahomans would have liked the pipeline as well. 

“The President has completely ignored the 19 crude oil cross-border pipelines currently operating in the U.S., two of which were approved last summer,” Lankford said. “The Administration has failed to make the case for how this project is different. It is clear this decision was made to appease the environmental extremists, and not based on the merits of the project.” Inhofe pointed to the president’s 2012 visit to Cushing, Oklahoma when Obama said America should not send jobs to other countries. A member of the Environmental and Public Works committee, Inhofe downplayed the potential for negative environmental consequences. 

“It was disingenuous to make this final rejection based off global warming concerns,” Inhofe said. “Five studies, with the latest one from the State Department in 2014, have concluded that the completion of the Keystone pipeline in the United States would have little impact on climate change. Instead, the president’s decision will work against his environmental objectives as it gives continued support to the transport of Canadian oil sands by rail throughout our country and will likely result in the export of oil to China, a country that will use it with much fewer environmental controls.”

Online: Norman Transcript

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