For Americans, Keystone pipeline brings a sharp divide – by Chrystia Freeland (Globe and Mail – February 1, 2013)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

NEW YORK — Is oil like red meat, or is it like tobacco? Your answer signals how you feel about the North American boom in unconventional sources of fossil fuel, particularly the Alberta oil sands.

If you think oil is like tobacco, it is a noxious commodity that seriously harms its users and those around them. We should stop consuming it at once and at all costs. But if you think oil is like red meat, you take a more nuanced view. For the health of the planet, we should find greener alternatives to it, but used wisely and in moderation, it has an honourable role in the 21st-century economy.

This debate is being acted out with great intensity in the fight over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would stretch from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.

“Keystone is really a symbol of oil, it is very emotive,” Daniel Yergin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning energy expert and chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, told me. “It is a symbol around which the opponents of hydrocarbon have rallied.”

Last autumn, the consensus view was that the pipeline would be approved after the U.S. presidential election, no matter who won. In recent weeks, those odds have shifted. “If you had asked me prior to the U.S. election, I would have said, ‘Of course it’s going to be built … regardless of who wins,’ ” said Mayor Naheed Nenshi of Calgary, where many of the oil companies that are counting on Keystone have their headquarters.

“If you had asked me immediately after the U.S. election, I would’ve said, ‘Of course it’s going to be built, now that the immediate political pressure is off,’ ” he said. Now he is less certain: “The feeling in Canada over the past four or five weeks has become less optimistic about this thing being built.”

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty took the same view. “I actually don’t know,” he replied, when I asked him if the Keystone pipeline would be built. “I had reason for optimism before the election that the President would approve it, were he re-elected.” But, he said, President Barack Obama’s inaugural address “was not encouraging.”

Many Canadian politicians and business leaders have been caught by surprise by the intense opposition to the Keystone pipeline, and to the oil sands crude it would carry south.

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