Protesters grab headlines, but American view of Keystone leans positive – by Joanna Slatter (Globe and Mail – March 27, 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 — Randy Evans is neither an energy lobbyist nor an environmental activist. Like most ordinary Americans, the outcome of the Keystone XL pipeline project doesn’t keep him up at night.

But earlier this month, Mr. Evans, the editorial page editor for the Des Moines Register in Iowa, decided it was time to weigh in on the controversy. In restrained Midwestern fashion, his newspaper came down in favour of the pipeline.

“Stopping the pipeline will not stop oil drilling or consumption,” noted its editorial. “We need to find alternatives to oil rather than trying to cut it off at the source.”

Far from the heated debates of Washington, the middle-of-the-road view of Canada’s marquee oil project leans toward the positive. In local editorial pages across the United States, TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline is receiving broad – though not enthusiastic – support, with a few exceptions.

The Canadian oil sands industry considers the pipeline a critical conduit for moving its product to U.S. refineries, and a way to fetch better prices. In the United States, the proposal has sparked a clash between those who say burning Alberta’s carbon-laden oil will accelerate global warming and those who contend the pipeline will spur economic growth and create jobs. Unexpected events could also influence the debate, such as the news on Tuesday that waste water had leaked from a ruptured pipe at Suncor Energy Inc.’s oil sands plant.

The public and bitter disagreement over the merits of the pipeline tends to obscure the fact that according to opinion polls, a majority of Americans approve of the project (although the numbers of those opposed to it are creeping higher, according to one survey).

In a national opinion poll conducted in January by Rasmussen Reports, 59 per cent of those surveyed supported building the pipeline, 28 per cent opposed it and 13 per cent said they were unsure. In another carried out the same month for the National Journal, a Washington weekly magazine, 64 per cent favoured the pipeline’s construction and 22 per cent opposed it.

None of that may prove decisive in the final calculus. U.S. President Barack Obama must weigh not only the project’s costs and benefits but also the political fallout from any decision, particularly from his supporters, who include environmental groups dead set against the pipeline.

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