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House passes bill on Keystone XL pipeline

New pipeline would run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico

Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline has been a controversial endeavor. The bill passed the House of Representatives 252-161 on Friday for the ninth time, although President Barack Obama has not publicly said whether he would move forward with the project. It’s an oil pipeline system that would run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, moving about 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day, and would more easily allow Canada to sell its oil to the rest of the world.

The Senate is set to vote on the bill this week, but the legislation is being delayed by a court battle in Nebraska, and Obama said he wants to resolve all the legal issues before he is presented with a bill to sign. The Department of State has been reviewing the proposal because the pipeline crosses an international border.

Many groups opposed to the project. Farmers, ranchers and environmentalists are concerned about the adverse effects on climate change and the safety of groundwater around the pipeline. The State Department argues, however, that the oil will be produced regardless of whether it is transported by the pipeline or some other means.

During Al Jazeera America’s Sunday night segment The Week Ahead, Richelle Carey spoke to Alex Epstein, an author and the president of the Center for Industrial Progress, and to Anthony Swift, an attorney at the National Resources Defense Council.

“A pipeline is a means of expanding access to oil,” said Epstein. “It means more people can drive, fly and use modern agricultural equipment. I think the benefits of oil far outweigh the risks and side effects.”

Proponents of the pipeline say it will create thousands of jobs and boost the economy. The chairman of the House Rules Committee, Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said on Friday that it will “bolster energy security and inject billions of dollars into our economy.”

In a clip from the ABC News show “This Week,” Russ Girling, the CEO of TransCanada, told Martha Raddatz, “The Department of State’s own report says it will create 42,000 jobs and a $3.5 billion GDP increase of the U.S. economy [translating to] $2 billion in wages.”

Epstein said, “Oil is a global market. The more that’s produced in the whole system, the more prices go down.”

Swift, however, argued, “Tar sands crude is very expensive. It does not fit in a world of cheap energy or cheap oil.” He said he believes the major disadvantages of this pipeline will be its undoing.

Al Jazeera’s David Ariosto reported that the controversy has been unprecedented for a pipeline and has taken center stage in national politics, even straining trade relations with Canada.

“Understand what this project is,” Obama has said. “It is providing the opportunity of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else. That doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices.”

The Keystone XL pipeline is an addition to the existing Keystone pipeline, which runs from Canada to Oklahoma. The new part would allow oil to be transported to refineries in Texas though channels put in place last year. Canada is the world’s fifth-largest oil producer and sends most of its crude exports to U.S. refineries.

Also strongly opposed to the project are Native American communities living along the pipeline’s route. It’s expected to run through the Sac and Fox Nation, a patchwork of land that belongs to 38 Native tribes in Oklahoma. Each tribe has sovereignty over its land and affairs, something that would be disrupted by the pipeline’s construction.

Native Americans in the Black Hills of South Dakota worry that any spills could contaminate their water supply with oil and chemicals. It would affect seven Native American reservations nearby. Some residents say the pipeline violates 19th century treaties they made with the U.S. government over land rights.

“We’re finding that among the indigenous communities of people who live in the area of the Athabasca River [in Canada], there are cancer rates far higher than you would expect,” said Swift. “We’re beginning to nail down some really significant impacts associated with tar sands production. And once a tar sand spill happens in a body of water, it’s very difficult to bring it back to its original state.”

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