As President Obama nears a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, a poll Tuesday finds two thirds of Americans support the Canada-to-U.S. project. The numbers come amid continuing efforts to clean up a major new oil spill in Arkansas and lingering problems from the 2010 BP blowout on the Gulf Coast.
In the Pew Research Center survey, 66% say they favor the pipeline, which would carry heavy crude or tar sands from Canada through the Midwest to Texas refineries, and 22% oppose it, according to the poll of 1,501 adults taken March 13-17.
"There's been pretty consistent support for traditional energy sources," says Pew's Carroll Doherty, noting similar Keystone XL support in other recent polls by Fox News and Yale University. He says he doubts the Arkansas spill, which occurred after the Pew poll was taken, would do much to alter attitudes on Key-stone. He says support for offshore oil drilling bounced back quickly after the 2010 BP oil spill, the largest in U.S. history.
Pew's results come as environmentalists intensify their opposition to the pending northern leg of the Keystone XL, likely to get Obama's final decision as early as this summer. Critics say the project is unnecessary and poses safety risks. They point to Friday's ExxonMobil pipeline spill of thousands of barrels of heavy Canadian crude oil in Mayflower, Ark., that prompted the voluntary evacuation of 22 homes.
ExxonMobil's ongoing cleanup measures can handle 10,000 barrels of spilled oil but "we don't think it's that many," says company spokesman Alan Jeffers. He says the removal of oil-soaked soil and its replace-ment with new sod should be finished in a few days.
"We don't know what caused it (the spill) yet," Jeffers says, adding that the company has begun its own inquiry. On Tuesday, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said he'll also investigate the spill's cause and impact. Jeffers says it's the first spill for the Illinois-to-Texas Pegasus pipeline, which was built in the late 1940s and carries conventionally drilled oil from Alberta's Wabasca region that's about as heavy as the tar sands.
Still, Jeffers says he doesn't understand environmentalists' alarms about the Keystone XL, saying it will be "a state-of-the-art, new pipeline."
"The fact remains that pipelines are the safest way to move oil and other products to markets to meet consumer demands and maintain our quality of life," says Shawn Howard of Alberta-based TransCanada, Keystone XL's developer.
Still, environmentalists say the Arkansas spill shows how heavy crude oil can corrode a pipeline and increase its risk of rupture.
"Tar sands poses an additional risk to pipelines," says Anthony Swift of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He says 38 miles of the Kalamazoo River remain contaminated because of a 2010 Enbridge pipeline spill in Michigan.
Jim Murphy of the National Wildlife Federation, a private advocacy group, says, "There's a very heavy odor of oil in the air," from the spill in Mayflower, about 20 miles northwest of Little Rock. "We don't need another Kalamazoo," he says.
A report from his group Tuesday says wildlife remains hurt by BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It notes more dolphins are dying in the spill-contaminated areas than did before the disaster.
"The Gulf oil disaster is not over," says the report's lead author, Doug Inkley, a senior NWF scientist.
A petroleum line ruptured Friday and dumped several thousands of barrels of oil in Mayflower, Ark.
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