Stephens: With the delay in Keystone XL, will attention now shift to the Northern Gateway?

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November 23, 2011
Hugh Stephens
Distinguished fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and executive fellow at the School of Public Policy of the University of Calgary

Yes, more attention will now be paid to the Northern Gateway (by the media and others) but let us not confuse “attention” for “action”. Given the vocal interests on both sides, President Obama has done the smart thing politically by kicking the Keystone can down the road to past the 2012 Presidential election. He can’t afford to antagonize either side. If Obama wins, watch for an early approval, with some necessary route modifications to mollify the environmentalists. The oil industry will grumble, but will accept the new routing, and the environmentalists won’t be fully happy but will be able to proclaim victory as well. And the “ethical and strategically secure” Alberta oil will be ready to flow. If the Republicans win (which is hard to contemplate at this point in the campaign given the dismal list of hopefuls–but never underestimate the ability of the American voting public and the US political system to deliver results that the rest of the world considers fly in the face of common sense), Keystone will get the green light just as quickly. 

This brings us back to the Northern Gateway. It will still be going through its own environmental hurdles when the pipe for Keystone is being laid. The combination of aboriginal groups, environmentalists opposed to both the pipeline and west coast tankers, not to mention political will and funding make this a steep slope to climb. More attention to the Northern Gateway, yes. Results, doubtful. The Keystone pipeline, with minor route modifications, is going to happen. 100%. The Northern Gateway. Maybe. But don’t bet the farm on it.