On Tuesday the United States Senate blocked a bill previously passed by the House of Representatives to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. This project has become a dividing line between those who see the project as harming the environment and those who see it as boosting jobs.

This particular vote was also seen as a Hail Mary political move by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA. She's facing tough campaign prospects in a run-off election against U.S. Rep. William Cassisdy, R-LA. She argued that the pipeline would mean job creation both in her home state of Louisiana and many rural communities across multiple states.


The vote was 59 to approve the project. All 45 of Republican members voted in the affirmative. Among Democrats, 14 senators voted in solidarity with Landrieu. President Barrack Obama had suggested that he'd likely veto the bill if it had passed.

Senate Republicans vowed to bring the bill up again in the next term of Congress. They will be in the majority next year and could include the project in a larger package of topics that the president may be loath to veto.

According to a Nov. 19 Washington Post story, the project would stretch nearly 1,700 miles and cost $7.6 billion. It would deliver 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to refining facilities in the southern United States.

In a press release after the vote, Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND, noted that Keystone XL would also "greatly benefit North Dakota, which now produces more than 1.2 million barrels of oil a day and transports more than 700,000 barrels a day be rail." Hoeven noted that shipping North Dakota oil by pipeline would "relieve stress on our railroads and help them better keep up with our agricultural shipments."

Hoeven indicated in the release that in 2015 there will be more senators who favor the project. He plans to reintroduce the bill as part of a broader energy package or spending bill that Obama will not want to veto. According to Hoeven, opinion polls show more than 60 percent support for the pipeline among the American people.

Hoeven's statement suggests the project would "help us produce more energy, more jobs and more economic activity." He expressed the view that the pipeline would enhance both our national security and energy security by emphasizing production sourced in our close ally Canada.

The Post story observed that opponents of the project believe that facilitating production of tar sand based oil in Canada would lead to health risks here.

It seems pretty obvious to me that Canada is going to develop this oil source and bring it to market. The oil can be shipped via rail, which may be more expensive and less safe than via a pipeline. Were our country to block this oil from coming to our country, it seems likely that Canada would simply shift the flow of oil from south to west and sell it in Asia.

It is hard to know exactly how many permanent jobs would be created from the project versus jobs limited to the construction phase. Even so, the very nature of construction is workers move from job site to job site over time.

Some have suggested that the results of the recent election mean that voters want the parties to work more closely together. Folks can certainly debate whether that was the thrust of the message or not. However, Keystone XL sure seems like a good place to begin with bi-partisan cooperation. It seems certain that the new GOP-led Senate will give the president the chance to reconsider his thinking in this area.

Michael Zimmer writes from Eldersburg. His column appears on Friday. Email him at zimlaw64@gmail.com.