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Oil-Town Dependents React To To The Keystone XL Rejection


President Obama's put an end to the seven-year debate over whether the Keystone XL pipeline ought to be built. He's rejected the project, saying it would undercut U.S. leadership on climate change. People in Canada's oil country weren't surprised by the decision, but they were disappointed. The pipeline would've moved crude oil from Alberta down to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. NPR's Jeff Brady reports from Fort Saskatchewan in Alberta.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: It's easy to find someone with oil industry connections in this town. Five minutes in a grocery store parking lot and you meet people like Val Harris.

VAL HARRIS: Well, my son's a pipeline engineer. So his job is, like, one day to the next, and that's it right now. But he's been very lucky to keep it right now.

BRADY: Harris says it's a shame President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. She says this community needs jobs.

HARRIS: The economy is just not good right now, and we need something to give us a little bit of a boost, I think.

BRADY: People here don't talk much about the environmental effects of crude from oil sands. It requires more processing than traditional oil drilling, and that emits more pollution. Locals instead focus on economic concerns. Herb Walker doesn't understand why Obama would give up pipeline construction jobs.

HERB WALKER: Kind of negative for them.

BRADY: Because?

WALKER: Why? It helps them with employment.

BRADY: Did it surprise you at all?

WALKER: No, not really. I'm not a Obama fan.

BRADY: Among those who say they were not surprised by Obama's announcement Friday was Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. But she was a little taken aback when both Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry referred to crude from Alberta's oil sands as dirty.

RACHEL NOTLEY: I think that it was not necessary to be quite so critical in the way they describe our energy product.

BRADY: Notley says the province needs to do a better job explaining to the world that it takes climate change seriously. The province is working on a plan to address the issue ahead of the Paris climate talks later this month. One thing it's doing is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a facility that captures carbon pollution before it's released into the air and then stores it underground. Shell Oil Company was showing off that new project Friday. It's connected to Shell's oil sands business. Executive Vice President Lorraine Mitchelmore was asked about losing the Keystone XL. She says that does not create a crisis because there are other ways to transport oil and more pipelines planned.

LORRAINE MITCHELMORE: Keystone is but one. We have the Eastern pipeline. Of course, you have Kinder Morgan to the West Coast and Northern Gateway. So we still have three possibilities to get our product to market.

BRADY: Without those pipelines in the future, expanding the oil sands business is much less likely. That's why environmentalists are opposing the projects. They want the oil left in the ground. Mike Hudema of Greenpeace, Canada, says the Keystone XL battle was a good place to start.

MIKE HUDEMA: And I think the Keystone XL fight was picked 'cause it was, you know, a decision that didn't need to go through Congress or the Senate, but really at the end of the day, rested on one person's desk. And that was President Obama.

BRADY: Environmentalists lobbied the president hard, chaining themselves to the White House fence and getting arrested in some cases. And now that Obama has rejected the Keystone XL, environmentalists like Hudema are celebrating. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.
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