Obama’s Keystone Rejection May Prompt Changes in Canada’s Oil Industry

Warning Sign on Petroleum Refinery Fence

By Arman Kazemi

November 12, 2015

New calls for greater oversight of Canada’s fossil-fuel industry are being heard after U.S. President Barack Obama’s formal rejection of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline last Friday.

And the need to start factoring the costs of climate change into the price of oil-sands expansion has received vocal support from within the industry itself.

Last week, TransCanada president and CEO Russ Girling released a statement expressing disappointment that Obama had chosen “misplaced symbolism… over merit and science” in his decision to reject the pipeline.

But other industry players are calling for more oversight, including a price on carbon, to show the world that Canada’s oil-sands sector is serious about environmental regulations.

“I think business is quite happy to see a carbon tax because it will help everybody in society understand that we all have a role to play in this,” Hal Kvisle, former CEO of TransCanada, told the Globe and Mail.

Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden told the Globe and Mail he supports carbon capture and storage systems as a way of making the industry cleaner. But those projects are expensive.

“So we will need some sort of support mechanism to incentivize companies like ourselves to do that,” he said. “I think it is going to be putting a price on carbon that is going to do that.”

Since the announcement, attention is shifting to TransCanada’s other major pipeline project, Energy East. The new Liberal government now appears to support the project, as does Alberta’s NDP government. 

While he criticized Obama for his strongly worded censure of Alberta’s oil sands, Canada’s new Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion hopes the fallout from Keystone will mark “a fresh start” by demonstrating that oil production and the fight for climate change can go hand in hand.

“We support this [Energy East]… but we want that to be done properly,” Dion said in an interview with the Globe and Mail, “and it will be difficult to do if we don’t strengthen the process itself, the process of consultation with communities and the process of scientific environmental assessment.”