WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama downplayed the benefits of the Keystone XL pipeline Friday, saying the disputed project to transport crude from Canada is not a “magic formula” for the US economy.
The $5.3 billion project would carry crude oil to Gulf coast refineries from Canada’s tar sands. Republicans have long backed the plan, arguing it will boost US oil and gas production and create jobs.
But Obama said supporters had exaggerated the potential benefits of the pipeline.
“There’s been this tendency to hype this thing as some magic formula to what ails the US economy, and it’s hard to see on paper where exactly they’re getting that information from,” he said at his end-of-year press conference.
The president said the pipeline would not necessarily reduce oil prices in the United States and that the country would benefit more from other infrastructure investments.
“It’s very good for Canadian oil companies, and it’s good for the Canadian oil industry, but it’s not going to be a huge benefit to US consumers,” he said.
“When you consider what we could be doing if we were rebuilding roads and bridges around the country… we could probably create hundreds of thousands of jobs or a million jobs.”
Environmentalists have protested the project, saying it contains a harmful and corrosive component – bitumen – that makes pipeline ruptures or leaks more likely and carries greater health and safety risks.
Obama said reviewing the environmental impacts of the project was important.
“I want to make sure that if in fact this project goes forward, that it’s not adding to the problem of climate change, which I think is very serious and does impose serious costs on the American people,” he said.
The 1,897-kilometre Keystone XL pipeline has been under consideration since Obama took office six years ago, serving as a rallying cry for Republicans and some Democrats in energy-industry states.
In November, the US Senate narrowly rejected a bill that would have approved construction of the pipeline, setting up another likely showdown when the new Republican-controlled Congress convenes in January.