With the public comment period for the State Department's draft environmental impact statement winding down, there are just a few more boxes to check off before the Obama administration makes the final call on whether construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline will get a stamp of approval or be delayed once again.
The looming decision has brought a new sense of urgency to groups opposing and supporting the pipeline, ushering in a flurry of new ad campaigns designed to educate policymakers about the risks and rewards of going forward with the pipeline's construction.
On Sunday, a new anti-pipeline activist group, which goes by the moniker All Risk, No Reward Coalition, launched an advertising campaign highlighting a recent spill in Arkansas and other past disasters that have peppered the nation's history of development in the sector.
"Oil spills—it's not if, it's when," warns the TV ad, which ran on Sunday news programs and will continue to run in a dozen major markets this week and into next week. "Keystone XL doesn't go to the U.S., it goes through the U.S. sending oil to places like China and Venezuela, putting us at risk while Big Oil gets the rewards."
The organization's chairperson, Nebraska landowner Randy Thompson, wrote a companion Op-Ed in Nebraska's York News Times arguing the Keystone XL pipeline "isn't about energy security" and instead provides a way for oil companies to get Canadian crude oil product to the Gulf Coast where it can be exported at a higher price.
"I have a message for our elected officials, especially the Republicans," Thompson, who identifies as a Republican, said during a call with reporters Monday. "It's time they remove [their blinders] and see what the people of the United States really think about this project."
"If they can't realize it by the recent disasters in Arkansas and Michigan, then we don't have much hope," Thompson added, referring to the ExxonMobil pipeline spill in Mayflower, Ark. last week, and the 2010 Enbridge pipeline oil spill near the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.
But the pipeline's opponents aren't the only ones preparing for battle. Supporters have released their own slew of ads to convince policymakers that the benefits of building Keystone aren't one sided. According to the Calgary Herald, the Canadian province Alberta—from where the pipeline will run southward to the United States carrying crude oil from the region's oil sands region—has spent $77,000 on advertisements in media outlets such as the Washington Post, Politico, and National Journal, ahead of a trip to Capitol Hill this week by Canadian Premier Alison Redford, who is expected to pitch D.C. policymakers on the benefits of the pipeline.
The ad, titled Keystone XL: The Choice of Reason, that ran in the Washington Post is almost identical to one that ran in the New York Times about a month ago, and urges the approval of the pipeline and "oil from a neighbour, ally, friend, and responsible energy developer." The ads are expected to reach an audience of more than 1.5 million people and "are targeted at key decision-makers in the Washington area," Neala Barton, press secretary for Redford, told the Herald.
But will the advertising blitz benefit either camp when it comes to influencing policymakers' decision on the project? Probably not, according to experts.
"A lot of it is grandstanding—this has become such a big political talking point for both sides and everyone seems to want to raise the stakes as much as possible," says Nick Loris, an energy policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank. "The president and the Department of State are going to be confident in their decision one way or the other."