Canada's natural resources minister, Joe Oliver, was in Washington, D.C. this week to convince American policymakers and the public to approve of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
Oliver's visit is just the latest in a string of lobbying efforts by Canadian officials – including Alberta's premier Alison Redford who spoke at a D.C. think-tank event earlier this month – aimed at addressing criticism of the 1,179-mile, $7 billion project that would bring heavy crude oil from Canada's oil sands region to U.S. refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.
"Ultimately, this comes down to a choice: the U.S. can choose Canada, a friend, neighbor and ally, as its source of oil imports," Oliver said in a speech according to the AFP. "Or it can choose to continue to import oil from less-friendly, less-stable countries with weaker or perhaps no environmental standards."
To assuage concerns of potential spills, Oliver went on to detail the safety features of the project, adding that the Keystone XL "is not your grandfather's pipeline."
But while Canadian officials might be feeling nervous about the ultimate outcome of the Keystone saga, one former senior State Department figure says the project is pretty much a slam dunk.
"It's overwhelmingly likely that Keystone XL will be approved," says David Gordon, former director of policy planning under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and current head of research at Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm Eurasia Group. "The environmentalists remain strongly opposed to this, but I think [President Barack Obama] has been very careful in highlighting his general approach to green energy but also an all-of-the-above approach."
"He's gone out of his way to craft an approach that really walks this fine line between balancing his environmentalist base and the overwhelming benefits you get from the pipeline," Gordon adds, referring to job creation and tax revenue.
Rejecting the pipeline would also be diplomatically disastrous, akin to a "kick in the face" to one of our closest allies, Gordon says. After all, part of the reason Canadian officials have been in Washington campaigning so hard for the pipeline is to underscore how important the project is to both countries.
The only thing that could derail approval is an unforeseen environmental accident involving oil, Gordon says, adding that the "political and diplomatic sides of this are stable."
Despite Gordon's confidence that the pipeline will ultimately be approved, there's still a lot of bureaucratic hoops for the project to jump through. The public comment period on the State Department's draft environmental impact statement has not been extended, which means the agency must now produce a final statement. After that, it will determine if the project is in the nation's public interest, a process that could take up to 90 days.
"It's a question of timing," Gordon says. "This is just not one of these issues that can go on forever. My bet is the administration will take the full [90 days] and release a decision in the fall."