House Foreign Affairs subcommittee jumps into Keystone pipeline fray

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will enter the battle over the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline next week with a hearing that’s slated to feature two witnesses who strongly support the project.

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A subpanel of the GOP-controlled committee will meet Thursday to explore U.S. energy ties with Mexico and Canada, a session that will focus on Keystone XL, which would bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries.

Invited witnesses include American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard and Institute for Energy Research President Thomas Pyle, whose group is partly funded by fossil fuel companies.

“I hope to delve into the Administration’s continued delay in approving the highly popular Keystone XL pipeline from Canada. Studies show this pipeline will create jobs and increase our energy independence while protecting the environment,” said Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee that’s holding the hearing.

The other focus of the hearing is the Transboundary Hydrocarbons Agreement between the U.S. and Mexico that addresses oil-and-gas exploration in a portion of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Obama administration plans to submit the agreement to Congress soon, a State Department official said in late February. Salmon, in his statement on the hearing, said the administration is dragging its feet.

“This agreement has significant mutual opportunities for both the United States and Mexican economies through the development of oil and gas reservoirs that cross the international maritime boundary between the U.S. and Mexico in the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.

On Keystone, Republicans, oil industry groups and some Democrats are pressuring President Obama to approve the northern leg of the project, which is under State Department review because it would cross the border from Canada into the U.S.

Environmentalists bitterly oppose TransCanada Corp.’s proposed pipeline, arguing it would worsen climate change by serving as a catalyst for expansion of carbon-intensive oil sands projects.

A recent draft State Department report, however, found that approval or rejection of Keystone is “unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands.”