Former White House spokesman: Polls won’t drive Obama on Keystone

A Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday showed 66 percent of respondents support TransCanada Corp.’s project to bring crude from Alberta’s oil sands projects to Gulf Coast refineries. It is the latest of multiple polls showing majority backing.

Burton acknowledged that, “the politics of this are not perfectly on our side” but also noted “big fights don’t always start with popular support.”

LCV and other pipeline foes hope to influence the battle – politically and otherwise – by highlighting the recent spill of heavy Canadian oil from Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Ark.

The spill, estimated to be several thousand barrels, occurred after the recent Pew poll was conducted.

Environmentalists say images of oil in streets and lawns in Mayflower highlight the possibility of even greater risks if the larger Keystone line is built to bring crude from Canadian oil sands projects to Gulf Coast refineries.

“The American people and the White House are seeing the devastating impacts of tar sands oil on the television in real time,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, LCV’s senior vice president of government affairs.

She said the spill is “dramatically changing the politics” of the Keystone pipeline battle.

The State Department is reviewing TransCanada's application for a cross-border permit for Keystone, but the final call is expected to be made in the West Wing.

Exxon said the oil that spilled from its Pegasus line is “Wabasca Heavy,” a form of heavy crude that’s produced in the oil sands region of Alberta. The company says the heavy oil is from “conventional” production, not oil sands development methods. 

However, a Canadian Energy Pipeline Association report lists “Wabasca Heavy” as a form of “diluted bitumen,” a term used for diluting the type of hydrocarbons in the oil sands region for transport. So does CrudeMonitor.ca, a website that serves as a clearinghouse of information on different forms of Canadian oil.

Titles aside, Exxon – and the industry overall – has strongly pushed back against environmental group claims that pipeline transport of diluted bitumen carries special risks.

This post was updated at 3:28 p.m.