pipeline

One-hundred-fifty years ago, a man named Samuel Van Syckel built the nation's first commercial oil pipeline in the rugged terrain of northwestern Pennsylvania.

His pipeline transformed how oil is transported — and it would change the modern world, too — but not before a battle that makes the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline look meek by comparison.

Drive down gravel Road 22 in Nebraska's York County, past weathered farmhouses and corn cut to stubble in rich, black loam soil, and you'll find a small barn by the side of the road.

Built of native ponderosa pine, the barn is topped with solar panels. A windmill spins furiously out front.

Known as the Energy Barn, it's a symbol of renewable energy, standing smack on the proposed route of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline — a project of the energy giant TransCanada.

The Keystone XL pipeline remains a major point of contention within the Democratic Party, as green voters pull President Obama one direction and pro-energy senators and labor unions pull the other. It looks as though the "comment period" for the project will be extended, delaying a decision past the November elections.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Keystone XL oil pipeline may be closer to being built. The U.S. State Department's released an environmental impact statement that says the project would not make climate change any worse, and it's now up to President Obama to decide the fate of the pipeline. NPR's Jeff Brady reports that environmental groups and many Democrats want the president to reject the review's findings.

The State Department says that production of Canadian tar-sand crude, which has a bigger greenhouse gas footprint than other types of oil, is unlikely to be increased if the Keystone XL pipeline goes ahead — and therefore would do little to contribute to climate change.

A large section of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline went into official operation Wednesday, in a move that supporters say will help ease the flow of oil to refineries in the Gulf Coast region. The Obama administration has yet to rule on the project's northern portion.

The oil boom in the United States is creating another boom — for the railroad industry.

So far this year, in North Dakota alone, 140 million barrels of oil have left on trains. Shipments of crude oil by rail are up almost 50 percent over last year — and this upward trend is expected to continue.

A visit to the world-famous Tehachapi Loop, part of a winding mountain pass in Southern California, demonstrates the scale and reach of the oil boom in the middle of the country. As a train full of oil tanker cars rumbles past, it's hard not to think of it as a pipeline on wheels.

Five years ago this week, a Canadian company proposed building a pipeline to send heavy crude oil from Alberta to U.S. refineries. Although the Obama administration's answer on the Keystone XL pipeline is not expected anytime soon, politicians in Washington and Canada are ramping up the pressure for the project, while environmentalists are pushing hard against it.

At Margaret O'Keefe's farm in East Texas, they grow high-quality Bermuda grass. The fields are flat and vibrant green, surrounded by woods of a darker, richer green. The family loves this land. O'Keefe inherited it from her mother, who divided it among eight children.

"She used to call it 'enchanted valley,' " O'Keefe says.

But her "enchanted valley" also lies in the path of the Crosstex NGL Pipeline.

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu is pushing for support of the Keystone pipeline.