Kellyanne Conway To Visit Canada's Tar Sands, And That Can't Mean Anything Good

The trip has been called “a strong signal to Canadians on the importance of this province to the United States.”

11/30/2016 05:11 am ET
Credit: Todd Korol / Reuters
Kellyanne Conway will visit Fort McMurray, Alberta, in January to see Canada's tar sands.

President-elect Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway will visit Canada’s tar sands early next year ahead of his inauguration. It’s a bad omen for the fight against climate change ― and may portend renewed hope for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline ― considering the president-elect has promised to ramp up fossil fuel production and spurned efforts to halt climate change.

But Alberta Prosperity Fund chair Heather Forsyth hailed the move as “a strong signal to Canadians on the importance of this province to the United States” when the super PAC announced the visit on Tuesday.

“This visit by such an influential member of a U.S. administration should stand as a call to action for all Alberta industry,” said Barry McNamar, founder and president of Alberta Prosperity Fund, in a statement. “I hope that Ms. Conway receives an enthusiastic welcome here in Alberta and can return to the U.S. with an informed attitude towards Canadian export products.”

The tar sands have been a contentious place in American politics ever since the Keystone pipeline was proposed. It would have carried up to 730,000 barrels of Canadian oil into the country a day, but President Barack Obama rejected the project last year after environmental groups raised concerns about how expensive and dirty the fuel is to produce.

Refining oil from tar sands is water-intensive and usually involves the clearing of large swaths of land. The finished product also results in substantially higher greenhouse gas emissions than other means of crude production.

Credit: Todd Korol / Reuters
Tar sands production is expensive, destructive and dirty, often requiring forests to be cut down.

While Obama said Keystone wouldn’t “serve the national interest of the United States,” many are now looking to the incoming Trump administration to see if the president-elect plans to reconsider the pipeline. 

TransCanada, the company behind Keystone, said it planned to “engage” with Trump shortly after his election and a spokesman said they remained “fully committed to building” the pipeline. That sentiment was echoed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has asked Trump to approve the pipeline should a proposal cross his desk.

The Washington Post notes that Conway’s visit would “make a powerful symbolic statement about where a Trump presidency might come down on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that President Obama rejected but which would, if revived, link the oil sands region in Alberta to advanced refineries on the Texas gulf coast.”

However, even if Trump is amenable to tar sands, the price of crude oil has plummeted in recent years and the construction of Keystone may no longer be economically viable. Oil cost about $100 a barrel when the project was first proposed, but the price now hovers around $50.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved two other tar sands pipelines on Tuesday, the Kinder-Morgan Trans Mountain and Enbridge Line 3, drawing sharp criticism from groups who said the decision contradicted pledges to mitigate climate change.

“We’ve heard clearly from Canadians that they don’t want to see someone trying to make a choice between what’s good for the environment and what’s good for the economy,” Trudeau said at a press conference.

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