Nightly News   |  April 26, 2013

The oil at the heart of the Keystone pipeline controversy

The Keystone pipeline, a project to transport heavy crude from Canada to the Gulf Coast, is expected to provide thousands of temporary construction jobs in the U.S., but critics say the oil it carries comes at a terrible cost. NBC’s Anne Thompson reports.

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>>> tonight the energy company behind the controversial keystone pipeline says that the long delayed project will be delayed even longer now. the projected start date -- late 2015 , as it awaits approval from the obama administration. it would carry almost a million barrels of oil a day from alberta to the gulf coast . it is a highly polarizing project. our chief environmental affairs correspondent anne thompson traveled north of the border to see firsthand what the fight is all about.

>> reporter: 700 miles thort of the u.s./ canadian border is a place called the oil sands . it's at the heart of the controversy over the proposed keystone pipeline which would send heavy crowd from landlocked alberta to the coast. while the project is expected to provide 3900 construction jobs in the u.s., critics say it comes at a terrible cost.

>> this is a toxic, dirty, messy process.

>> reporter: getting oil out of the ground creates more global warming gases.

>> you can see the oil in the sand. this is how the oil occurs fachly.

>> reporter: no gushers here. at this mine they dig for oil 365 days a year. 28 trucks, each burning 45 gallons of diesel fuel an hour. this dump truck is two stories high. when fully loaded it weighs almost 1.4 million pounds. that's heavier than a 747 airplane. and the tire alone, 10,500 pounds. hot water is used to separate oil from the sand which creates ponds of waste that can be toxic to wildlife. shell recycles water and plans to use oh the sand to refill the mine. but producing oil here is adding carbon to the atmosphere at a time when the world is trying to cut emissions. is this a step many the wrong direction?

>> i think for the foreseeable future we are going to need fossil fuels . we have a world economy based on fossil fuels .

>> reporter: a company called sinovis is getting the oil another way -- drilling. they flew us in to show us how. under ground the soil is solid so steam is injected to melt it. there is less land to clear and no giant trucks but making steam means burning natural gas meaning more carbon dioxide . the profits are below the industry average for emissions but higher than conventional methods.

>> we will not get emissions down to zero. can we continue to decrease them? it's something we work on.

>> reporter: canada plans to more than double production here. getting the trcrude ready for transport creates more emissions. yet another reason why environmentalists are upset.

>> you cannot reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the same time you're expanding development in one of the most carbon intensive dirty fuel sources on the planet.

>> reporter: canada's oil sands fuelling riches and controversy on both sides of the border.