STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Here's a reminder that the number one foreign provider of oil to the United States is not Libya, not Saudi Arabia, not Kuwait. It's Canada. Given the huge reserves in Alberta's oil sands region, we're likely to become even more dependent on the Canadians. Getting all that oil across the border includes heavy duty new infrastructure. And as NPR's Martin Kaste reports, that is causing some cross-border tensions.
MARTIN KASTE: America's oil future is coming. In fact, if you happen to be driving Highway 12 in Montana, you might find a big piece of that oil future coming straight at you.
Unidentified Man #1: You need to be off the road, we got traffic coming, you're going to get squashed flat.
KASTE: Creeping down this winding mountain road is a tractor-trailer hauling a coke drum for an oil refinery. The drum, imported from Asia, is huge - two lanes wide, three stories tall, with yellow caution lights flashing through the midnight snow flurries.
(Soundbite of idling engine)
KASTE: Safely parked off the road, Zack Porter watches the rig go by. He's part of the organized opposition to these loads.
Mr. ZACK PORTER: These trucks have no, no business being here, and we're going to do what it takes to keep them out.
KASTE: So far, only a couple of convoys have gone through, headed for a ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings. But Porter says other oil companies are waiting in the wings.
Mr. PORTER: This is just the beginning. My kids, you know, could be growing up with these things driving by every night through town.
KASTE: Two hundred similar big rigs may soon follow - modules for a petroleum processing facility that Imperial Oil is shipping to Alberta. As Canada's oil industry ramps up, people here expect to see more of this kind of mega-traffic, and they wonder about its effects on an area known mainly for rafting and fly-fishing.
(Soundbite of music and round dancing caller)
KASTE: And, to a lesser degree, round dancing.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man #2 (Round Dancing caller): Spin turn, box finish...
KASTE: Barry and Bobbie Bartlett own a campground here that specializes in round dancing and its cousin, square dancing. In the summer, the place is packed with square dancers who camp on the strip of land between highway 12 and an unspoiled mountain creek. Bobbie practically grew up here.
Ms. BOBBIE BARTLETT (Campground owner): It's wild, it's scenic, it's beautiful. It just fills your soul.
KASTE: And she's worried about losing all that.
Ms. BARTLETT: Big rigs don't fit that picture for me.
(Soundbite of car passing)
KASTE: But that sentiment isn't universal along Highway 12. A little way up the mountain, taped to a garage door is a hand-lettered sign that declares, "Welcome to Montana Big Rigs!" The sign is the handiwork of Kelly Sayler; she doesn't get why people oppose these trucks and the Canadian oil industry that they're supplying.
Ms. KELLY SAYLER: It's helping us. It's going to make gas for us. So if people like driving their cars, then I don't feel like they should have a problem with it.
KASTE: Still, Canadian oil is running into American resistance, and not just in Montana. While the Montanans protest big rigs carrying oil equipment north, farmers in the Midwest are upset about a pipeline that'll bring Canadian oil south. The Keystone XL pipeline is meant to connect Alberta to the refineries on the Gulf Coast, but the project is getting pushback from land-owners - and even some members of congress. Mike Johanns is a Republican Senator from Nebraska.
Senator MIKE JOHANNS (Republican, Nebraska): Could not be a worse route in the entire state of Nebraska. Maybe couldn't be a worse route in the entire country.
KASTE: The pipeline company, TransCanada, wants to cross parts of Nebraska that would be especially vulnerable in the event of an oil spill.
Senator JOHANNS: You can drive through areas and the water is sitting there on top of the surface. I mean, the Ogallala Aquifer lays right there.
KASTE: That's why some ranchers and farmers have refused to let the pipeline cross their land; but TransCanada spokesman Jeff Raugh says they shouldn't worry about the pipeline contaminating the high water table.
Mr. JEFF RAUGH (TransCanada Spokesman): The pipelines are designed to operate safely in those environments.
KASTE: Raugh says TransCanada is building this pipeline because it just makes sense for Americans to buy oil from their neighbor.
Mr. RAUGH: The choices are to either get more oil from the Middle East or Russia or Nigeria, for instance, or alternatively, to seek oil from North America.
KASTE: But all oil isn't created equal; the stuff from Alberta is mined or steamed out of the ground - and that extra energy means the oil ends up producing more greenhouse gases. Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, says America doesn't need a bigger supply of that.
Ms. SUSAN CASEY-LEFKOWITZ (Natural Resources Defense Council): These pipelines are around for decades, and so they lock us in to a very dirty form of energy, and they really encourage expansion of that dirty form of energy, of tar sands oil.
KASTE: But in Washington these days, the global warming argument doesn't get you very far. The real speed bump for Canadian oil in the U.S. has been local stuff - the backyard environmental issues. In the mountain west, protests and the threat of lawsuit appear to have stalled the 200 Imperial Oil big rigs that are destined for Canada. And as to the pipeline, the Obama administration has now held off giving final approval while it does a supplemental environmental impact statement and takes public comment.
Martin Kaste, NPR News.
INSKEEP: That new pipeline could mean higher gas prices for some Americans and we'll hear about that tomorrow on MORNING EDITION.
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