The Keystone XL pipeline proposal is one of the most controversial energy issues facing America today, roiling the energy industry and bringing protests to the White House’s front step. Supporters say it would provide a secure source of energy and jobs, but opponents say oil-sands crude will threaten fragile ecosystems and worsen global warming. The Obama Administration hasn’t yet made its decision, but comments by cabinet members, including Energy Secretary Steven Chu, hint at an approval. 

In this exclusive one-on-one interview energyNOW! anchor Thalia Assuras discusses the Keystone XL pipeline, the growing global demand for oil, and the environmental impacts of oil-sands development with Secretary Chu. You can watch the full video below:

Keystone XL‘s environmental impact is concerning, but industry efforts to reduce that impact make the proposal palatable, said Chu. “The companies that are extracting these tar sands are making great strides in improving the environmental impact of the oil, and will continue to do so, and they should be encouraged and pressed to do so,” said Chu. “In the end, it’s one of those things that, it’s not perfect, but it’s a trade-off.” 

“I know there’s been concerns about this, but the technologies that are used to extract tar sands oil are improving dramatically, so I think that could go forward,” said Chu. “There are great technological improvements in cleaning up the extraction of that oil.” 

The U.S. State Department is running the project review process because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border. Secretary Chu, whose agency is submitting comments to the State Department’s review, thinks the project’s proximity makes it an asset to America. “Having Canada as a supplier for our oil is much more comforting than to have other countries supply our oil,” he said. “It is a better, more reliable supplier...we have been good neighbors for a long period of time.”  

However, growing global oil demand is pushing prices higher and will force the U.S. to ultimately wean itself off oil, said Chu. “Look at what’s happening in China, India, and the rest of the developing world – they want to drive cars, the demand for gasoline is going to skyrocket. Guess what’s going to happen to the oil prices,” he said. “It spikes up, it drops down, spikes up, drops down – this is going to continue unless we are less dependent on oil as a country.” 

The Obama Administration is pursuing a multiple-part strategy to diversify U.S. transportation for oil, including promoting electric vehicle technology, increasing energy efficiency for vehicles, and next generation biofuels, said Chu.