Romney pitches Keystone as key to energy plan

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney says he has a plan to make America energy independent by 2020, and repeated his belief that the Keystone XL pipeline is central to achieving that.

Republican presidential hopeful repeats pipeline support

Mitt Romney says he rejects Barack Obama's energy plan and offered an alternative on Thursday. (Reuters)

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney says he has a plan to make the U.S. energy independent by 2020, and repeated his belief that the Keystone XL pipeline is central to achieving that.

On the campaign trail in New Mexico, Romney made a stump speech in Hobbs, N.M., in which he said a Romney administration would have a goal of securing the continent's energy needs solely via domestic sources by 2020.

The call for American — indeed, North American — energy independence is a frequent campaign promise from presidential candidates. But Romney says his campaign is serious about the issue

"This is not some pie in the sky kind of thing," Romney told voters in the heart of New Mexico's oil and gas industry. "This is a real achievable objective."

Romney singled out the Keystone XL, a 1,900-kilometre pipeline designed to bring crude oil from Canada's oilsands in Hardisty, Alta., to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Headed up by Calgary-based TransCanada, the Keystone XL has faced multiple regulatory hurdles and become a political hot potato in an election year.

After initially being warm to the idea, U.S. President Barack Obama put the plan temporarily on ice in late 2011 by asking the state department to re-examine a new route for the deal that would divert the pipe around ecologically sensitive regions of Nebraska's Sandhills, and the Ogallala aquifer that supplies the drinking water for seven U.S. states.

Supporters have said the project would create 50,000 jobs and $2 billion US in economic potential for the state of Texas alone. But the plan has faced fierce opposition from environmentalists, who say it is an ecological disaster waiting to happen.

But Romney didn't mince words in his support for the plan on Thursday. "We're going to get that Keystone pipeline built as one of those first infrastructure projects to take advantage of their resources," Romney said.

He went further still, saying he wanted to "establish an energy partnership with Canada and Mexico."

"We need to work together with these guys, work collaboratively," he said. "And we need to have a fast-track process to make sure that infrastructure projects are approved."

Offshore drilling

Beyond Keystone, the cornerstone of Romney's plan is opening up more areas for offshore oil drilling, including in the mid-Atlantic, where it is currently banned.

The proposal would establish a new five-year leasing plan for offshore oil production that "aggressively opens" new areas for drilling, starting with the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina. Virginia's Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has pushed to expand offshore drilling as a boost to Virginia's economy.

The Obama administration has proposed a plan that would allow energy companies to begin seismic testing to find oil and natural reserves in the Atlantic Ocean. Companies would use the information to determine where to apply for energy leases, although no leases would be available until at least 2017.

A spokesperson for Obama's re-election campaign told donors in New York Wednesday night that under his administration, dependence on foreign oil has gone below 50 per cent for the first time in 13 years. 

The Romney plan makes little mention of wind energy, which Obama has promoted heavily in states such as Iowa and Colorado. Obama has pushed Congress to extend a tax credit for producers of wind energy, an approach that Romney opposes.

Romney accused Obama of seeking to block oil and gas production in order to help renewable energy companies prosper.

"I like wind and solar like the next person, but I don't want the law to be used to stop the production of oil and gas and coal," Romney said.

Taken as a whole, Romney said his energy plan would create three million jobs and more than $1 trillion in revenue. 

With files from The Associated Press