The Keystone XL Imperative

November 2011, Vol. 238 No. 11

Jeff Share, Editor

I never thought the Keystone XL Pipeline project would be the climactic event in the environment vs. energy debate.

Now as we approach the final decision, which rests in President Obama’s hands, I’ll bet that he never expected a proposed pipeline would be one of the defining moments of his administration.

Without rehashing the millions of words written about Keystone XL, let’s look at this from a logical perspective. For three years, governmental agencies on both sides of the border have exhaustively studied every detail about this multibillion-dollar project that will not cost taxpayers a cent but will provide thousands of temporary and permanent jobs as well as increased tax revenues to cash-starved local governments.

Keystone XL is designed to transport diluted bitumen from the Alberta oil-rich tar sands 1,661 miles via a 36-inch pipeline that would begin at Hardisty, extending into Saskatchewan and through the American heartland before ending up in Texas Gulf Coast refineries.

Opponents have tried everything in their misguided approach to block the project, including unsubstantiated innuendo, baseless fear-mongering that has fed off of several recent incidents in the pipeline industry, and the threat to a Nebraska aquifer.

They say the product is more corrosive to pipelines than traditional crude oil. But a report from Cambridge Energy Research Associates suggests the tar sands oil is no dirtier than Nigerian light, or California or Middle East heavy crude. Pipeline officials insist it is not an extraordinarily hazardous product to transport.

TransCanada as a pipeline operator is second to none. The company has built and maintains control over tens of thousands of miles of pipelines in North America. It has agreed to exceed any stipulations that have been requested to ensure the pipeline’s safety. A state-of-the-art control room will constantly monitor every inch of pipeline for potential anomalies.

Pipelines, as the government acknowledges, are still the safest way to transport oil; continued technological advances have reduced the number and severity of incidents. If incidents do occur – and the exploration, production and transportation of energy products is a dangerous business – TransCanada will respond immediately and in force.

Regarding the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska, TransCanada will be responsible for providing an alternative water supply in the unlikely event of a contamination incident.

True, use of the oil does little to alleviate emissions and improve the environment. But what are the alternatives? Should Washington kill the pipeline, China will buy the oil – so much for climate control. At least in America we can continue to responsibly regulate emissions by making refineries and cars operate more efficiently and cleanly. With our economic recovery still plagued by uncertainty, there has to be give and take between business and the so-called environmental movement. We need oil and we need environmental protection.

One argument that opponents would like to make is that we as a nation have decided to take steps in recent years to develop alternative sources of energy such as wind and solar. But today there are no other products that can provide energy in the massive quantities that we need other than oil and gas. The technology isn’t there and probably won’t be for another 25 years. Ask these opponents what we would use instead of oil and they tell us to “conserve” because they have no other answer. Conservation is a great concept, but it’s not going to make much of a difference. An economy runs on cheap energy, lots of it.

Let’s look at Keystone XL and the vast number of shale plays around America as golden opportunities to move forward while continuing to invest in research for alternative energy sources. For instance, why not devote a penny per gallon of gasoline sold into a research fund?

For the president, it’s a no-win situation. Support the project and there’s still not enough he can do to sway his opponents while losing part of his base. Turn it down and he creates a political firestorm.

Just take a deep breath, think about when you went after Bin Laden, and do the right thing for America.

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