On Keystone pipeline, excuses run dry

Michael James Barton

The White House is fresh out of ideas for delaying the Keystone XL pipeline.

For months, the president said he couldn’t move on the issue until the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled on a local legal challenge to the pipeline. “I’m just going to gather up the facts,” he explained. Strange, since a brilliant attorney such as the president should have immediately recognized that the case was an obvious delaying tactic with no hope of winning.

In an unsurprising development, this month, the court threw out the case. That same day, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill approving Keystone. The Senate is expected to do the same soon.

Given these developments, President Obama should approve Keystone once and for all. The only delay justified at this point is divisive partisan politics, which is no justification at all.

Keystone XL, which would connect Canadian fields with American refineries in the Gulf, was first proposed back in 2009. Every argument raised against its construction since then has been thoroughly debunked.

Initially, opponents claimed it would increase carbon emissions. President Obama used that line and promised to block Keystone if it was shown to negatively affect the environment.

The State Department looked into this issue and found that Keystone’s construction would have, at most, a negligible impact on carbon emissions.

What’s more, researchers determined that its construction could have positive environmental benefits as well. Keystone would help expand U.S. natural gas production. Gas releases about half the emissions of coal and is its lower priced substitute. So the migration to gas prompted by the pipeline could reduce overall domestic greenhouse gas emissions.

If the pipeline isn’t built, Canada’s energy companies will still sell the oil, but they’ll have to ship it by rail, which releases far more carbon than a pipeline.

Anti-Keystone activists have also argued that the precipitous drop in the price of oil renders the pipeline unprofitable. But even with oil hovering at historic lows, Keystone still makes economic sense. It is an odd argument from these activists who opposed the project back when they saw it as being profitable. And it is possible these activists have skills of some sort that we should pay attention to, but economic analysis clearly isn’t one of them.

Added bonus: Pipelines are vastly cheaper to maintain than railroads, costing about $8 less per barrel, and avoid the terrible derailments like the ones we have seen recently.

And there’s good reason to believe that producers can make up for lower prices with higher sales volume. Over the last three years, the Canadian tar sand’s daily energy production has jumped over half a million barrels, to 2 million. And it looks to keep growing. Alberta officials predict daily production could hit 4.4 million barrels within a decade.

There’s no good reason to keep delaying Keystone. All of its critics’ concerns have been answered; the remaining activist complaints are simply bad faith attempts to delay the project.

And, unlike the pipeline’s imaginary harms, its economic benefits are very real. Pipeline construction is expected to create over 40,000 jobs. And those new jobs will in turn stimulate additional economic activity along Keystone’s route, with technicians, welders and surveyors spending their paychecks at local retailers.

A recent Pew poll found that fully 59 percent favor construction of the pipeline.

The facts are in. Keystone XL is safe. It would avoid degrading the environment while generating new, desperately needed jobs. It’s time the White House gave its approval and let pipeline builders get to work. At this point it has taken longer to get a permission slip from the president to build the pipeline than it will take to actually build. Let’s move.

Michael James Barton is the director for energy at ARTIS Research. He previously served as the deputy director of Middle East policy at the Pentagon.