Over the last several months, the controversy over the Keystone XL pipeline extension has grown to such fevered pitch that several weeks ago, the Obama administration, fearing alienation of its own environmentalist base, punted a decision on its border crossing permit for another year of further "study" of the pipeline project. Proposed by pipeline company Transcanada, the Keystone XL extension consists of over 1,600 miles of 36" pipe that would move oil from the oil sands projects in Alberta, Canada, through Saskatchewan, into Montana, then crosscountry, using portions of the existing Keystone pipeline, extending all the way to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. When completed, the pipeline system is expected to have capacity to transport up to 1.1 million barrels of oil per day, or about 6 percent of our total oil consumption per day in the U.S. Combine this with our existing 7.5 million barrels of domestic petroleum production, this would total over 44 percent of our total domestic consumption per day.
Many opponents to the Keystone extension cite safety, pipeline routes, environmental concerns, and general opposition to the burning of oil in the U.S. for energy use. Many have declared the construction of this pipeline as some kind of tipping point, beyond which our environment will be lost forever. Some concerns are warranted, some are pure hyperbole; however, the vast majority of the concerns don't address the real problem that we burn 20 million barrels of oil per day in the U.S. That inconvenient fact is not changing, at least in the foreseeable future. Whether we build this pipeline or not, that number is only going to go up, since the U.S. has no long range energy policy, which means we'll have to import even more oil. In my view, I would rather import a million more barrels of oil a day from Canada, who is friendly, rather than from the Middle East, who is not. That's the choice. The only choice.
The Keystone extension is not the real issue here. It's our own energy policy (or lack thereof) that is. For almost 50 years, our elected leaders have simply kicked the can down the road rather than developing real policy. The Obama administration's decision to delay the cross border permit was transparently political, putting off the decision until after the 2012 election. This further "study" is simply a stall, adding another year to the already 3 year evaluation of the pipeline. I don't believe it's necessary, especially taking over a year; alternative routes for the pipeline, if that's the concern, can be developed in a matter of weeks and months, allowing the project to proceed thereafter. In fact, undisputed route construction could be begun immediately. I simply don't believe that more study of a highly studied project is the real reason for the delay. This is pure politics, in my view. Additionally, political decisions like this have unintended consequences. If the US proves to be too hard to deal with, Canada will just take their oil west... put it on ships... and sell it to China, the same country who's now competing for U.S. coal.
The U.S. desperately needs a comprehensive energy policy to reduce our overall burn of crude oil. Major pieces of that reduction includes conservation, efficiency, and alternative sources, including wind, solar, biofuels, and natural gas which has become more abundant in the US as a result of leapfrogging technology. To be sure, shale gas has its own issues, including the destruction of billions of gallons of fresh water lost through drilling and frac'ing, as well as damage to ground water aquifers.
None of these issues are easy to solve, and certainly won't be solved by the participants in the clown show that goes on daily in our nation's capital. I fear that we won't solve our energy consumption problem until we've exhausted every other alternative, forcing the politicians to act. That being said, though, our energy security is one of the key issues here. Every barrel of oil we import from the Middle East, and other countries (like Venezuela) who hate us, threatens our security and economic stability. A pipeline that can move another million barrels into our borders helps assure that security and stability until we get leadership in Washington who will grapple with the real problems we face.
The inconvenient reality is that this pipeline needs to be built to help assure our own energy security until we take authority over our own future, establishing a responsible comprehensive policy that makes massive oil imports less of a priority.