General makes national security case for Keystone XL

One of President Barack Obama’s former top advisers today made the case for swift approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, arguing that the project is essential to the nation’s economic and national security.

“I feel strongly approving the project serves the economic and security interests of the United States,” said Ret. Gen. Jim Jones, who served as Obama’s national security adviser from January 2009 through October 2010. “Continued dependence on far-flung supplies creates uncertainties that impede competitiveness and send the wrong message to (manufacturers).”

Jones made his comments to reporters in a conference call organized by the American Petroleum Institute, which is lobbying for swift approval of TransCanada’s proposed 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline. The $7 billion project would deliver oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas.

The State Department recently decided to delay a final verdict on whether the $7 billion project is in the national interest until early 2013 so it could conduct an environmental analysis of an alternative route being considered by TransCanada and Nebraska policymakers.

But House Republicans are pushing a plan that would force the Obama administration to make a decision sooner. Earlier this week, the House passed a GOP-authored bill that would renew a 2 percent Social Security payroll tax cut — a top White House priority — while also requiring the administration to decide on permitting the pipeline within 60 days.

The payroll-pipeline bill faces a steep climb in the Democratically controlled Senate and Obama has threatened to veto the legislation, but this morning, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, insisted Republicans will not back down.

Pipeline proponents, including oil and gas industry leaders, Republican presidential candidates and GOP lawmakers, say the project could deliver thousands of construction and manufacturing jobs, delivering a much-needed jolt to the nation’s economy. A study commissioned by TransCanada said as many as 20,000 jobs could be tied to construction of the pipeline, though other analyses put the numbers much lower — around 3,000.

Republicans have seized on the pipeline as a potent political issue ahead of the 2012 elections. In a Republican presidential debate Thursday night, Newt Gingrich and Michelle Bachmann both insisted the Obama administration was wrong to delay a decision on Keystone XL.

Gingrich said Obama would look like he was “totally out of touch with the American people” if he vetoed the pipeline and payroll tax legislation.

And Bachmann accused Obama of letting politics drive the decision to delay, given the strong environmental opposition to the pipeline and the type of oil it would deliver to the United States.

Environmentalists say the pipeline would expand the marketplace for oil sands crude that produces more greenhouse gas emissions from production to combustion than alternatives because of the energy-intensive techniques used to harvest it. Companies typically extract the tar-like hydrocarbon bitumen from Canada’s oil sands by open-pit mining and in-situ techniques involving underground injections of steam that liquefy the otherwise hard fossil fuel.

Jones insisted that the environmental footprint is not significantly higher than alternative crudes and said it makes sense for the U.S. to focus on getting the energy it needs from a reliable North American neighbor instead of the Middle East.

“Every day it becomes more evident for our nation to achieve true energy security we must engage our stable and reliable neighbors — Canada in particular,” Jones said. “The country can’t afford to pass up the opportunity for reliable supply from a close ally and neighbor, which would leave us less vulnerable (to supply disruptions from elsewhere in the world).”

TransCanada announced Thursday that it had signed up enough interested customers to support a 48-mile extension of the Keystone XL to refineries in Houston, which would more than double the U.S. Gulf Coast refining market capacity directly accessible from the pipeline system. TransCanada said more than 4 million barrels of oil per day would be delivered to the Gulf Coast region, with the Houston extension.

Like the overall Keystone XL pipeline, the lateral expansion would have to win regulators’ approval.

“Proceeding with the extension of the Keystone XL system to Houston and increasing capacity on the pipeline system will further enhance the connection of a secure, growing and reliable supply of Canadian crude oil and domestic U.S. crude oil with the largest refining market in North America,” said TransCanada CEO Russ Girling in a statement.