Commentary: Keystone XL — the cost of politics and illusion

For over five years, the Obama Administration has delayed a decision on the Keystone pipeline because of alleged concerns about environmental impacts, especially climate change.  The Administration’s non-decision process has been strongly supported by its activist environmental allies who have made extreme and unsupportable claims.  Now, the truth comes out from the former Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, who finally admitted that the decision is “a political one, and one founded in science” and just yesterday by former Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, who said that Keystone is a “win-win.”

In spite of these admissions, environmental activists continue their campaign to have the pipeline rejected by the President who last week reiterated that the decision should turn on whether it is in the national interest.  That should be a no brainer.

Key questions are will Keystone increase energy security, will it increase domestic investment, will it create jobs, will it harm the environment, and will it have an adverse impact on climate?

It has been estimated that completion of the pipeline would result in over 800,000 barrels of oil flowing from Canada into the lower 48 states.  That is an increase of about 500,000 barrels being transported by rail into the US.  Additional oil from Canada is oil that we don’t have to import from the Middle East or Venezuela.  That is clearly in the national interest.

Completing the pipeline would result in an additional investment of about $4 billion by TransCanada and create 40,000 new jobs during the construction phase and upwards of 120,000 indirect jobs.  That is clearly in the national interest at a time of stubbornly high unemployment and the lowest labor participation rate in many decades.

Completing the pipeline will not have a significant impact on the environment according to the State Department environmental impact analysis.  That conclusion is consistent with other studies, especially one last fall by IHS CERA that also concluded  GHG emissions when looked at on a “wells to wheels” basis have been grossly overblown.  Oil that does not come to the US will most likely go to the far-east, primarily China.  It will be shipped by tankers, refined in refineries that are not as environmentally advanced as ours, and burned in vehicles that do not meet our emission requirements.  That alternative is clearly worse for the environment.

If the pipeline is not completed, oil will continue to be shipped to the US by rail which is neither as safe nor efficient as the pipeline.  The State Department in its analysis concluded that shipping oil by rail “would result in an estimated 49 additional injuries and six additional fatalities” for the no action scenario.  That compares with an estimate of one additional injury and no fatalities if the pipeline is completed. Oil spills would also be greater if oil is shipped by rail by more than a factor of 4—1200 barrels versus 250.

As more time has gone by and more analyses completed, it is absolutely clear that Keystone has been driven by politics and bogus claims; not science or the national interest.  The late astronomer Carl Sagan once observed “credulous acceptance of baloney can be dangerous.  When societies and governments lose the capacity for critical thinking the results can be catastrophic.”

As Peggy Noonan recently wrote, we have the politics of selfishness instead of public service and with comes more baloney and less critical thinking.