Keystone XL: Easy Oil, Tough Crowd

This is an essay I wrote for my political science class this summer in DC. Take it into consideration that I was supposed to pick a side and defend it, which is why the language is blunt and harsh on my boi President Obama. (This is about his politics, not my love for him as a person.)  I wanted to publish it today since I heard Trump is signing an executive order to approve KXL. If you read this through, I promise you’ll understand why this is a great thing. You’ll also find pictures of Alberta because I love it and KXL helps us there. 

TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has become a “great political symbol”, as coined by Coral Davenport of the New York Times. The 1,179 mile long pipeline could move 510,000 barrels of crude oil a day and would be a major upgrade from the current Keystone lines. The first phases of Keystone, plus Keystone XL, would bring the overall daily output of oil in the US to 1.1 million barrels. The Obama administration blocked the fourth phase, Keystone XL, last November after more than seven years of deliberation with TransCanada, citing the proposed environmental impact. The State Department issued a statement after denying the pipeline’s permit application, saying, “granting a Presidential Permit for this proposed project would undermine U.S. climate leadership and thereby have an adverse impact on encouraging other States to combat climate change and work to achieve and implement a meaningful global climate agreement.”

President Obama refused to allow construction until it was proven to cause no harmful environmental affects. So, it’s peculiar the pipeline was vetoed after no major dangers to the environment were found in the State Department’s intense environmental impact study released in 2014, which found no significant impacts of the new pipeline. Jonathan Chait of NY Mag had one explanation for this lack of footing, “So, what public policy reason is there to block the pipeline? There really isn’t one. Indeed, the environmentalists’ obsession with Keystone began as a gigantic mistake. Two and a half years ago, the environmentalist James Hansen wrote a blog post alerting his readers to the pipeline, which he concluded would amount to “game over” for the climate […] His analysis was based on a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation that turned out to be wrong in several respects.”

Keystone XL was chosen as the scapegoat for President Obama’s environmental goals, as a means for the Obama Administration to assert an environmentalism agenda. The problem is, there’s never been sufficient evidence to prove the evil of the pipeline. President Obama picked the wrong fight, or as the Washington Post Editorial Board put it, “the environmentalists drew the wrong line in the wrong sand.” David Victor, a climate-policy expert at the University of California also said it best — “As a serious strategy for dealing with climate, blocking Keystone is a waste of time. But as a strategy for arousing passion, it is dynamite.”

Keystone XL, and pipelines in general, are the cheapest, safest and most efficient way to transport crude oil from Alberta through the Midwest to the refineries along the coast. Denying the construction of Keystone XL will not curb the demand for oil or stop production; oil is just going to be shipped to the United States in more expensive ways. Without the use of a pipeline, oil is trucked, floated on oil tankers or moved by trains. The Lac-Mégantic rail disaster is a prime example of the dangers of transporting crude oil by rail. In 2013, an unattended 74-car unattended freight train derailed and exploded in the small Quebec town. The devastating blast killed 40 people and destroyed half of downtown Lac-Mégantic.

The fears of explosions, mass chaos and destruction from gushing oil pipelines is fairly baseless. Oil is not radioactive, and frankly, sewage pipes are more toxic and run everywhere. The risks of oil pipelines exploding are in a similar range of natural gas pipelines, which are built under every major city, state or town without complaint. Punctured natural gas lines would blow us all to pieces, but we’re not worried. An Alaskan pipeline was built in the 1970s and many people had the same safety concerns we hear today. The Alaskan pipeline was being built in much more fragile territory than Keystone XL, which is routed through the rugged and vast American Midwest.

There are pipelines all over the world, and the blocking of Keystone XL is a trite political insult to Canada, a valuable and peaceful trade partner to the United States. The US government should jump on the opportunity to partner with a good neighbor and have a completely reliable source of oil instead of worrying as much about the Middle East. The pipeline would be a huge source of new jobs for Americans and a boost to the Canadian economy. (Many Americans have probably ignored the fact that Alberta is in an economic recession for the first time in decades.) President Obama should have put positive trade relations ahead of proven petty environmental concerns.

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