Will Obama Block the Keystone XL Pipeline?

Powerful environmental groups are bringing out the big guns with an op-ed in The Washington Post (contra a prior editorial by the Post in support) voicing their opposition to building the Keystone XL pipeline, a pipeline that would extend from Alberta, Canada down to Houston, Texas to deliver petroleum to refineries. (My colleague Marlo Lewis blogged about a recent trip he took to visit the Canadian oil sands.)

They are also planning a display of civil disobedience by organizing large demonstrations (with arrests) at the White House to demand that President Obama use his executive authority to block construction on the pipeline. Resourceful Earth will keep you updated on the effects these demonstrations have. Obama has authority through the State Department as the pipeline is under their authority because it crosses between the United States and Canada.

The editorial board of The Washington Post gets it right:

Here’s what she should say: Even if the U.S. government adopts stringent policies to cut oil use, the United States will be dependent on crude for decades. Oil demand across the world, meanwhile, is rising, which applies upward pressure on prices — and makes it economical to extract oil from Canada’s tar sands. Canada will produce its oil. We will burn a lot of it, no matter what, because there’s still spare capacity in existing U.S.-Canada pipelines. But when Canada produces more oil than it can send south, the Canadians won’t just leave it in the ground; they will ship it elsewhere. And America won’t be kept from importing and refining more low-grade crude oil; the United States will just get it from the Middle East, the Energy Department has concluded.

This oil will come out of the ground and be burned. If the environmentalists succeed in blocking the construction of the pipeline, the oil will simply be shipped to China, taking a much longer (and more environmentally damaging — barges don’t run on sunshine!) route than through a pipeline to the United States. Furthermore, blocking Canadian oil imports will simply require the United States to increase importing oil from other countries that aren’t as friendly or politically stable as Canada (here is a list of oil imports by country).

We all share the desire for a better environment. But the global economy is still dependent on petroleum, as neither electric vehicles or biofuels have shown promise in displacing global oil usage. Until that technology exists, we need to embrace the bountiful quantities of oil buried throughout the world.




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