The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Carbon, Copy

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted August 22, 2011

The New York Times opposes construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, raising two chief concerns here. To trump the benefits of the $7 billion project - tens of thousands of jobs and greater access to safe, secure oil from neighbor and ally Canada - the concerns must be pretty large. Let's explore.

First there's the pipeline itself - about 1,700 miles long, from Alberta to U.S. refiners as far away as the Gulf coast. The Times offers only token resistance, vaguely mentioning the risk of oil spills in the editorial's first and last paragraphs. That's it. With the same energy (sorry), you could dismiss wind power because of the risk it poses to birds and scenic vistas.

That leaves the Times' real villain, which is the source of the oil that would travel the Keystone XL: crude from Canada's oil sands. The carbon. Fighting the pipeline is and has been a proxy war against accessible, plentiful oil. So let's dissect the Times' argument against oil sands.

The Times calls it "acidic" oil, but TransCanada, the pipeline's builder, says the crude is "very similar" to oil already being transported by other pipelines and refined at U.S. facilities. TransCanada adds that the Keystone XL also would carry oil from U.S. producers in Texas, Oklahoma, Montana and North Dakota.

The Times says oil sands would create far more greenhouse gas emissions than other sources of oil sources, but the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers dispels that here.

The editorial says 740,000 acres of Canadian forest would have to be cut down to fully develop oil sands. Yet Reason magazine's Ron Bailey notes that Canada has 2.2 million square miles of forest. At 640 acres to the square mile, that's 1.4 billion acres. The 740,000 acres cited by the Times is about half of a percent of Canada's total forest acreage. Even so, companies like Suncor are planting hundreds of thousands of trees over reclaimed areas, while others are using horizontal drilling to minimize their forest footprint.

Then there's the elephant in the room, the reality that crude from oil sands won't stay in the ground if the Keystone XL isn't built - unmentioned in the Times editorial. China is positioning itself to be a buyer if the U.S. declines, investing $15 billion in Alberta over the past 18 months. The question isn't whether oil sands will be developed, but who will develop it: The U.S. and Canada, which have strong environmental regimes governing these processes or China, which doesn't?

Update (8/23): More thoughts on the editorial from Sean Hackbarth and Geoffrey Styles:


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.