The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Growth vs. Decline on Keystone XL

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted December 16, 2011

"If we get to the point where we cannot bring ourselves to do what is in our national interest, then we are clearly in a period of decline, in terms of our global leadership and our ability to compete.”

That’s Gen. Jim Jones, former U.S. National Security advisor in the Obama administration, warning Washington policymakers of the harm in continued delay on the Keystone XL pipeline – delay caused by his former boss’ decision to shelve the project’s permit application until early 2013, after the 2012 elections.

In a conference call with reporters, Jones emphasized “national interest” in his support for the Keystone XL – which was supposed to be the basis for the administration’s decision on the project’s fate. The analysis isn’t difficult. We know the questions:

• Is building a 1,700-mile, privately financed pipeline, connecting Canada’s oil sands region with U.S. refiners in a safe and environmentally sensitive manner, in the national interest?
• Is an ultra-modern conduit for upwards of 830,000 barrels of oil per day from ally and neighbor Canada – vs. oil from less stable sources – in the national interest?
• Is creating 20,000 new U.S. jobs during the pipeline’s construction phase in the national interest?
• Is a project that would be key to broader development of Canadian oil sands, which could result in more than 500,000 new U.S. jobs by 2035, in the national interest? 

Yes, yes, yes and yes. Given the fact the Keystone XL has been under review for more than three years and has cleared three consecutive environmental studies, this decision really was and is, as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, a no-brainer. Except that politics intervened. API President and CEO Jack Gerard:

“The administration delayed a decision to go forward with the Keystone XL project until after the election. … Based on the facts it is hard not to conclude the president’s decision was driven by politics.  He relented to the demands of those who essentially oppose all development and consumption of oil and natural gas. … The president’s apparent deference to political expediency means he has also put on hold thousands of near-term, shovel-ready construction and manufacturing jobs at a time when millions of America’s workers are desperately seeking them.  These are jobs that could put food on the table and help pay the rent of many Americans, now without the ability to do either.”

For Jones, the Keystone XL non-decision decision has strategic risks: 

“A nation that fails to secure the energy its citizens and its economic engine need to keep functioning leaves itself vulnerable to external contingencies in a dangerous and uncertain world and to the whims of foreign leaders and other actors who may not always have its interests at heart.”

Look again at what Gen. Jones said at the top:

“If we get to the point where we cannot bring ourselves to do what is in our national interest, then we are clearly in a period of decline …”

Does the Keystone XL delay indicate such a slide? Clearly, politics is trumping the national interest. With an overwhelming case for the Keystone XL in front of it, the administration has a clear choice: investment, infrastructure, jobs and security – or paralysis, delay and stagnation. One represents growth, the other decline. This shouldn’t be a question.


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.