The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

‘Poisoned’ Politics, the Keystone XL and the National Interest

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted February 8, 2012

New York Times op-ed columnist Joe Nocera’s piece on the “poisoned” politics of the Keystone XL pipeline decision is a must read. Better get to it right away, before some of the folks posting comments to  Nocera’s column descend on the Gray Lady with pitchforks and battle axes, demanding that the article be pulled down. Nocera:

Surely, though, what the Keystone decision really represents is the way our poisoned politics damages the country. Environmental concerns notwithstanding, America will be using oil — and lots of it — for the foreseeable future. It is the fundamental means by which we transport ourselves, whether by air, car or truck.

Nocera’s point about oil (and natural gas) is spot on. According to the Energy Information Administration, oil and gas will supply most of our energy past 2030. More Nocera:

And here is Canada, a staunch American ally that has historically sold us virtually all of its crude exports. Over the past two decades, energy companies have invested tens of billions of dollars in the tar sands, so much so that Canada now ranks No. 3 in estimated oil reserves. Along with the natural gas that can now be extracted thanks to hydraulic fracturing — which, of course, all right-thinking environmentalists also oppose — the oil from the Canadian tar sands ought to be viewed as a great gift that has been handed to North America. These two relatively new sources of fossil fuels offer America its first real chance in decades to become, if not energy self-sufficient, at least energy secure, no longer beholden to OPEC. Yet these gifts have been transformed, like everything else, into political footballs.

Next Nocera focuses on the Keystone XL’s opponents:

As it turns out, the environmental movement doesn’t just want to shut down Keystone. Its real goal, as I discovered when I spoke recently to Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, is much bigger. “The effort to stop Keystone is part of a broader effort to stop the expansion of the tar sands,” Brune said. “It is based on choking off the ability to find markets for tar sands oil.” This is a ludicrous goal. If it were to succeed, it would be deeply damaging to the national interest of both Canada and the United States. But it has no chance of succeeding. Energy is the single most important industry in Canada. Three-quarters of the Canadian public agree with the Harper government’s diversification strategy. China’s “thirst” for oil is hardly going to be deterred by the Sierra Club. And the Harper government views the continued development of the tar sands as a national strategic priority.

Back to Nocera’s first point. The politics of obstructing the Keystone XL – as well as the underlying opposition to a stronger energy relationship with Canada that fully utilizes its oil sands – is hurting the United States. The toll is in lost jobs and in an energy future that’s less secure, because the oil will come from less stable parts of the world.

Canada, Nocera’s  writes, at least knows where its national interests lie. Unfortunately, under current policy, the United States doesn’t. Here’s former Obama National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones, talking a couple months ago about the Keystone XL impasse:

"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.”

It’s what worries Joe Nocera. It’s what should worry us all.


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.