The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Rhetorical Engagement on the Keystone XL Pipeline

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted April 24, 2012

Rounding up some of the latest rhetoric by Keystone XL pipeline opponents – separating fact from fiction (and utter fantasy) – while striving for an informed energy discussion. It’s not easy.

Let’s start with a great big fact:

  • The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) reports that oil and natural gas supply 62 percent of the energy we currently use. In 2035, EIA says oil and gas still will supply about 60 percent of the energy we use.

That’s the energy reality, according to the government. We run our economy and our lives on oil and natural gas. It’s the energy of today and tomorrow. Yes, America will need all energy sources in the years to come, but any notion that we can embark on an “off-oil” strategy without severe economic and social repercussions is uninformed, disingenuous or, as suggested above, fantasy.

Against that backdrop let’s review a couple of recent energy-related offerings – one that links the Keystone XL’s construction and Canadian oil sands production to the possible destruction of other cultures and the environment. Another serves up some warmed-over gasoline exports myths.

Post #1:

“It is undeniable that Keystone XL would bring about immense devastation to other cultures. Consider the members of Canada's First Nations groups, who have been more vocal about the need to stop the pipeline than almost anyone else. If Keystone XL were approved, their way of life would enter a rapid downward spiral and ultimately collapse.”  

Actually, this is deniable. First, a number of pipelines already crisscross energy-rich Alberta:

Click on the map for a larger view, and you’ll see the red dotted line representing the Keystone XL follows a path already taken by other pipelines in Canada. The idea that the Keystone XL would threaten anyone as described in the post is ridiculous.

Second, click on the link in the post and you’ll see that opposition from the First Nations groups is mostly directed toward a pipeline that would go west from Alberta to the coast, a proposal that has gained traction as Canada started thinking about other customers for its oil – following the Obama administration’s Keystone XL rejection.

Let’s go on. The post makes claims about environmental devastation from the proposed pipeline: 

“In order to exploit a region's tar sands, new roads must be built, enormous machines have to be brought in, and, most harmfully, every tree in the surrounding region needs to be cleared or burned. A population that relies on nature will be totally unable to continue to sustain itself if oil companies wipe out almost all biodiversity and bring in dangerous chemicals and pollution.”

If the author had done some homework, it would’ve been clear that Canadians are dead serious about protecting their environment. Clear-cutting and/or burning trees? By law oil sands development areas have to be restored to their natural state by companies operating there. One, Suncor, has developed a way to reclaim its tailings ponds, as well as a process that will eliminate the need for tailings ponds altogether. The company has turned one former tailings pond into a lush meadow, with hundreds of thousands of tree seedlings planted.

Similar environmental consciousness is being shown by other companies. Last week there was this story about Shell’s efforts to offset its oil sands footprint with the purchase and preservation of acres of forest.

One more from Post #1:

“Most infuriatingly, it is not even as though the U.S. needs tar sands oil or else it will not be able to fuel ambulances or power schools. The reality is that Americans use a huge amount of energy to perpetuate inefficiency and wastefulness. Furthermore, enormous reserves of potential renewable energy go unused every day because individuals and legislatures refuse to make sufficient investments. In other words, by continuing to support tar sands oil (as we already started doing several years ago with the construction of other pipelines from Canada) we are choosing to decimate other cultures and livelihoods before even fully investing in robust efficiency standards and renewables.”

A distillation of the above: The United States isn’t spending enough money on improving efficiency or developing other fuel sources.

Yet, according to EIA’s 2011 energy outlook report, the U.S. used about half as much energy for every dollar of GDP as it did in 1980. Meanwhile, investments in greenhouse gas-reducing technologies start with the oil and natural gas industry, which spent $71 billion on these between 2000 and 2010 – almost as much as all other private industries combined ($74 billion) and nearly double what the federal government spent ($43 billion). As for renewables, energy analyst/blogger Geoff Styles offers perspective:

“[Renewables] produce electricity rather than liquid fuels, and less than 1% of US electricity is generated from oil today, compared to more than 10% in 1980. Electricity from renewable and nuclear power doesn't compete with imported oil or any other kind of oil; it competes with domestic energy sources like coal and natural gas, most of which now comes from conventional and unconventional gas fields, rather than as a byproduct of producing oil. So by all means let’s have a conversation about renewables in the context of reducing greenhouse gas emissions today and displacing oil from transportation when there are tens of millions of electric vehicles on the road in the future, but in terms of oil prices now and in the near future, they are a rhetorical diversion.”

Quickly, Post #2 incorrectly argues that crude delivered by the Keystone XL would be refined for export to Europe and Latin America. This has been discussed here and here. EIA weighs in on exports and gasoline prices, here.

The Keystone XL enjoys broad U.S. support, demonstrated in poll after poll after poll. A majority in both houses of Congress supports the pipeline. Nebraska’s governor, who had concerns last fall, enthusiastically supports it now. It’s time to stop erecting phony arguments and flimsy excuses as obstacles to the project’s promise of stable energy and jobs.


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.