The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Hoping for Energy, Security and Jobs

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted June 20, 2013

One hundred forty-five of the president’s 2012 campaign staffers have written a letter to their former boss urging him to reject the Keystone XL pipeline:

“We trust you to make the right decision after you weigh all arguments, but one thing you taught us as organizers is that nothing can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for change. … You can help cement your legacy as a climate champion by rejecting this pipeline. You already know all the reasons we can’t afford this pipeline – that it will lock in gigatons of carbon pollution over the next four decades and that it could spill into our nation’s most valuable water sources – we’re just asking you to think of us as you make up your mind.”

They argue the Keystone XL will worsen the climate and that a spill could harm the environment. Backing up just a bit, let’s just point out that their real beef is with crude from Canada’s oil sands – because the pipeline itself would have virtually no emissions. That’s why the Obama State Department’s latest environmental review of the pipeline also looked at oil sands. On emissions and the potential for a pipeline spill or leak, here’s what State’s most recent report said:

Emissions

Based on an extensive review of information provided in the studies reviewed, the (wells-to-wheels) and (well-to-tank) GHG emission estimates of gasoline produced from WCSB (Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin) oil sands-derived crude oils were compared to similar emission estimates from four reference crude oils.

And:

Despite the differences in study design and input assumptions, it is clear that WCSB crudes, as would likely be transported through the proposed Project, are on average somewhat more GHG intensive than the crudes they would displace in the U.S. refineries … there would be no substantive change in global GHG emissions.

Basically, emissions from oil sands, while somewhat higher than some crudes used in the U.S., are comparable to others that have come into our refineries in the past. Here’s a chart from the government of Alberta:

Alberta Oil Sands
 

More from State:

The largest share, or approximately 70 to 80 percent, of (wells-to-wheels) GHG emissions from the fuel life-cycle occurs during fuel combustion itself, regardless of the study design and input assumptions.

In other words, no matter what kind of crude is being talked about, the vast majority of GHG emissions result when the fuel made from it is consumed in a vehicle’s engine.

Leaks/spills

Spills associated with the proposed Project that enter the environment are expected to be rare and relatively small. Industry standards and practices (including the 57 Project-specific Special Conditions developed by PHMSA) provide a level of protection above that of other pipeline systems in existence.

And:

The analyses of potential impacts associated with construction and normal operation of the proposed Project suggest that there would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed Project route …

Bottom line: Pipelines are one of the safest ways to transport petroleum products, safely moving more than 99.99 percent of billions of barrels of product each year.

State’s favorable environmental assessment, its fourth in nearly five years of studying the Keystone XL pipeline, is a significant reason why the president should not stand in the way of this shovel-ready project. More broadly, the Keystone XL passes the “national interest” test – the key threshold for the president’s decision – in terms of job creation, economic growth, enhancing our energy partnership with Canada, our largest source of imported oil, as well as overall energy security. This isn’t a close call. Indeed, the president made it once before, in 2009, when the administration approved the Alberta Clipper pipeline – another pipeline delivering Canadian oil sands to the U.S. From State’s assessment of that project:

The Department found that the addition of crude oil pipeline capacity between Canada and the United States will advance a number of strategic interests of the United States. These included increasing the diversity of available supplies among the United States’ worldwide crude oil sources in a time of considerable political tension in other major oil producing countries and regions; shortening the transportation pathway for crude oil supplies; and increasing crude oil supplies from a major non-Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries producer. Canada is a stable and reliable ally and trading partner of the United States, with which we have free trade agreements which augment the security of this energy supply. … Approval of the permit sends a positive economic signal, in a difficult economic period, about the future reliability and availability of a portion of United States’ energy imports, and in the immediate term, this shovel-ready project will provide construction jobs for workers in the United States.

Advancing strategic U.S. interests … increasing supply … strengthening our energy relationship with Canada ... shovel-ready – all points for the Alberta Clipper that also apply to the Keystone XL.

One last point: The letter from the former Obama campaign staffers underscores the importance of perspective on the Keystone XL. For them, “hope” is defined by rejecting a vast infrastructure project that could create jobs for tens of thousands of Americans. Think about it: For U.S. construction workers who want those jobs, having suffered double-digit unemployment in recent years, “hope” means the opportunity to put food on their family’s table, to save for their children’s college education and so many more things that are possible with a paycheck.

Ultimately, the president’s decision on the Keystone XL comes down to who he listens to. There’s a minority (including 145 former campaign workers) that wants him to reject the Keystone XL – without offering affordable, workable alternatives to what this pipeline and other projects represent: the reliable, abundant oil and natural gas that built our economy and supports our standard of living.

On the other side are a couple of important groups. First, there are the workers who would build the pipeline, as well as others working in industries and economic sectors that would be lifted by a project of Keystone XL’s scope. Then there’s an even larger group, the 82 percent of Americans in a recent poll who believe the Keystone XL is in the national interest and want to see it built.

Who has the president’s ear? Whose brand of hope will he reward? The arguments for the Keystone XL are compelling. The vast majority of the American people are convinced. It’s time President Obama was, too.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.