The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

'Pro-Pipeline’ Means Being Pro-Keystone XL

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted June 21, 2013

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, explaining in a Washington Post op-ed why a self-identified “pro-pipeline senator” opposes the Keystone XL pipeline:

As a former mayor of Richmond, a city with a gas utility, I think it makes no sense to be anti-pipeline. But I oppose the Keystone XL project. Although the president’s decision is technically over whether to allow a pipeline to deliver oil from Alberta to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, the real issue isn’t the pipeline. It’s the wisdom of using tar sands oil. … By most accounts, oil from tar sands is 15 to 20 percent dirtier than conventional petroleum, and the process of extracting and refining it is more difficult and resource-intensive. With so many cleaner alternatives, there is no reason to embrace the use of a dirtier fuel source. Approving the pipeline would send a clear signal to the markets to expand the development of tar sands oil. Such an expansion would hurt our nation’s work to reduce carbon emissions. We have to make energy cleaner tomorrow than it is today. That’s why the president should block Keystone. … Tar sands oil is the opposite of an innovative, make-it-cleaner approach. It represents a major backslide.

Sen. Kaine is right on a number of energy issues – supporting more offshore drilling for oil and natural gas as well as more natural gas development from hydraulic fracturing – but on the Keystone XL he’s just wrong. Let’s take a closer look.

“… the real issue isn’t the pipeline. It’s the wisdom of using tar sands oil.”

Like many Keystone XL opponents, Sen. Kaine’s focus is less on the pipeline itself and more on the increased development of Canadian oil sands. Underline “increased development,” because the fact is Albertan oil sands already comes into the U.S. via pipelines, including the separate Keystone pipeline (opened in 2010) and Alberta Clipper (2009).

Indeed, the Obama administration’s approval of the Alberta Clipper cited a number of supporting factors that also argue for the Keystone XL:  advancing U.S. strategic interests, increasing the diversity of available supply, strengthening our energy partnership with Canada, U.S. job creation and economic growth.

And remember, the Keystone XL isn’t just about oil sands. Twenty-five percent of its volume would come from the U.S. Bakken region – light, sweet oil from shale.

“… oil from tar sands is 15 to 20 percent dirtier than conventional petroleum…”

As we’ve noted, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions (measured well to wheels) oil sands crude is comparable with other crudes coming into the U.S. (And again: The U.S. has been importing and refining crude from Canada’s oil sands for years.)  The government of Alberta’s chart on the full life-cycle GHG emissions of various crudes:

Alberta Oil Sands

The State Department’s latest environmental analysis – the fourth the Keystone XL has cleared – concludes that with oil sands development associated with the Keystone XL:

“… there would be no substantive change in global GHG emissions.”

Frankly, the senator can’t have it both ways – claim to be for oil and natural gas development, including drilling off his own state’s coast – and then draw a line with that oil.

“With so many cleaner alternatives …”

Let’s be real: According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), oil and natural gas account for 62 percent of the energy Americans use:

EIA Energy Use

For good reason. It’s stable and reliable energy. The energy density, portability and abundance of oil and natural gas allow it to fuel an economy the size of the United States, while enabling our modern, comfortable lifestyle. Oil and natural gas is a great energy source today and will be tomorrow – 60 percent of our energy in 2040, EIA says. Great is the fact that the United States is sitting on vast reserves of both (thanks to shale and hydraulic fracturing) and also has access to abundant oil sands from neighbor and ally Canada.

Development of other energy sources is important, and with $71 billion spent on carbon-reducing energy technologies (2000-2010), the oil and natural gas industry supports this. Our investment was nearly as much as other U.S. private industries combined ($74 billion) and nearly double that of the federal government ($43 billion). But look again at the EIA chart above. Alternatives pointed to by Sen. Kaine accounted for just 8 percent of our energy in 2011 – 9 percent if you include liquid biofuels. EIA projects these to grow to just 13 percent (including biofuels) by 2040. The reason is these energies remain limited by available technology and the challenges of scale and affordability.

“Approving the pipeline would send a clear signal to the markets to expand … tar sands oil.”

Again, that market already exists, and the potential wealth represented by oil sands – measured in the trillions of dollars – compels its development. Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. this week:

“Oil will get to market. It gets to market with pipelines. It will get to market by trains. It will get there by trucks. It will get to India, it will get to China, and it will continue to have the opportunity to go to U.S. refineries, which create a lot of jobs for the United States for the manufacturing sector on the U.S. Gulf Coast.”

The market isn’t looking for a U.S. signal – only a decision from Washington, delayed for going on five years, on whether the U.S. will say yes to greater energy security, yes to a strengthened partnership with Canada, yes to more U.S. jobs and economic growth – or whether it will snub an ally, forcing it to deepen energy relationships with other countries, while foolishly rejecting secure energy from a friendly source that will be needed to keep America strong.

Sen. Kaine isn’t the first member of Congress to try to patrol both sides of the street on an important issue. But his stated quest for an environmental legacy by opposing the Keystone XL pipeline isn’t based on fact or reason.

A “pro-pipeline” senator would be working to get this shovel-ready, job-creating, energy-securing project off the perpetual drawing board, not inventing reasons to dismiss the tens of thousands of U.S. construction workers poised to fill the jobs building it. A “pro-pipeline” senator would listen to the overwhelming majority of Americans, 82 percent in a recent poll, who say the Keystone XL is in the national interest and should be built. A “pro-pipeline” senator would understand the broader energy needs of his country and the absolute necessity of embracing the secure, reliable oil the Keystone XL would deliver.


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.