The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Tale of Two Pipelines

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted July 17, 2013

This week’s State Department approval of a cross-border pipeline to carry ethane natural gas from North Dakota to Alberta, Canada, simply underscores the way opponents selected Keystone XL to be their symbol for an off-oil agenda and how politics has turned the Keystone XL review into a five-year slog, blocking U.S. job creation and greater U.S. energy security.

The Associated Press reports the 430-mile Vantage Pipeline will supply about 60,000 barrels of ethane (a natural gas liquid) per day from the Bakken to Alberta’s petrochemical industry later this year. Ethane has a number of uses including the manufacture of plastics. The project’s approval is a good and welcome development.

Yet, State Department approval of the Vantage project, required because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border, took three years, or about two years less than the ongoing Keystone XL review – despite the fact the Keystone XL would create tens of thousands of U.S. jobs and strengthen our energy partnership with neighbor and ally Canada. Keystone XL enjoys overwhelming support from the American people, demonstrated in yet another poll, this one conducted by United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection.

This has occurred because the Keystone XL has become a political football in Washington, a symbol for a small, vocal minority that's opposed to Canadian oil sands and/or increased development of oil and natural gas in general. Given the go-ahead for the Vantage project this week and the fact other pipelines already deliver Canadian oil sands to the U.S., the politics of symbolism is the only reason the Keystone XL continues to languish. Rob Port, author of the North Dakota-based Say Anything Blog:

The Keystone pipeline has the same sort of value (as the Vantage project).  … The approval of the Vantage pipeline shows that the delays in approval for the Keystone pipeline, which really isn’t all that different a project, are based in politics than reasonable regulatory concerns. Everybody knows about the Keystone project. The Vantage pipeline was less-known, and so not nearly as valuable as a political symbol …

The president can end the political gamesmanship by approving the full pipeline’s construction. A Houston Chronicle editorial says recent suggestions that Canada must “green-up” oil sands development amounts to moving the goalposts for Keystone XL approval and risks losing out on a valuable energy resource:

For their part, the Canadians could ultimately take the decision out of the president's hands by choosing to ship their oil elsewhere. Certainly the opportunity is there. China will take it, as will many others. That, we believe, is the ultimate weakness in the Obama's otherwise high-minded argument. If the oil is sold elsewhere the carbon pollution situation globally doesn't change; it likely worsens. The administration's hard line on Keystone also comes at the price of jobs and energy security - a price the president appears willing to pay.

The president should listen to the 82 percent of Americans in another recent poll who believe the Keystone XL is in the national interest – the key threshold for his ultimate decision. The national interest determination hinges on the project’s importance to our country’s overall security as well as the role it could play in trade and bolstering our economy, affecting the lives of millions of Americans. U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, on the Vantage project approval:

“It is good to see President Obama and the State Department recognizing the value of applying free trade to our vast energy and industrial resources, and we can only hope they will apply this logic to other projects including Keystone XL.”

Approve the Keystone XL, Mr. President. The jobs are there to be created and the energy – from a friendly supplier – is there to strengthen America’s security in the world. The Keystone XL is clearly in America’s national interest.


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.