The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Keystone XL: Substance Over Symbolism

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted January 31, 2014

All along, many of the folks who’ve wanted the Obama administration to nix the Keystone XL pipeline have acknowledged opposition to the project as symbolic, more or less conceding that when it came to arguing the actual merits of the pipeline – jobs, economic stimulus, greater U.S. energy security – they didn’t have much and sometimes only a disingenuous imagination.

For example, author/Keystone XL activist Naomi Klein:

“It is not just about Keystone XL. This is about climate change and Keystone XL is the symbol. Everyone knows that if we stop this pipeline the climate crisis isn’t solved.”

reduced_kxl_shareableAnd NextGen’s Tom Steyer:

“There’s definitely a symbolic side to this.  It has become, you know, a symbol in some ways in the fight over how to think about this. And that happens sometimes. Sometimes, specific incidents take on a life of their own.”

And Steyer advisor Kate Gordon:

“The goal is as much about organizing young people around a thing. But you have to have a thing.”

Well, here’s the thing: Most Americans prefer jobs, growth and energy – in other words, substance – over symbolism. They want the full Keystone XL pipeline built, reflected in poll after poll after poll. Which is why the U.S. State Department’s new assessment is welcome progress in a process that passed the five-year mark last fall. It found that whether Keystone XL is approved or denied, oil sands extraction is unlikely to be affected – and hence the project would not lead to a surge in greenhouse gas emissions. From the report:

… approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States. To date, the results of environmental monitoring indicate that while oil sands development-related contaminants are present in both air and water at low levels, the levels of contaminants were, for the most part, below relevant environmental guidelines and show a decreasing trend with increasing distance from oil sands development. The Government of Alberta has concluded that the levels of contaminants in water and in air are not a cause for concern (Government of Alberta and Government of Canada 2013).

The review is the fifth that basically has said Keystone XL would not significantly alter global greenhouse gas emissions – which President Obama said last year would be the critical point for him as he determines whether the pipeline serves the U.S. national interest.

We’ll get more into the national interest determination in future posts, but State’s new assessment echoed its earlier findings that Keystone XL would bring significant benefits to the United States:

  • 42,100 jobs supported during the pipeline’s construction phase
  • $2 billion in earnings generated throughout the U.S.
  • $3.4 billion contributed to U.S. GDP
  • Substantial tax revenues generated for areas in the pipeline’s path
  • 830,000 barrels of oil per day delivered to U.S. refineries, including about 100,000 barrels per day from the U.S. Bakken region

The economic benefits are clear. The crude delivered from Canada’s oil sands represents a major boost to U.S. energy security through a strengthening of our energy partnership with friend and neighbor Canada. Keystone XL would be key part of an overall approach that could see 100 percent of our liquid fuel needs met domestically and from Canada by 2024. API President and CEO Jack Gerard:

“Five years, five federal reviews, dozens of public meetings, over a million comments and one conclusion ─ the Keystone XL pipeline is safe for the environment. This final review puts to rest any credible concerns about the pipeline’s potential negative impact on the environment. This long-awaited project should now be swiftly approved. It’s time to put thousands of Americans to work. The only thing left is for President Obama to declare that this project is in our nation’s interest. The potential to improve our trade relations with our top ally, Canada, while enhancing our energy security is good for all Americans.”


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.