Keystone XL: Has Common Sense Left The Building?

by Deon Daugherty, Senior Editor

Inside the 7-plus years that permission for the Keystone XL pipeline has been lingering in the U.S.’ regulatory process, Arthur Rimbaud could’ve begun and ended his literary career; an infant could’ve grown into a second-grader and around 2.6 trillion commercial flights have taken to the skies.

But the path of the Keystone XL (KXL) remained firmly grounded in the White House.

Given the realization of the last few years that hitting the so-called “Peak Oil” point of North American production is but a myth, it’s been noteworthy that with the profound need for infrastructure to move all that oil to refineries, that an 800,000 barrel per day pipeline would be delayed. For almost eight years.

“It’s kind of lost its way in the process over the years. I think common sense has left the building on Keystone,” Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston explained to me. “No one has seen anything like this.”

And as it turns out, 71 pipelines already cross the U.S. and Canadian border, and Canada’s controversial tar sands oil is already making its way to refiners along the Gulf Coast via older pipelines and railroad cars. Rail, in fact, has proven to be decidedly more hazardous – recall the train explosion in Quebec last year – and profoundly more expensive.

Still, the pipeline itself has evolved into a touchstone of sorts, more for those who are not just opposed to the pipeline, but the development of oil sands in Canada.

However, Hirs noted that, “No one in the U.S. is going to stop what’s in the national interest of Canada.”

And in the meantime, Hirs pointed out, during the time the KXL has been in limbo, Enbridge has put in 250,000 to 350,000 barrels a day worth of pipeline and all of that oil is getting down to the United States by pipeline or rail.

Last year, the State Department issued a report that said the KXL wouldn’t have a significant impact on greenhouse emissions, essentially, because the oil can cross the border by other pipelines or rail.

“Everybody knows the State Department made a recommendation,” Hirs said. “But it’s just been stopped. It’s clearly a political issue that has been stopped at the White House.”

I asked Hirs if he expected President Obama to make good on a recent news story that said the White House would make a decision during his administration.

“You need a psychologist to figure that out,” he said.

The bottom line is that everybody knows what’s going on in the Middle East is about oil, Hirs said, and the fact is, North America is very exposed to what OPEC suppliers decide.

“We’ve now lost 7,000 service men and women, wounded well over 50,000 of them and this is all about oil. How many of those families would gladly trade cleaning up a spill in Nebraska sand hill with what they have right now?” he asked.

“The Keystone should be built. It’s an issue of national security.”

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