Pipeline politics

Having just finished a three part series on Canadian oil sands, I’ve been paying particular attention to how both the American media and our politicians approach the subject. Of course, I can usually rely on the steady, conservative outlets to give a fair hearing to the subject, such as this one.

Wait a minute… this is from the editorial board of the Washington Post????

TO ANY ENVIRONMENTALLY conscious American, building the Keystone XL oil pipeline doesn’t sound like a great deal: a new pipeline that would transport dirty tar sands crude from Canada, over the Great Plains and to the Gulf Coast. Why would America “double down” on Canadian oil, when it takes more water and energy — which means more pollution — to extract? Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will decide before the end of the year whether to approve the project, has to answer that question.

Here’s what she should say: Even if the U.S. government adopts stringent policies to cut oil use, the United States will be dependent on crude for decades. Oil demand across the world, meanwhile, is rising, which applies upward pressure on prices — and makes it economical to extract oil from Canada’s tar sands. Canada will produce its oil. We will burn a lot of it, no matter what, because there’s still spare capacity in existing U.S.-Canada pipelines. But when Canada produces more oil than it can send south, the Canadians won’t just leave it in the ground; they will ship it elsewhere. And America won’t be kept from importing and refining more low-grade crude oil; the United States will just get it from the Middle East, the Energy Department has concluded.

Somebody pinch me. I had to check several times to make sure the link hadn’t been misdirected, but in fact the above piece did come from the wapo. And they are correct, of course, except for the sweeping assumptions that oil sands exploration is a de facto greater source of both water pollution and atmospheric pollutants. As I found on my inspection of the process, they have gone a long ways in slaying those particular monsters and continue to improve.

The more important point which this editorial addresses is the inherent resistance in the administration to approving new pipeline work and keeping an open spigot for the United States from our neighbor to the north. That oil is going to be produced anyway, and if we don’t support the pipeline, the producers in Canada were very clear when speaking to us that they have no problem with building a shorter line to the west coast and just shipping their oil to China. And that, of course, leaves us where we are now… buying even more supplies from places like Venezuela and the middle east.

Canada remains, in many ways, the best friend the United States has, and a solid, productive relationship remains in the best and most vital interests of both countries. They are happy to sell us the bounty of energy they are tapping and will soon be the chief producer of such supplies in the world. It is unfortunate that this bonanza is taking place just when we have a White House with the most dysfunctional, anti-energy jobs policy in living memory.

The clock is ticking. If this opportunity slips away and Canada invests the time and effort into establishing large scale sales to China via a western pipeline to a sea port, we will be unlikely to regain the upper hand. I hear everyone in the West Wing reads the Washington Post. Let’s hope they read this one.