Pipeline opponents' confusion makes for "testy" hearing

Closing out the week in Congress, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power held another hearing on the yet again delayed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. In this session, testimony was called for from Alex Pourbaix, president of Energy and Oil Pipelines at TransCanada, who will be building the pipeline if it ever gets approved. He started out by noting one of the chief advantages of this plan, above and beyond the ability to increase domestic energy supplies… national security.

“When you boil down the debate on this project, I believe it comes down to a simple question for Americans: do they want secure, stable oil from a friendly neighbor in Canada or do they want to continue importing high priced conflict oil from unfriendly regions such as the Middle East or Venezuela?” Pourbaix said.

Questions were forthcoming from both House Democrats and environmental activists, all seeking to find additional reasons to stop the plan. First up, the civilian sector:

“If this oil is meant for the United States, then attach that to a bill,” Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska said. “Make it clear that this oil is guaranteed for the United States. Because right now, there are no guarantees. We know that TransCanada and other tar sands companies need to get to our ports … They want access to our ports in order to sell their commodity on the international market.”

This was followed in short order by one of our distinguished members from the Bay State.

Representative Edward Markey, Democrat-Massachusetts, pressed Pourbaix on whether TransCanada would back legislation that would require that products refined from Canadian oil sands remain in the US.

“Would TransCanada support legislation that ensures that the product can only move forward if the diesel or other refined fuels from the pipeline are only sold in the United States so that this country realizes all of the energy security benefits your company and others have promised it would bring?” Markey asked.

Are you detecting a pattern here? They’re asking Pourbaix whether he can lock in a guarantee that the oil will be sold to us, first of all. (His response that it was “natural that the vast majority of this product will stay in the region” apparently fell on deaf ears.) They’re also asking Mr. Pourbaix if he and his company will be willing to “support” legislation which would deliver such assurances.

First of all, TransCanada owns the pipeline. Not the oil. They don’t get to say who it’s eventually sold to. They’re paid to transport the product from the oil fields to the refineries. Further, in terms of getting any sort of legislation through Congress, Mr. Pourbaix is a Canadian. Not only doesn’t he get to vote on legislation in Congress, he doesn’t even get to vote for the representatives who vote on the legislation. For that matter, being from another country, he can’t even lobby the people doing the voting. Still, he made a noble attempt at explaining some of these things to his questioners.

“TransCanada does not produce one barrel of oil,” Pourbaix replied. “Our entire business is safely transporting that oil. That is a question better put to our shippers, who are largely refiners and producers and largely American companies.”

“Would you agree that there would be no net difference?” Markey asked. He suggested that TransCanada require from its customers that any products exported from Canadian oil be offset by the exact same amount of imports. The result, Markey said, would be that the US would receive the full benefit from the oil transported through the pipeline.

“I can’t do that because I am merely a shipper of that oil,” Pourbaix said. “We’ve already agreed to our shipping arrangements.”

Even after a lifetime of working in the industry and having to deal with bureaucrats in multiple countries, one has to wonder how people like Mr. Pourbaix don’t either break down sobbing or just begin smashing his head into his desk at times like that. I know I probably would.