4-29-14 – Obama’s XL Pipedream

By John J. Metzler

The EAI blog welcomes a new writer! John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues.  He is the author of Transatlantic Divide USA/Euroland Rift?

We look forward to posting his work regularly.

UNITED NATIONS—There’s an old Washington adage that, if there’s bad news or no news,  announce it late on a Friday afternoon.  And if that afternoon happens to be Good Friday, you are assured virtually no one will notice. This was the game plan for the Obama Administration’s yet again stalling a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada.

For an Administration who rightly presses for energy independence from vulnerable and far off foreign suppliers, Canada’s trans-border XL Keystone pipeline would seem like a slam-dunk solution.  Not only would the USA have access to 800,000 additional barrels of oil daily, but building the pipeline would create over 40,000 new construction jobs.  Creating high paying hardhat jobs has won favor with trade unions on both sides of the border.

But wait, that’s the logical answer.  Though common sense and political ideology often clash in Washington, the saga of the XL Pipeline proves that despite public sentiments and commercial logic, the environmental lobby still holds the key to Keystone.   And thus, President Obama, with already low approval ratings and faced with a possible political rout in the November Congressional elections, plays  the wavering Hamlet, in stalling the decision making process.

Officially the Keystone latest speed bump comes from the U.S. State Department’s “National Interest Determination Review,” which allows for more study of the project.   Despite a favorable environmental impact assessment by the State Department concerning the cross border project, Foggy Bottom has allowed for yet another delay to await the outcome of court cases over the route going through Nebraska.

The latest delay has caused the predictable anguish ranging from Transcanada’s CEO as “inexplicable” to quiet consternation in Stephen Harper’s government  in Ottawa who has long pushed for this trans-border win-win option.

When operational, the Keystone pipeline will send 800,000 barrels of petroleum daily from Alberta’s oil sands to U.S. Gulf ports.  Yet for nearly six years, the pipeline has been mired in controversy since the route crosses a number of American states, and theoretically could cause oil leaks or spills.

But some oil is already flowing; carried by truck and train routes which have already had many accidents. Moreover, the “carbon footprint” of heavy truck traffic on interstates or tanker trains is obviously higher than an underground steel pipeline.

Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer puts it succinctly, the pipeline is the “cleanest, safest way to proceed. “

There’s bipartisan support for the Keystone XL including both Republicans and a number of frustrated Midwestern and Southern Democrat Senators who see both the business benefits from the $6 billion pipeline as well as the electoral backlash from voters to the Obama Administration’s fastidious flip flopping.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous that this well over five year long process is continuing for an undetermined amount of time,” lamented Senator Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND.

Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Chair of the powerful Senate Energy Committee, and another Democrat facing a tough reelection campaign called  the delay, “Irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable.”

But here’s the dilemma.  While a recent poll by the Pew Research Center shows that most Americans (61% vs. 27%) favor the pipeline, and the commercial logic argues for this the new energy link, an politically influential environmental lobby has punted progress each and every step of the way.

Toronto’s influential National Post reported that the Keystone delays convinced  Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper that  “Mr. Obama was treating a  long presumed ‘special relationship’ between Canada and the U.S. …as a political football.”

Canada’s Finance Minister Joe Oliver added another dimension, “There’s a national security issue here because Canadian crude oil will be supplanting Venezuelan crude oil.  Let’s not forget that Venezuela threatened to cut off the United States five times in the previous five years.”

Given the upcoming U.S. Congressional elections, the Democratic party, despite likely  Midwestern setbacks, feels more comfortable embracing the lobby than giving Keystone a green light.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska was more direct calling the Keystone’s stall, “a stunning act of political cowardice.”  Indeed for the USA, ensuring a safe and secure energy supply from neighboring Canada is clearly in the national interest.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues.  He is the author of Transatlantic Divide USA/Euroland Rift?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry May 2, 2014 at 6:25 pm

You seem to not have researched this. The oil will be exported. The current pipeline has broken. It’s a bad deal for the environment and a bad deal for the US


john C May 2, 2014 at 9:09 pm

A pipeline is not worth the pile of eminent domain seizures heaped upon property owners.


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