The Keystone XL pipeline: Missing the point

Alaura Luebbe was overcome with emotion as she described her concerns that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would threaten her family's Nebraska ranch. Luebbe's comments came during a U.S. State Department hearing last Friday. Photo: Andrew Harrer, Bloomberg News

The controversy surrounding the proposed Keystone XL pipeline reached new heights Friday when the U.S. State Department hosted the last in a series of public hearings on the 1,700 mile pipeline. It would carry tar sand crude oil from Canada to Texas.

Graphic: New York Times

The Washington, D.C.  hearing drew the national news media’s attention.  In turn, the news reports that followed missed the most important point behind the controversial project.

They suggest the proposed pipeline is a trade-off pitting environmentalists against new jobs, lower oil prices and a dependable foreign oil supply.

 NPR reports: This one pits potential job growth versus environmental concerns.

The Washington Post reports: Hundreds of members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America filled the auditorium at Friday’s hearing; Brent Booker, who directs the union’s construction department, said the project will provide “thousands of jobs” to his members….Shortly afterward, two Nebraska women broke down in tears as they testified. Alaura Luebbe, a rancher’s daughter, sobbed as she spoke of her ranch being threatened by the project, while activist Jane Kleeb declared, “We are the Sand Hills lovers. We are the Ogallala Aquifer lovers. And we are begging you — not asking, we are begging you — to deny this pipeline permit.”

The real story: The Keystone XL pipeline is a litmus test of President Obama and our political leadership’s resolve to make a true commitment to alternative energy in America and ween ourselves from foreign energy reliance? It’s also a test of the American consumers’ ability to consume less energy and create less waste.

It won’t be easy. If our leaders, as well as and you and I are sincere about America’s  security, energy independence and guiding our own national destiny we can do this. A sustained move to alternative energy sources is a commitment we’re better off making today, before we deplete traditional energy sources, cause more pollution and burden future generations of Americans.

Dust hangs in the sunset sky above the Suncor Millennium mine, an open-pit north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Canada's oil sands are layers of sticky, tarlike bitumen mixed with sand, clay, and water. Around a hundred feet of soil must be stripped off to reach many deposits. Photo: Peter Essick, National Geographic

To be sure, other concerns have been expressed by opponents and supporters of the project. Supporters say the Keystone XL project could create 20,000 pipeline equipment and construction jobs, and give us lower oil prices courtesy of a more dependable foreign importer. Opponents say the costs will be  the pipeline’s “dirty” extraction process, human health problems, permanent damage to Canada’s forests and a pollution threat to places like Nebraska’s Sand Hills country and the Ogallala fresh water aquifer.

The mowed strip across Nebraska's Sand Hills counrtry is what plaintiff groups claim is evidence of Keystone XL pipeline construction before federal approval is granted for the project. Photo: Bruce McIntosh, Center for Biological Diversity

Conflicting jobs message: If the pipeline is approved, most or all of those 20,000 jobs will end when the construction’s complete. It should be noted that according to TransCanada data supplied to the State Department, the project will only create between 2,500 and 4,560 construction jobs in the U.S. A recent Cornell University report says “[the pipeline] will not be a major source of US jobs, nor will it play any substantial role at all in putting Americans back to work.”

Instead, lets get back to Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan of two years ago. It envisioned creating about 500,000 jobs by making new investments in clean energy, doubling the production of alternative energy over three years and improving the energy efficiency of government buildings and homes.

Lower oil prices? Maybe not. Here’s another reason Mr. Obama, the State Department and politicians from  both parties might be better off denying a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline-  Many pipeline supporters suggest it would lead to more stable or lower oil prices due to the new influx of up to 700,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Canada.

CNN reports: “For the Obama administration, having an answer to high prices will be much more important in 2012 than it is today,” said Kevin Book. managing director at the research firm ClearView Energy Partners. “We think it will get approved.”

According to a CTV report, the Keystone XL pipeline might actually increase oil prices. It would do so by reducing the crude oil over-supply problem in Cushing, Okla., one of the largest crude storage facilities in the world. Industry analysts say this has driven prices down.

Via CTV:  “We have a unique problem now with North American supply,” said Mike Ming, Secretary of Energy for the State of Oklahoma. “We’ve brought on more oil supply than we really have outlets to get it to market and it’s tended to bottle up at Cushing.”  Cushing is the prime delivery point for New York oil futures contracts and helps set the value of West Texas Intermediate, North America’s benchmark oil price.”The problem is, we’ve got too much oil in Cushing relative to our pipeline capacity to get it out to the Gulf Coast mainly, because that’s where the majority of the United States refining capacity is,” said Mike McDonald, the former Chair of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association… If it is approved, the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline would link Cushing to refineries on the Gulf Coast with a 500,000 barrel-a-day spur line, helping to relieve the glut and the pressure on West Texas Intermediate.

Conflict of interest? Finally, the proposed pipeline permit should be denied because of the real or perceived conflicts of interest involved in this project.

On October 7th, The New York times reported: The State Department assigned an important environmental impact study of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to a company with financial ties to the pipeline operator, flouting the intent of a federal law meant to ensure an impartial environmental analysis of major projects…The E.P.A. has criticized two prior draft environmental impact statements prepared by Cardno Entrix on Keystone XL as “inadequate” and providing “insufficient information,”

A few days earlier-

The New York Times reports: The State Department has also faced charges of political conflict of interest over its handling of the Keystone XL application because TransCanada’s chief Washington lobbyist, Paul Elliott, was a top official in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Beneath a green sweep of fen and forest in northern Alberta lies a promise of wealth—vast layers of hydrocarbons that can be refined into petroleum products like gasoline. Undisturbed until now, these trees may soon fall: This land has already been staked out by prospectors. Photo: Peter Essick, National Geographic

What is the state of our nation’s political accountability and transparency? Can we create sustainable energy policies that support our economy and democracy while, at the same time, provide America greater control of its destiny? These are real questions. The decision on the Keystone XL pipeline project will tell us if the Obama administration is truly willing to act in the best interests of our country and set us on a new course of self-reliance and energy sustainability.

What are your thoughts on the Keystone XL pipeline proposal? I’d like to know.

About Bernard McCoy

My views are my own and not a reflection of my employer. I'm a professor of Journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I've also been a working journalist for the past 29 years. I have covered news stories in war zones, reported on human and natural disasters, presidential conventions, a presidential inauguration and the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. My career experiences include work as an award-winning documentary producer, television news reporter, photographer, producer, and anchor. I worked at WIBW-TV, Topeka, KS., KCTV, Kansas City, MO, WKBD-TV, Detroit, MI., WILX-TV, Lansing, MI. and WBNS-TV, Columbus, OH. I have also worked as a contributing reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, Associated Press, CBS, CNN, the Ohio News Network and lecture at the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communications. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in telecommunications management from Michigan State University.
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8 Responses to The Keystone XL pipeline: Missing the point

  1. Benson Cruiser says:

    We in Canada are not very concerned if the US approves this project or not as the intention if not approved is to send this oil to Asia ie China who will be very happy and hungry for it. This leaves the USA to be dependant on your friends in Venezuela (Hugo Chávez) and those solid steady dependable countries in the middle east (who love you, the same ones that danced in the streets when they heard of 9-11) for your oil.
    So go ahead & turn it down we have a market for it.

    • barneymccoy says:

      Thanks for your thoughts.
      This article in Salon would appear to indicate quite a bit of Canadian opposition to shipping the tar sands oil to China via Canada’s west coast-
      Hopefully, if the U.S. can ween itself from dependence on imported oil we would have only ourselves to rely upon for the energy we consume. That’s why I support alternative energy development. It would also provide greater opportunities for sustainable domestic jobs in the U.S.
      Canada is a great nation and neighbor to the U.S.
      No doubt that Canada would find other takers for Alberta’s tar sand oil. Sadly though, the cost to your nation and the rest of the world will be the greenhouse gases generated by the extraction process, concerns about associated harmful human health impacts, and the denuding of vast areas of Canadian forests to strip mine the tar sands.
      Not only is this permanently scarring your beautiful nation’s land, it is leaving other pollutants behind that future generations of Canadians will be left to contend with long after the tar sand oil resources are gone.

  2. Darla Reynolds-Sparks says:

    Where is the proof that IF this pipeline is approved and ends up being refined in US Gulf Coast refineries, it won’t be exported to Asia????? There has been no guarantee that citizens of the United States would ever see a drop of this refined oil. Furthermore, the damage to the eco systems of Northern Alberta will increase greenhouse problems for the entire globe. The destruction of the Boreal Forest will affect the entire globe. Shouldn’t the entire population of this globe have some input? We need and must have alternate energy sources and we should have began sooner than later.

  3. BG says:

    As above –with some typos corrected.
    I wonder why the article omits the contention (which is widely accepted as fact) that the Tar Sands oil, once refined in Texas, will NOT be supplied to the US.

    I also wonder why there is no mention of the role of NAFTA in the Keystone XL issue. Isn’t the necessity of getting President Obama’s approval related to NAFTA ? I think the US is between a rock and a hard place on this! Of course the President should not approve the pipeline, but he may be under pressure that is not even being discussed before the US public….

    As for oil prices in the US, TransCanada testified before the Canadian Energy Resources board that one of the reasons for the Keystone XL pipeline is to RAISE prices for crude in the Midwest. About six states would see higher gasoline prices because of the Keystone XL.

    As for the “security” of having oil supplied by Canada, what kind of security is it if there are leaks all over the place? Think of the FOURTEEN leaks from the Keystone I pipeline in its first year of operation.

    Corrosive Tar Sands crude is way too big a threat to a resource that is far more important than oil — our drinking and irrigation WATER! We all need to have the imagination to realize the magnitude of this threat.

  4. BG says:

    Keystone XL is an export pipeline.
    Valero, the key customer for crude oil from Keystone XL, has explicitly detailed an export strategy to its investors. Because Valero’s Port Arthur refinery is in a Foreign Trade Zone, the company can carry out its strategy tax-free.
    There’s is a big document on this, with lots of references and graphs, at –Keystone XL Exposed.

  5. Benson Cruiser says:

    This whole Controversy leaves a big question for myself, if so many people in Nebraska are so concerned about this oil coming from our Province of Alberta than why are they not concerned about Ethanol that is being produced by Corn (in Nebraska & other farming states) why are you producing fuel from a food product?
    Should you not be equally concerned that you are using Potash (one of the most important ingredients of fertilizer) coming from the mines of Saskatchewan to produce corn that is than turned into Gasoline. I would think that as concerned environmentists you would be railing against doing this. In my mind corn is a food product and should not be used for fuel. Or are the big interests in Agriculture promoting this?
    Please comment on this, I would be very interested to hear the comments.

    • barneymccoy says:

      Hello Benson- You raise good questions about ethanol production. That has also been part of the debate here in Nebraska for quite some time and across the U.S.
      Much of the specific opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska is focused on the proposed placement of the pipeline through the Sandhill region of the state and over the Ogallala aquifer which provides fresh water for drinking, livestock and crops. In this regard, those opposed include not only so-called environmentalists, but politicians from both political parties, ranchers, native Americans, farmers and many other folks from all walks of life. Thank-you for your comments.

  6. Pingback: Obama administration rejects Keystone XL pipeline project | JournalCetera

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