Stuffing the Pipeline to Energy Independence

Last week, a golden opportunity for the United States to continue to wean itself away from imported oil was lost. On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted not to approve the Keystone XL project, a 1,700-mile-long pipeline that would bring oil extracted from Canadian tar sands to Texas. Had the pipeline been approved, it would have ultimately brought 700,000 barrels of oil a day into Texas refineries.

The bill lost by only one vote, 59–41, with the vote mostly along party lines: all 45 Republicans voted for the bill, along with 14 Democrats.

That’s a shame, because the Keystone pipeline would have gone a long way to help further the U.S.’s march towards energy independence from the volatile, unstable and unfriendly regimes in the Middle East and Latin America. Right now, the U.S. imports 30 percent of its oil. Keystone XL would have quickly reduced that to 25 percent. The pipeline, along with the recent domestic boom in oil and gas production, would have potentially made North America totally self-reliant for its energy needs.

So why the opposition?

The senators who opposed subscribed to the belief that the pipeline would be an environmental Armageddon. Environmentalists fear the pipeline would have many adverse effects, including concern that leakages and spills from the pipeline would affect drinking water, contaminating water supplies and aquifers. Some scientists believe that the pipeline would contribute greatly to more carbon emissions, creating more climate change and global warming. Others warned of the possible pollution and devastation of millions of acres of pristine forest in Canada if the mining of the tar sands and the construction of the pipeline were allowed to go through.

While the pipeline would have some adverse environmental impact, all those claims of environmental catastrophe are blown widely out of proportion. An exhaustive 11-volume study commissioned by the U.S. State Department concluded that there would be minimal environmental impact were the pipeline to be constructed. The report was the culmination of the work of 12 federal agencies that examined the impact the pipeline would have on water, fisheries, wildlife, forests and the air. In the words of the report, “the proposed Project suggests that there would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed Project corridor.”

In fact, the report warned of far-worse environmental issues if the pipeline were not constructed. Pipeline or no, the Canadians will still be extracting oil out of the tar sands. Instead of shipping the oil via a pipe, it will be transported via other means: ship, rail and truck. Shipping oil cargo with trucks will only spike the total carbon footprint of the tar sands, and if the U.S. is not going to use that oil, some other country will.

Oil extraction isn’t the cleanest way to produce energy, but until viable, cost-effective alternatives come online, our economy will be reliant on it, and the lower the cost of its extraction, the better it will be for U.S. consumers. We simply can’t wish our dependence on fossil fuels away.

Yes, it would wonderful to have all of our cars run on electricity and our homes be powered by the sun, but right now the technology isn’t cost effective. Most efforts to push green technology have failed financially. Witness the Chevy Volt, highly touted as a vehicle that would bring electric cars to the mainstream. Despite massive subsidies from the federal government to encourage consumers to buy the Volt, the car has been an expensive dud with sales continuing to be dismal and way below GM’s original predictions.

Similar debacles have plagued the solar industry, which received billions in federal subsidies, only to see a plethora of companies declare bankruptcy. The cost of solar technology keeps dropping, but not falling low enough to compete with the low cost of natural gas and plummeting gas prices. Solyndra, one of the most notorious of the solar company failures, went down in flames, but not before it took more than $500 million of taxpayers’ money with it.

Besides making a significant dent in decreasing our dependence on foreign oil, the pipeline would have created thousands of construction jobs to lay down Keystone XL. Manufacturing the components for the pipeline itself would have created numerous jobs here in the U.S. and Canada. With millions of manufacturing jobs lost in the last decade, the pipeline would have helped to bring some jobs back to some parts of the nation.

We hope that when the newly elected senators are sworn in next year, the vote will swing to approval of the bill, bringing us closer to North American oil independence.