Doty: Don’t think of the Keystone oil pipeline as inevitable
I’ve usually admired David Brooks, New York Times columnist, and Mark Shields, campaign strategist and analyst, for their smart political opinions on public television. So it was sad recently to see their heads stuck in Alberta’s tar sands over the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which will surely be reintroduced in Congress next year. Pipeline supporters see the Senate’s recent decision as little more than a speed bump; construction might be on hold for the moment, but they’re determined to push it through.
TransCanada’s pipeline would transport heavy crude oil 875 miles from underneath boreal forests in Alberta, Canada, through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, connecting with pipelines to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas. From there, refined oil most likely would be sold to lucrative markets overseas.
Republicans claim they’ll pre-empt several administrative and judicial processes and force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline when they take control of the U.S. Senate next year, but that’s not so easily accomplished. A Nebraska court might decide that the pipeline must avoid the Ogallala Aquifer; if so, additional environmental study will be necessary. Also underway are State Department reviews of more than 2.5 million public comments posted in 2014, plus consultations with eight federal agencies about whether the pipeline is in our national interest.
Brooks confidently told viewers, “There is a big State Department series of reports … on the effect of the Keystone Pipeline. … The economic damage, they found, would be none.” Shields added, “This has to be the most thoroughly researched, meticulously studied idea — this pipeline — in the history of humankind.”
Well, no; the pundits failed to mention that CardnoENTRIX, a consultant on early State Department reports, and Environmental Resources Management, the major consultant on the revised report, had worked for TransCanada. Both also had other oil industry consulting and trade group relationships. Nonetheless, the State Department’s inspector general found Environmental Resource Management’s TransCanada relationship was “confidential business information,” thus endorsing its redaction from documents disclosed to the public. The inspector general also concluded that dues-paying membership in the American Petroleum Institute (a staunch lobbyist for KXL) was not a “disqualifying organizational conflict of interest.” One has to wonder — at the very least — about current standards used to determine whether conflicts of interest exist.
Neither analyst mentioned what Canada’s National Energy Board concluded, namely that 15 states in the American Midwest will experience a 10-to-20-cent per gallon increase in gasoline prices if the pipeline is built. Those U.S. fuel bills would increase because an oversupply of Canadian crude now refined for U.S. domestic use would be diverted to the Keystone pipeline for export. This will give oil producers like the Koch brothers (whose dark-money support is enjoyed by many elected officials), up to $5 billion a year in additional revenue. That’s great for the Kochs and their friends, but it will bog down our national economy, not boost it. Isn’t this economic damage?
Brooks had another inaccurate rationale for building KXL: “ [S]o if you follow the science, if you follow the research, the case for the pipeline is overwhelming.”
This claim overlooks science confirming the fact that use of pipeline-carried crude will cause a worldwide 200 parts-per-million increase in carbon dioxide, up from the current 400 parts-per-million, which is already causing extreme weather. The temperature increase resulting from rising carbon dioxide levels will in turn harm agriculture. Scientists note a 10-to-17 percent decline in wheat, corn, soybean and rice yields for every 1 degree Centigrade temperature rise during growing periods. As temperatures rise, our ability to raise food declines, overwhelming any beneficial effect that increased carbon dioxide can have on some plants. That’s massive economic harm ignored by the so-called “thorough research.”
Recently, six defense organizations warned that climate change could soon threaten U.S. security. The National Intelligence Council reported it will exacerbate global political instability and likely lead to increased terrorism resulting from conflicts over water, food and other resources, cause mass refugee migration resulting from sea level rise and desertification, and make severe weather worse. Our national interest thereby lies in preventing harm from the development of tar sands oil, not in facilitating it.
Exporting 830,000 barrels a day from Alberta’s oil sands is not inevitable. By 2013, overall pipeline approval had shrunk in this country to 56 percent, and in Canada to 51 percent. What might sentiment be if commentators reported facts instead of sounding remarkably like oil industry shills?
Russ Doty is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column syndicate of High Country News (hcn.org). He is an energy attorney in Greeley, Colorado.
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