Today’s rejection by the White House of the proposal to build the Keystone XL Pipeline is neither surprising nor terminal. Pressure from anti-Keystone activists on the Left has been high and, in an election year, President Obama doesn’t want to risk alienating his base. And by requiring the administration to make a decision on Keystone XL within 60 days (by February 21), Congressional Republicans gave Obama the out he needed. While the refusal to grant the permit for the pipeline may sound like a death knell, it isn’t necessarily.
In response to environmental concerns, TransCanada, the company behind the proposed pipeline that would carry crude oil from Alberta to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas, is working to reroute a section in Nebraska that originally would have passed over the sensitive Ogallala Aquifer, which runs under eight states. Those who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline also claim that, among other ills, it will lock us in to our “addiction” to oil. But it’s hard to imagine how one pipeline would do that. The reality is we use a lot of oil. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration projections, U.S. oil demand will remain fairly stable as a portion of overall energy use through 2035. At about one-third of overall energy use, the United States will be dependent on oil for a large part of its energy consumption for the foreseeable future. Ultimately building the Keystone XL Pipeline will not change our overall patterns for energy use.
Even with today’s decision, news reports indicate that the United States’ refusal to grant this permit in no way prohibits TransCanada from applying for another permit once it has changed the pipeline’s path through Nebraska.
Of course, a permit request for the new route could also be denied. But it is also possible that once the (rather unusual) fervor over the pipeline has had a chance to wind down and the elections have passed, cooler heads will prevail. We can only hope that when this happens, consideration of what is in the “national interest” will include more than just interest groups and Keystone XL will finally be approved.
For more information on the Keystone Pipeline and Canadian oil, see Beyond Politics: Canadian Oil and the Keystone XL Pipeline, Rising Oil Prices and Dependence on Hostile Regimes: The Urgent Case for Canadian Oil, and Reconsidering the Oil Sands.
Nicole Spencer is a guest blogger to AQ Online. She is Director of Energy Policy at the Council of the Americas.