Politics & Policy

Unlock Keystone

Keystone XL is an ambitious project that would send Canadian crude from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, where the United States’ expansive refining capacity would transform it into gasoline, diesel, and other valuable petroleum commodities. The pipeline itself would be over 1,000 miles long and 36 inches in diameter, capable of moving over 830,000 barrels of oil per day on a route through Montana, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. In 2012, the Obama administration delayed an earlier iteration of the proposal, prompting well-earned charges that the president was kowtowing to the environmentalists in an election year. With that election over, and any lingering environmental concerns satisfied, we see no reason why the latest version of the project should not be swiftly approved.

Estimates on the number of jobs expected to be created by Keystone range from 5,000 to 40,000 or more. It has been reported that the president told congressional Republicans in a recent meeting that he believes the actual number will be on the low end. Perhaps it will, which would put it well ahead of some federally subsidized solar startups we can think of.

Environmentalist groups have predictably fought tooth and nail against Keystone, and the pipeline’s route was redrawn to avoid certain purportedly environmentally sensitive areas. The subsequent plan recently received an all-clear in the form of a 2,000-page supplementary environmental-impact statement from the State Department. To be sure, it has not been enough to mollify all of the project’s “green” critics, but what would? The fact is, there are already millions of miles of oil pipeline in the United States operating with near perfect safety records, and the technology to be deployed in Keystone XL — replete with thousands of geo-satellite-controlled monitoring sensors and automatic shutoff valves — will be the most advanced yet.

Changing tack, some opponents have recently seized on the claim that the pipeline would boost U.S. energy independence by reducing the need for imports from geopolitically unstable regions. Gulf Coast oil refineries, they point out, are shipping most of their product abroad. But in and of itself, the completion of the pipeline won’t determine how much of the oil that reaches the Gulf will end up as exports and how much will be consumed domestically. Further, roughly 40 percent of Gulf-refined oil currently stays in the U.S.; adding a similar proportion from Canada’s proven reserves would be nothing to scoff at.

Keystone XL is a fabled “shovel-ready” infrastructure project, perhaps the largest on order, and could be producing by 2015. It will create jobs. It could help equip North America for energy independence, insofar as that is a worthy end. And it could do all this in concert with Canada, our closest ally in the hemisphere. The pipeline’s southern leg — contained entirely within the United States and thus not subject to the State Department process — is well on its way to being completed. And yet the project as a whole has languished in uncertainty for the entirety of the Obama presidency.

Congress has tried more than once to either compel President Obama into a timely decision or reclaim the authority to reach such a decision itself. If the president is uncomfortable leaving his fingerprints on the Keystone pipeline, he should release Senate Democrats to support the latest such effort, sponsored by Senators John Hoeven (R., N.D.), Max Baucus (D., Mont.), and a half-dozen other Democrats.

Either way, the administration’s dilly-dallying has outlasted both its substantive and its political usefulness. It is time for the president to let Keystone XL flow.


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