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Energy Blog

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Sean Hackbarth President Barack Obama speaks in the Roosevelt Room at the White House with Secretary of State John Kerry.President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry at the White House. Photo credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.

Approving an oil pipeline should be a simple, boring process, and usually it is. But the Obama administration cynically turned the permit application for the Keystone XL pipeline into a highly politicized affair where facts didn’t matter.

George Will wrote earlier this year that President Obama’s mind has been “as closed as an unshucked oyster.” We now know how long that's been.

After President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, we learned from The Washington Post that President Obama and Secretary John Kerry decided to reject the project in 2013 and waited two years for an opportune time to make it known:

Several former administration officials said Friday that Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry had decided to block the project two years ago but waited for the legally required internal review, a revised permit application and, finally, a politically opportune time to announce the decision.

The president abandoned economics and science so his administration can maintain the “perception” of being a global leader on climate change. The State Department’s pathetic justification for tossing the project aside like a used hamburger wrapper reads:

While the proposed Project by itself is unlikely to significantly impact the level of GHG-intensive extraction of oil sands crude or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States, it is critical for the United States to prioritize actions that are not perceived as enabling further GHG emissions globally.

Facts didn’t matter. Only politics.

If you weren’t cynical enough already about this entire process, here's another fact. While the Obama administration played seven years of political football, the equivalent of 10 Keystone pipelines have been built with no objection from the administration or anti-energy activists, Yadullah Hussain reported in Canada’s Financial Post:

Crude oil pipeline mileage rose 9.1 per cent last year alone to reach 66,649 miles, according to data from the Washington, D.C.-based Association of Oil Pipe Lines (AOPL)  set to be released soon.

Between 2009 and 2013, more than 8,000 miles of oil transmission pipelines have been built in the past five years in the U.S., AOPL spokesperson John Stoody said, compared to the 875 miles TransCanada wants to lay in the states of Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska for its 830,000-bpd project. By last year, the U.S. had built 12,000 miles of pipe since 2010.

According to the Brookings Institution, 150,000 miles of oil pipelines run under Americans’ feet. The full 1,200 length of the Keystone XL would make up 0.8% of the total. And as the State Department concluded, the pipeline would have minimal effects on the environment.

brookings_keystone_pipeline_map1.jpg Brookings Institution map of oil and natural gas pipeline in the United States. Brookings Institution map of oil and natural gas pipeline in the United States.Keystone XL and oil and natural gas pipelines in the United States. Source: Brookings Institution.

No one is demanding the thousands of miles of useful energy infrastructure be yanked out of the ground to maintain the perception of climate change leadership.

As for claims that blocking the Keystone XL pipeline would restrict Canadian oil development, that’s not been the case. “Canadian crude oil exports to the U.S. soared to 3.4 million barrels per day in August – a new record,” Hussain writes.

Again, throughout this process facts trumped politics.

If killing #KeystoneXL jobs was a "key accomplishment" of his presidency why did Pres. Obama wait seven years? https://t.co/3Vc1lobH2G

— STEW (@StewSays) November 9, 2015

Sean Hackbarth President Obama rejects Keystone Pipeline President Barack Obama announces he rejected the Keystone XL pipeline.Photo credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.

President Obama tossed economics and science out the window and onto the White House lawn when he rejected the Keystone XL pipeline.

After leaving it in bureaucratic limbo for seven years, the president claimed the project--which would safely transport Canadian and American crude oil to Gulf Coast refineries--would have little economic effect and would hurt U.S. leadership in reducing carbon emissions.

Both claims are bunk, as the State Department’s analysis shows.

Let’s first take up President Obama’s economic argument.

“The pipeline would not make a meaningful long-term contribution to our economy," President Obama said at a White House event.

The State Department’s analysis disagrees:

42,000 jobs would be created. $3.4 billion would be added to the U.S. economy. $405 million would be earned by workers building the pipeline in Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska. $55 million in property tax revenue would go to local communities.

What America lost when @POTUS denied the #KeystoneXL pipeline: pic.twitter.com/rDa8D9Pjui

— Energy Institute (@Energy21) November 6, 2015

Not only did President Obama tossed aside the Keystone XL pipeline’s economic benefits, he also ignored the science showing that the project’s environmental effects will be minimal.

"America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change," President Obama said. "And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership."

The only thing the Keystone XL pipeline would undercut it America’s reliance on oil from unfriendly countries. It certainly wouldn’t undercut efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

In fact, the State Department found that not building the pipeline would result in higher greenhouse gas emissions, increases ranging anywhere from 28%-42%.

StateDepartment_KeystoneXL_Alternatives.png Impacts of Keystone XL alternatives [table]Impacts of Keystone XL alternatives [table]

But as Phil Kerpen tweeted, the administration is more concerned about perception than real science.

#KeystoneXL was rejected not because it ACTUALLY increases global warming but because of PERCEPTION that it does. pic.twitter.com/HsAHt2sgO6

— Phil Kerpen (@kerpen) November 6, 2015

The truth is, our president--a “science geek” according to his top science advisor--rejected science and instead chose to side with anti-energy opponents of the pipeline.

The reaction to President Obama’s decision was strong and swift.  

“In rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, President Obama has put politics before the best interests of the country,” said U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue. “Rejecting Keystone breaks two promises the president made—to put jobs and growth first and to seek bipartisan solutions.”

President and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute Jack Gerard said: “This decision will cost thousands of jobs and is an assault to American workers. It’s politics at its worst.”

Labor union leaders were beyond disappointed.

Terry O’Sullivan, general president for Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), said President Obama threw “hard-working, blue-collar workers under the bus.”

On a press call, Sean McGarvey, president of the North America's Building Trades Unions, called the Keystone XL pipeline, “a victim of the radical environmental movement.” The jobs lost by President Obama’s decision “are real jobs for real people supporting real families.”

Before he flies off to Paris, President Obama should order Air Force One to head west. He himself should visit people living along the pipeline’s route and explain why they can’t have the jobs, the economic growth, and the local tax revenue that would come from the pipeline. As I wrote in 2014:

Bonnie Davidson of the Glasgow Courier said that local residents were scratching their head as to what the controversy is with the pipeline. She told me she hopes that if the Obama administration denies the permit someone should come to Glasgow and tell them why.

Those people deserve to be told why he took those opportunities away from them.

Different kind of November chill ... a chill on the kind of #energy #infrastructure investment US needs. #KXL https://t.co/lN0yjKsLlC

— Mark Green (@mdgreen1956) November 6, 2015

Sean Hackbarth Construction of the Gulf Coast Project, part of the Keystone XL pipeline near Ada, Ok. Construction of the Gulf Coast Project, part of the Keystone XL pipeline near Ada, Ok. Photo credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg.

The State Department will continue its seven-year review of the Keystone XL pipeline and rejected TransCanada’s request to pause it while questions about the proposed route are worked out in Nebraska.

The reaction from pipeline supporter Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) to the State Department’s decision speaks volumes:

So now the administration wants to make a decision about the Keystone XL pipeline? It’s been stalling and delaying such action for seven years now – politicizing an energy infrastructure project and blowing it completely out of proportion.

This screams of political gamesmanship.

In 2014, the same State Department that today “wants that work to continue” on the pipeline review, said a decision on the project would be delayed because of “the uncertainty created by the on-going litigation in the Nebraska Supreme Court which could ultimately affect the pipeline route in that state.”

The Washington Post’s editorial board called that decision “embarrassing.”

The United States continues to insult its Canadian allies by holding up what should have been a routine permitting decision amid a funhouse-mirror environmental debate that got way out of hand. The president should end this national psychodrama now, bow to reason, approve the pipeline and go do something more productive for the climate.

Why the double-standard by the Obama administration? Ed Crooks, an energy editor for The Financial Times speculated on Twitter that President Obama wants to make a big splash at next month’s Paris climate talks by announcing he’s rejecting the pipeline.

Sudden insight: Blocking Keystone XL is going to be President Obama's big announcement when he goes to Paris, isn't it? #COP21 #KXL

— Ed Crooks (@Ed_Crooks) November 4, 2015

I hope not, but it’s not out of the question. Allowing politics to trample sound energy policy has been the name of the game throughout this regulatory ordeal.

timeline-keystone-pipeline-xl-talks-1132015.png Timeline of Keystone Pipeline XL Talks Timeline of Keystone Pipeline XL Talks