Energy Blog

Energy Blog

US Chamber of Commerce Blog

Sean Hackbarth Three sections of pipe for the Keystone XL pipeline in Atoka, Oklahoma.Three sections of pipe for the Keystone pipeline system in Atoka, Oklahoma. Photo credit: Bloomberg.

Before the Obama administration turned the proposed Keystone XL pipeline into a multi-year political circus, there was the original Keystone pipeline.

In 2005, TransCanada proposed the project for moving Canadian shale oil from Alberta to Illinois. In 2008, it received a Presidential Permit (in only three years!) and was operating in 2010. (2008 also is when TransCanada applied for a permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline.) Extensions were completed in 2011 and 2014, expanding the pipeline network to eight states.

transcanada-keystone-pipeline-system-map-2015-06-08.jpg Keystone pipeline system. Keystone pipeline system.Keystone pipeline system. Source: TransCanada.

As the State Department continues evaluating the Keystone XL pipeline--which they've done five times--the original Keystone keeps moving oil from Canada.

After five years, it has reached a milestone: Safely transporting one billion barrels of oil.

For some perspective, if you laid one billion oil barrels end-to-end, it would wrap the earth 21 times. 

Or put it another way, the largest oil supertankers carry 2 million barrels of oil and are 1,500 feet in length. To move 1 billion barrels of oil you would need 500 of them, stretching 750,000 feet--142 miles.

wikimedia_oil_tanker_buildings_500px.jpg Comparison of oil tanker Knock Nevis with other large buildingsComparison of oil tanker Knock Nevis with other large buildingsSource: Fred the Oyster. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

An article in Rural Electric Nebraskan notes that local residents hardly notice the physical pipeline:

"The ground doesn't look any different than it did beforehand," said Charles Barber, a farmer whose property is located near Keystone's Steele City Pump Station.  "You don't even know the pipeline is there.  This hasn't changed any of our process on the way we farm," he says.

But local governments have noticed the pipeline's economic benefits:

One area where Keystone was an immediate boon to Nebraskans is in payment of property taxes.  Since construction, Keystone has paid $20million in property taxes to counties, townships, and to school, fire and natural resource districts along the route.

Here are some numbers about the original Keystone pipeline system:

1 billion: Barrels of oil safely transported. $200 million: Dollars paid in local property taxes in eight states. 13,540: The direct and indirect jobs created by construction so far. 2,639: Miles of the Keystone pipeline system. 8: The number of states the pipeline system runs through.

And here are some numbers on the Keystone XL pipeline when it's finally built:

$3.4 billion: Addition to U.S. GDP. $55.6 million: Annual property taxes generated in the first year of operation alone. 800,000: Additional barrels of oil per day that will be transported through the Keystone XL pipeline. 42,100: New direct and indirect jobs that will be created. 1,179: Miles of the Keystone XL pipeline; 840 miles of which will be in the U.S. 220: Miles of pipe sitting in a North Dakota field waiting to be used to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

Just as the original Keystone pipeline has safely moved oil and made a positive contribution, so too will the Keystone XL pipeline... when President Obama finally pulls it out of permitting limbo.

Tell President Obama It's Time to Build Keystone XL.

Sean Hackbarth  Department of Energy.Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Photo credit: Department of Energy.

Is there a connection between President Obama designating a new national monument in Nevada and a nuclear disposal facility?

President Obama designated a massive area two hours north of Las Vegas as the Basin and Range National Monument. The site for a national nuclear waste disposal facility, Yucca Mountain, is also in Nevada on the other side of the state.

It just happens that a proposed rail line to Yucca Mountain will run through the new national monument, The Las Vegas Sun's Cy Ryan reports:

[Robert Halstead, executive director of the state Agency for Nuclear Projects] said the proposed 300-mile route of the railroad would go through the newly created Basin and Range National Monument, which is 700,000 acres of mountains and valleys about two hours from Las Vegas that feature "rock art" dating back 4,000 years.

"This really complicates life for the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission)," Halstead said. The NRC must approve the waste dump.

lv_review_journal_caliente_yucca_rail_line.jpg  Las Vegas Review-Journal.Proposed Yucca Mountain-Caliente rail line. Photo credit: Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Did the Obama administration designate a new national monument to block the Yucca Mountain disposal site authorized by Congress 13 years ago?

Based on circumstantial evidence, it's not a stretch to think it might have played a role.

First, Yucca Mountain experts see Basin and Range National Monument as a big obstacle. From The Las Vegas Review-Journal:

"It's a significant impediment to Yucca Mountain moving forward with a rail line as previously defined," said former DOE official Timothy Frazier, now senior adviser to the Bipartisan Policy Center. "Now they're going to have to find another rail route. To me it's delay upon delay to do that."

Marta Adams, Nevada's top state lawyer who has been fighting Yucca's construction for 18 years, agrees.

Second, there is the fact that for years President Obama has colluded with Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to ensure that Yucca Mountain never opened. These efforts defied laws that made the federal government responsible for nuclear waste and Yucca Mountain the location for the material.

Here's a brief timeline of how they defied laws that made the federal government responsible for nuclear waste and Yucca Mountain the location for the material:

2002: Congress approved the Yucca Mountain site and ordered $9.5 billion be spend developing it. 2010: President Obama ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), led at the time by Gregory Jaczko (a former aide to Sen. Harry Reid) to stop reviewing the project but didn't offer any alternatives to continued on-site storage of nuclear waste. 2013: A federal court ruled the NRC violated federal law and ordered it to continue its review of Yucca Mountain. May 2014: After being smacked down by another federal court, the Department of Energy stopped collecting a fee from electricity customers to pay for a nuclear waste disposal site that doesn't exist. October 2014: The NRC concluded that Yucca Mountain would be safe for storing nuclear waste.

With a bit of circular logic, Sen. Reid denied any connection between Basin and Range and Yucca Mountain:

"First of all, there's not going to be Yucca Mountain so why would you build a railroad and if there were a Yucca Mountain, which there isn't, the railroad would never be built anyways."

However, the long-time Yucca Mountain opponent, played an instrumental role in the creation of Basin and Range National Monument. "It is only due to Harry Reid that this is getting done," a former presidential advisor told The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin.

There's no doubt that getting Yucca Mountain up and running would be a tall task even if the president and Sen. Reid weren't blocking it. But until the law is changed, Congress' intent should be respected. Whether intentional or not, with a stroke of his pen, President Obama has put up yet another barrier to the project.

Although he won't admit it, thoughts about his legacy probably lurk in the back of the president's mind. Unless there's a dramatic (but welcome) policy reversal, President Obama's legacy will include undermining federal law and not having a solution for the growing amount of nuclear waste material at America's nuclear power plants.

Sean Hackbarth Pipe to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline in a field in Gascoyne, ND.Pipe to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline in a field in Gascoyne, ND. Photo credit: Sean Hackbarth.

What's going on with the Keystone XL pipeline, other than it's still in permitting limbo?

The House Oversight Committee has been trying to figure out what's taking the State Department so long to make a decision on the project's permit application.

For months, the State Department has refused to turn over comments from other agencies on the project, so Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is subpoenaing them:

Chairman Jason Chaffetz said that Kerry had not complied with two previous requests for copies of other departments' input on the ongoing review of the Alberta-to-Gulf Coast tar-sands pipeline.

"The Department has been uncooperative in the Committee's efforts to conduct oversight of the Keystone XL permitting process and has shown an unwillingness to recognize the Committee's legitimate interest in obtaining information. In light of this, a subpoena is necessary and appropriate," said Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, in a statement.

"We will not be stymied in carrying out our responsibility to the American people to effectively oversee the Executive Branch," he added.

Chaffetz in February requested copies of the comments from other federal agencies and departments on the TransCanada pipeline project, which is still under federal review.

The State Department argues that the document shouldn't be released because they "implicate important Executive Branch confidentiality interests."

However, EPA demolished that argument when it released its comments on the State Department's environmental review of the pipeline in February. The agency argued that--no surprise--more study/delay of the project was needed.

Here's what EPA got wrong in its analysis -- 2 Charts Demolish EPA's Keystone XL Arguments.

What did other departments and agencies had to say? Maybe they disagreed with EPA's conclusions? Or perhaps they reaffirmed the State Department's conclusions that the Keystone XL pipeline will have no significant environmental impacts. We'll only know when the State Department releases the documents.

Rep. Chaffetz isn't the only one frustrated with the Keystone XL permitting process. Residents living along the proposed route of the pipeline also wonder when a decision will be made on a project they know will improve their communities.

It shouldn't take this long to approve the project. Matt Koch of the Institute for 21st Century Energy noted that the original Keystone pipeline--now five-years-old--was permitted in three years.  It's six years and counting for the Keystone XL. Other well-known projects have been completed much faster.

The fact is the Obama administration has turned a normally boring permitting process into an unprecedented, never ending political tug-of-war. The administration should approve the Keystone XL pipeline now and put this behind us.

6 Massive Projects Completed Faster than the Keystone Pipeline's 6 Year Permitting Process from U.S. Chamber of Commerce