It’s been over one year since it was released, and EPA finally weighed in on the State Department’s environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline, the one that concludes that it will create 42,000 jobs with minimal environmental impact.
EPA argues, “Given the recent variability in oil prices, it is important to revisit these conclusions.”
In other words, there should be more delays in approving the pipeline, if not a rejection.
Here are a few observations:
First, when the application for the permit for the pipeline was first submitted in 2008 oil prices were actually lower than they are today, but you didn’t hear a peep from EPA about that fact.
Third, I share the same frustration with Reason’s Ronald Bailey who writes “Why not let the builders of the pipeline decide whether or not it is economic to construct?” Studies have found that’s the “multi-billion-dollar, privately financed infrastructure” project is environmentally safe and will add to the economy. To any ordinary person, that means building it is in the national interest.
So what should we make of EPA’s comments?
Stephen Eule at the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy calls them, “very weak beer,” because they ignore the fact that not all oil is the same, and that Canadian oil sands crude is similar to oil imported from other countries. He explained:
What EPA overlooks—whether consciously or not—is that crude oil from Canada backs out crudes from other suppliers that have equally high life cycle GHGs. Our refiners along the Gulf Coast are geared to processing heavy, sour crudes, so if they’re not using Canadian crudes, they’re using other crudes with similar characteristics.
This chart confirms that Canadian crude is a substitute for other types of heavy crude. As the U.S. imported more Canadian oil, imports from Nigeria and Venezuela declined.
eia_nigeria_venezuela_canada_imports.png Facebook TweetOil imports to the U.S. from Nigeria, Venezuela, and Canada.
In addition, oil from all three of these countries generates a similar amount of greenhouse gas emissions, as this chart from a 2014 Congressional Research Service report shows.crs_oil_ghg_800px.jpg Facebook TweetGreenhouse gas emissions estimates for global crude resources.
Killing the Keystone XL pipeline just means we would have to rely on imports of heavy crude oils with similar life cycle GHGs from suppliers that are not as stable or reliable as Canada. Not a very appealing prospect.
You may not be aware, but Alberta, Canada is America’s number one oil supplier. In a speech at the U.S. Chamber, Jim Prentice, Alberta’s Premier, said:
Alberta ships 2.5 million barrels of oil a day to the US. We are the largest supplier of crude oil to the United States of America. We contribute 26 percent of all American imports.
In comparison, oil imports from Saudi Arabia were slightly more than 1 million barrels a day in November 2015.top-u-s-oil-suppliers-oil-supplied_chartbuilder_800px.png Facebook TweetTop U.S. oil suppliers
Nearly all Alberta’s oil comes from its oil sands with much it coming into the U.S. by pipelines.
So it’s no surprise that the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline is at the top of Premier Prentice’s mind.
“This project is in the national interest of our two countries,” Prentice said and explained:
The oil it would carry is produced in my province under environmental standards that are at least as high as those that apply to oil produced in the United States —and much, much higher than those that apply in other countries that are allowed to land their oil in the US market without interference.
The US has historically addressed its energy security issues via a policy of diversity of supply — facilitating and supporting open markets for energy trade and the construction of infrastructure to facilitate the import of oil from multiple suppliers.
Canada has been one of those suppliers. Proudly so.
This is what has made the Keystone delay and uncertainty so confusing to Canadians.
Prentice emphasized, “the energy relationship shared by our two nations is much bigger than Keystone.”
Nevertheless, “We need to enhance and continue to invest in the network of pipelines and transmission lines that knit our energy economy together.”
Doing so will create jobs, Prentice explained:
Last month, for example, I attended the grand opening of Enbridge’s Flanagan South I Seaway pipeline.
That pipeline, which stretches nearly 600 miles from Illinois to Oklahoma, is a vital link in the web connecting Canadian producers with American consumers.
600,000 barrels a day of Canadian crude oil now flow through Flanagan South and on through the expanded Seaway pipeline to American refineries along the Gulf Coast.
This creates American jobs. Permanent jobs. Refinery jobs.
The State Department had concluded that the Keystone XL pipeline will create 42,000 jobs.
The Congressional debate over the Keystone XL pipeline is nearing the finish line. A bill approving it made it through the Senate on a bipartisan vote:
The Senate on Thursday voted 62-36 to build the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, delivering Republicans the first legislative victory of their new majority.
Nine Democrats joined with Republicans in voting to approve the $8 billion project, five votes short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a promised veto from President Obama.
The nine Democrats who voted to approve Keystone were Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Tom Carper (Del.), Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Mark Warner (Va.).
The bill goes to the House of Representatives where it’s expected to be approved quickly. Then it goes to President Obama, where he’s threatened to veto it. A recent Fox News poll found 65% want President Obama to sign the bill.
While the bill moves through Congress, federal agencies approach a February 2 State Department deadline “to provide their views on the national interest with regard to the Keystone XL Pipeline permit application.”
One of those agencies, EPA, is likely to weigh in on the national interest argument and will also comment on the State Department’s environmental review of the pipeline which concluded it will create 42,000 jobs, help communities along the pipeline’s route, and have minimal environmental impact, BloombergBusiness reports.
Soon after, the State Department could determine that the pipeline is in the national interest. However, if another agency objects—I’m again looking at EPA--then President Obama will make the final decision.
Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, applauded the Senate’s vote in a statement and urged the President to end this needless six-year delay:
The Senate’s passage of legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline should be the latest signal to President Obama that his administration’s delays and political interference must end. Very few issues have brought together this kind of bipartisan majority in the House and Senate. Congress and the American people have clearly spoken. Today’s vote should send a very strong message to the president that the time to move forward with this project is now.
We hope the President stops the politics when a bill reaches his desk and unlocks the good jobs and energy the pipeline will support.
The Obama administration announced that it would open parts of the Atlantic coast to oil and natural gas development.2017-2022-dpp-lower-48-states-program-areas_800px.jpg Tweet2017-2022 offshore oil and gas leasing draft proposed program for lower 48 states program areas.Source: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
At the same time, the administration closed off chunks of Alaska’s Arctic coast.2017-2022-dpp-alaska-program-areas_800px.jpg Tweet2017-2022 offshore oil and gas leasing draft proposed for Alaska region.Source: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
And the Pacific coast and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico remain off limits to new leases.
What’s more, this is the most the administration is willing to offer according to Amy Harder, a Wall Street Journal energy reporter [emphasis mine]:
Secretary Sally Jewell of the Interior Department stressed that this is the broadest plan that they’re going to consider. When it goes final in the next couple of years, they may whittle it down to something smaller than what they proposed today…. So I think the plan can only get narrower and given the president’s commitment to climate change, I wouldn’t be surprised if they ultimately took it out of the final plan, though at this point it’s far to early too say.
A lease sale of the Atlantic coast could easily be cancelled. The administration did it in 2010.
Combine the offshore leasing program with the President’s announcement to lock up vast areas of Alaska from energy development and you have an energy plan that “highlights the disconnect between our economy’s energy needs and the administration’s misguided attempts to meet those needs,” said Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy.
By 2040 nearly two-thirds of all energy consumed in the United States will be oil and natural gas. That demand will have to be met from somewhere.
“Continuing to keep billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of gas under lock and key as the administration is proposing are not what we need to secure our energy future and release America’s energy potential,” added Harbert.Why open Atlantic offshore drilling now?
Alaska’s Congressional delegation went ballistic over President Obama’s decision to close off the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to energy development.
This chart explains why Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and other Alaska leaders are upset.oil-transported-by-the-trans-alaska-pipeline-barrels-per-day_800px.png Facebook TweetChart: Oil transported by the Trans-Alaska Pipeline
Since its peak in the late 1980’s there’s been a steady decline in the volume of oil transported from Alaska’s North Slope through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
Today, there’s less oil moving through the pipeline than when it first went into operation in 1977.
During President Obama’s time in office, the volume of oil going through the pipeline has decreased by 20%.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board notes that the Obama administration has blocked efforts to increase Alaskan oil production [subscription required]:
The ANWR blockade also seems to be part of a larger strategy to starve the existing Trans-Alaska pipeline, the 800-mile system that carries oil south from state lands in Prudhoe Bay. ANWR occupies the land east of that pipeline. The Interior Department this week will release a five-year offshore drilling plan that puts vast parts of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas—the area to the north of the pipeline—out of bounds for drilling. This follows an Administration move in 2010 to close down nearly half of the 23.5 million acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA)—the area west of the pipeline.
Federal agencies have also been playing rope-a-dope with companies attempting to drill on the few lands that are still available. ConocoPhillips has been waiting years for permits to access a lease it purchased in NPRA—and the Administration is this week expected to make that process even harder. Shell has spent $6 billion on plans to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort, only to be stymied by regulators.
The Arctic Outer Continental Shelf is estimated to hold at least 27 billion barrels of oil. ANWR is thought to have at least 10 billion more, while NPRA—designated in 1976 as a strategic petroleum stockpile—is considered equally rich. Yet not one drop of oil is flowing from these areas, and Mr. Obama seems intent on ensuring that none does.
By law if the pipeline shuts down because there’s no more oil available to be transported then it must be dismantled. And as we’ve seen with the political fight over the Keystone XL pipeline, approving another pipeline would be tenuous to say the least. If President Obama's ANWR decision were reversed by a future administration, high transportation costs would hinder North Slope energy development.
The editorial continues:
This is what environmentalists want because they know that if the pipeline shuts down, it must by law be dismantled. Since the pipeline is the only way to get large quantities of Alaskan oil south, shutting it down means closing to exploration one of the world’s greatest repositories of hydrocarbons.
Turning off the spigot to an energy infrastructure asset like the Trans-Alaska Pipeline isn’t wise strategically when future U.S. economic growth depends on access to abundant energy.