The Case for Keystone XL

Wall Street Journal
November 27, 2014
By Dr. Ariel Cohen

The most important change needed for transporting crude throughout North America is the approval and construction of the fourth phase of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. Keystone XL is an existing transnational network segmented into phases that cross Canada and the U.S. The first phase travels through the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba before traveling to Steele City from north to south and from Alberta to Nebraska and continue to Illinois, Oklahoma, and Texas.

The fourth phase would extend directly from Hardisty in Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska. This phase would transit from Alberta to Nebraska via Montana. The pipeline would bring 830,000 barrels of oil a day through the pipeline. It could reduce American dependence on Venezuelan and Middle Eastern imports by 40% and create nearly forty thousand jobs related to the project in the U.S.

The White House blocking Keystone has damaged relations with America’s closest ally, Canada, and made the U.S. look liked a bureaucratic backwater: even in Russia it doesn’t take six years to approve a pipeline.

The core of the controversy is environmental. The source of the pipeline’s crude, the oil sands of Alberta, produce 17% more emissions than most sources (nearly the same as Californian bitumen, and equal to or less than Venezuelan, Californian, and Nigerian oil).

The route crosses a sensitive ecosystem known as the boiling sands, located above the massive Ogallala aquifer. The fear is that an oil leak in the area would contaminate the Ogallala. However, many pipelines already cross this aquifer. In addition, the proposed pipeline would be monitored with satellite imagery, and Professor James Goeke, a prominent hydrologist at U. Nebraska, determined that a local spill would pose only minimal risk to the Ogallala.

Despite this, Keystone’s fourth phase is being blocked on environmental grounds by the environmental lobby.

In response, TransCanada decided to change the route away from the boiling sands. It is also considering an Energy East Pipeline as an alternative to the Keystone, which would carry 1.1-million barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta to New Brunswick.

While higher emissions are inevitable, Keystone is not the first, nor will it be the last pipeline to cross the U.S. Blocking an opportunity to insulate the U.S. from global oil market disruptions and undermining energy trade between the U.S. and our important ally Canada, is irresponsible at best.

Ariel Cohen is director of the Center for Energy Natural Resources and Geopolitics at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security and principal at International Market Analysis, a political risk advisory firm in Washington, D.C.