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Michael James Barton: The Senate stumbles again on Keystone XL

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Michael James Barton: The Senate stumbles again on Keystone XL
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

CAVE CREEK, Ariz. — Yet again, some obstinate senators have undermined America’s energy renaissance. The Senate just forfeited thousands of new American jobs by denying permission to the private sector to build Keystone XL, which could connect Canadian oil sources to American refineries.


This has caused gratuitous harm to our struggling economy, which already hangs on the brink of recession. Full construction of Keystone would strengthen America’s economy, further key geopolitical goals, and — despite the unhinged handwringing from green extremists — significantly benefit the environment.

The Senate needs to stand up to these unreasonable Luddites and approve the pipeline once and for all.

Keystone would increase our Canadian energy imports dramatically, up to an estimated 830,000 barrels a day. That uptick would spur employment growth throughout the pipeline’s path.

These new jobs would come from an industry that already serves an essential function in the American economy. All told, the American energy sector directly supports over 9 million jobs — and that number is growing every year.

Equally important, building Keystone would spur expansion of U.S. natural gas production. That additional production capacity would further some major foreign policy objectives, particularly those concerning Russia.

Our excess natural gas can be shipped to our European allies, who can then wean themselves off Russian imports and deprive the Kremlin of one of its favorite diplomatic daggers.

Indeed, during the recent invasion of Ukraine, Russia threatened Europe with higher gas prices if it hampered its occupation of Crimea. The price for gas in Ukraine has already risen by 80 percent, thanks to strategic price gouging from the Russian gas company Gazprom.

Bolstering American natural gas production would undercut Russia’s gas sales and reduce Putin’s ability to bully others in his region.

Changes to American exportation permits could enhance these efforts to improve our national security. At present, the approval process for exporting natural gas is notoriously difficult. Of the dozens of proposed export terminals across the United States, just one has actually received full approval and been built.

An expedited gas export approval process would allow the United States to effectively undercut Russian energy dominance and check Putin’s territorial ambitions.

Now, the pretense for imposing the blockade to Keystone XL’s approval is a concern for its environmental impacts. Critics argue that increasing the volume of crude oil shipments flowing into the United States is counterproductive to the Obama administration’s sworn goal of cutting down national carbon emissions.

The problem with this logic is that the Canadian energy deposits are going to be developed regardless of whether Keystone is built. In the absence of a regulated pipeline, oil and natural gas instead will get shipped via heavy trains and trucks, which are significantly more polluting.

Indeed, as a January report from the State Department points out, Keystone delays “have led to growing volumes of crude [being] shipped by rail.”

And this method of transport is much more emissions-heavy than a pipeline. It’s also more dangerous. Forty-seven people were recently killed after a train carrying crude derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Canada.

Meanwhile, claims that the pipeline itself would dramatically increase emissions are baseless. That same State Department analysis concluded that Keystone construction would have a negligible impact on carbon emissions.

And by expanding our natural gas production, Keystone actually could help lower emissions over the long run. Gas releases about half the emissions of coal. Already, increased natural gas production has decreased American emissions by 10 percent between 2005 and 2012. Moving our economy even further away from coal and toward gas can further reduce emissions.

Given these facts, it seems that the green activist opposition to this one additional pipeline is more about grandstanding than helping the environment.

The nation already has more than 2.5 million miles of pipe. Pipelines exist in all 50 states and are operated by companies large and small. Like most pipelines, Keystone XL will be underground.

The pipeline needs to be rescued from such nonsensical drama, and permitting should be approved now that more than four years of studies and analysis support its creation. Its full construction would stir rapid economic growth and improve our geopolitical positioning.

And failing to build Keystone would lead to the more acute environmental degradation and higher emission rates associated with alternative means of energy transportation.

We are Americans. We used to build things in this country. We can do so again if the Senate approves the permit for Keystone and allows us to make it happen.

Barton is the director for energy at ARTIS Research, an Arizona-based nonprofit, and speaks around the country on energy and energy security matters. He previously served as the deputy director of Middle East policy at the Pentagon.