Why I Would Approve the Keystone XL Pipeline Despite Environmental Concerns – by Robert Rapier (Oilprice.com – November 22, 2011)

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The following is a lengthy essay explaining why I would approve the Keystone pipeline despite finding myself on the side of those concerned over the negative environmental impact of tar sands development. I will debunk much of the misinformation going on in the pipeline debate and ultimately lay out my conclusions. I intend for this to be an alternative to the administration’s announcement to punt the decision for a later time

I have to hand it to Bill McKibben. Whether or not you agree with his position, take a look at what he accomplished. McKibben, an environmentalist and journalist, has been described as “probably the nation’s leading environmentalist” and “the world’s best green journalist.” McKibben has written extensively about the dangers of climate change, and he acts according to his convictions.

When it looked like the Obama Administration was headed toward approving the Keystone XL Pipeline project, McKibben organized a huge protest at the White House. The protesters demanded that President Obama live up to his campaign promises, because Candidate Obama campaigned against the “tyranny of oil.”

As a result of the protests, many protesters — including McKibben — were arrested. But President Obama could not ignore those protests, and his administration announced a delay in approving the pipeline until after the 2012 presidential election.

Opponents of the pipeline cheered the decision, even as the White House denied that the protests had influenced the decision. But most agree that McKibben’s actions directly led to the delay, and I for one admire him for standing up for his cause and being an effective change agent.

But while I agree with many of McKibben’s positions, I am going to lay out the reasons here that I disagree on this particular issue. For many opponents of the pipeline, my reasoning won’t make any difference. You are either with them (i.e., you care about the environment) or against them (in which case you don’t care about the environment). But as I have watched this debate play out, I saw an incredible degree of naivety and quite a few disingenuous and specious arguments, and thus I feel like I need to make my stand. My goal is to raise the level of energy dialogue, and at times I was appalled at the misinformation being put out there (on both sides) over this issue.

My Views on Energy

Let me first review some of the things I believe about energy, to highlight why I come down on the opposite side of this issue from Bill McKibben. Like Bill, I want to see the world become less dependent upon oil. For the U.S. in particular, there are issues of national security, as well as environmental issues because of our heavy dependence on oil. Our economy is at risk due to high oil prices that are are being influenced by many factors the U.S. can’t directly control. Because I believe oil prices are likely to remain highly volatile, I believe this is an intolerable risk for the U.S. (and global) economy. Further, oil is a depleting resource, and uncertainty about future oil supplies increases the risk to the global economy. There are also legitimate environmental concerns over tar sands development — both in the disposal of the tailings and the greenhouse gas intensity of the oil sands themselves.

So to recap my views on energy:

• I want to see less dependence on oil
• Oil dependence is a national security issue for the U.S.
• Oil dependence poses environmental problems
• Volatility in oil prices pose grave economic risks
• Oil is a depleting resource
• There are legitimate environmental concerns with oil sands development

Methods That Can Reduce Oil Consumption

There are some effective ways of reducing oil consumption. One is through higher prices. Because the U.S. is heavily dependent upon oil, high prices have had a chilling impact on the economy. Economic activity has slowed, and people have started making choices for more fuel efficient cars and mass transit. The net result is that in the U.S., oil consumption has fallen by 1.5 million barrels per day in the past five years. (However, in developing countries that are less dependent upon oil, consumption growth more than offset declines in the developed world).

Another way to limit oil consumption is by simply cutting off the flow of oil. This is what happened to the U.S. during the 1973 oil embargo. Overnight, we saw a drastic curtailing of our oil imports, and an ensuing economic crisis. Longer-term, the impacts of the oil embargo were to shift the U.S. automotive industry toward more fuel efficient cars, but in the short-term many people were hit hard by much higher oil prices. If we had done more forward planning and began the transition to more fuel efficient cars before we had a crisis, much of the pain could have likely been avoided.

I believe the ideal situation is to make sure we have stable supplies of oil while working hard to make sure we don’t need them. This is similar to the reason we have a Strategic Petroleum Reserve. It is there in case we really need it, but we hope we don’t have to use it. This describes my feelings about offshore drilling, continued oil exploration, and development of the oil sands. I hope that we can manage a “peak demand” scenario in which oil production goes into decline because we are moving in the direction of alternatives and conservation and simply don’t need the oil. But I think it is an extremely risky strategy to try to hasten the move to alternatives by restricting oil supplies. In fact, there are numerous risks inherent in such a strategy, the biggest of which is that supplies fall short before alternatives can fill the gap. In this case, economies are wrecked and people suffer. But this is effectively the strategy being pursued by those who are opposed to the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Naivete on WHY We’re Addicted to Oil

The truth is that most opponents of the pipeline — just like the rest of society — are dependent upon oil, but they rationalize this as being due to reasons other than the fact that oil is the most affordable liquid fuel option. They have convinced themselves that our addiction to oil is because of the oil companies, rather than our own personal preferences. Gas taxes are something politicians deathly fear for good reason — people get angry about higher energy costs. Thus, I think the pipeline opponents underestimate the potential impacts of there not being enough supply to meet demand in the future.

The Climate Change Argument

Opponents believe this risk is worthwhile given their dire assessment of climate change if the oil sands development continues. In fact, Keystone opponent and NASA scientist Jim Hansen has said that the pipeline would be the “fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet” and that if it is built it is “game over” for the climate.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Oilprice.com website: http://oilprice.com/Energy/Oil-Prices/Why-I-Would-Approve-the-Keystone-XL-Pipeline-Despite-Environmental-Concerns.html

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