​Keystone XL just a pipeline, and a poor excuse for productive energy conversation: Opinion

Image: TransCanada

The Keystone XL pipeline saga is a testament to how toxic the energy debate has become in the United States.

In the decade since the pipeline was proposed, our failure to find common ground on which to build our energy future and tackle the major energy and climate challenges of our time has led to the process of holding midstream and other enabling infrastructure hostage.

When first proposed, Keystone was, like many other pipelines, controversial for those whose backyards it would traverse and for certain environmental organizations long opposed to Canadian oilsands operations.

However, it should be noted that the U.S. government worked with Canadians over many years to support the development of this resource and ensure its delivery into the U.S. system, as a secure and long-term source of oil.

With the failure to pass U.S. cap and trade legislation, the environmental community seized on the federal presidential permit process, through which the State Department works with other agencies to determine whether the pipeline is in the national interest, as a rallying point around which to organize pressure for the government to take more action to reduce emissions and reduce consumption of oil and other fossil-based energy resources. Both sides of the debate are firmly pitted against the other.

Pipeline opponents say that Canadian oilsands are more emissions intensive and more polluting than other sources of oil, that all the oil will be refined and then shipped outside the United States so the pipeline does nothing to help energy security, and that the oil transiting through the pipeline will increase U.S. vulnerability to spills and prolong our unhealthy dependence on oil in the transportation sector.

Pipeline proponents say that Keystone is a vital creator of jobs and economic opportunity, a more reliable source of oil supply relative to oil imports from Venezuela, a better social investment than purchasing oil from other corrupt places, a safer way to move crude oil than by rail, and a much-needed source of energy, specifically suited to our refining sector and a valuable strategic asset in the event of an oil supply disruption.

The truth is that Keystone XL is just a pipeline and in and of itself a poor excuse for a productive conversation on how the United States intends to provide for its own energy security, seek economic opportunity in integration with its neighbours in Canada and Mexico, and tackle the growing challenges of climate change.

It’s truly amazing to see how much has changed since the pipeline was first proposed: the United States produces a great deal more oil and gas; the Canadian federal government is pursuing more robust action on climate change than the U.S. federal government; the new U.S. administration has called into question the value of trade between the United States and Canada through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations; electric vehicles have made huge strides in commercial viability; and the market rationale for the pipeline may have eroded. Whether or not the Keystone XL pipeline is ever built, its real legacy is a hallmark of a wholly unproductive dialogue on energy.

Sarah Ladislaw is director and senior fellow and Andrew J. Stanley is a research associate in the Center for Strategic and International Studies' energy and national security program in Washington, DC. Click here for the original article.