How can President Obama be so right in rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, but so wrong on why?

Today President Obama’s administration rejected the Keystone XL pipeline project, and we can expect a chorus of jubilation from the environmental groups.  My email has already received  statements from and the NRDC applauding this decision.  I’m happy it came out this way, that the pipeline was rejected, but the Administrations statement makes my blood boil over how short sighted and wrong it actually is.The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Canada to Texas refineries. Tar sands oil is one of the dirtiest most environmentally devastating sources of the fossil fuels required to power gasoline/diesel powered vehicles, and the proposed pipeline runs the risk of ruptures and leakages such as the one which befouled the Yellowstone River in the summer of 2011.   Extracting oil from the tar sands is extremely expensive and requires what’s essentially strip mining sands, heating it with steam, to convert the tar into a liquid oil.

The Keystone XL project in particular is meant to send oil to refineries in Texas who then will sell that oil on the global market.  Meaning that the Keystone XL project was not going to assist “energy security” of the United States (or Canada) but instead fuel the global market for fossil fuel.

Organizations like oppose the Keystone XL project because it continues the regime of fossil fuel increasing the levels of atmospheric carbon and leading to more climate change stuff.  I wrote some coverage of the project and one particular protest against it in Nov 2011: to encircle the White House on Nov 6 protesting Keystone XL pipeline.  Climate change is a serious problem to be sure but it’s not the only problem our society is facing.

Here’s the text of President Obama’s statement made earlier today:-


The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Statement by the President on the Keystone XL Pipeline
Earlier today, I received the Secretary of State’s recommendation on
the pending application for the construction of the Keystone XL
Pipeline.  As the State Department made clear last month, the rushed and
arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a
full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and
safety of the American people, as well as our environment.  As a result,
the Secretary of State has recommended that the application be denied.
And after reviewing the State Department’s report, I agree.

This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but
the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department
from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and
protect the American people.  I’m disappointed that Republicans in
Congress forced this decision, but it does not change my
Administration’s commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs
and reduces our dependence on oil.  Under my Administration, domestic
oil and natural gas production is up, while imports of foreign oil are
down.  In the months ahead, we will continue to look for new ways to
partner with the oil and gas industry to increase our energy security
–including the potential development of an oil pipeline from Cushing,
Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico – even as we set higher efficiency
standards for cars and trucks and invest in alternatives like biofuels
and natural gas.  And we will do so in a way that benefits American
workers and businesses without risking the health and safety of the
American people and the environment.

Let’s take this apart.

First thing I see is that he’s laying the blame on the Republicans and their arbitrary deadlines as if his Administration might have approved the project if it weren’t for those pushy Republicans.  Eh?  He’s probably simply aiming to score a political point by painting the Republicans as obstructionists, and that’s fine as far as it goes.

Now, we go a little further and he makes two contradictory statements.  First he says “commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs
and reduces our dependence on oil” and then goes on to talk about partnering with the oil and gas industry to expand oil and gas production as well as “development of an oil pipeline from Cushing,
Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico”.

I’m sorry .. but .. this is contradictory and also hypocritical.  There is no way that expanding oil and gas production reduces dependence on oil.  Period.

The issue is NOT about energy security as defined as “American-made energy”.  The problem with “American-made energy” is that America peaked its oil production in 1971.  There is no way for American oil fields to keep up with the energy demand.  That fact leaves America vulnerable to having foreign powers dictate to us the conditions of our economy, because they set the price of oil and can increase the price we pay if desired.

That is the energy security quandary, that America’s energy supply is vulnerable to manipulation by countries that are not friendly to America.  It’s not just America but all the advanced “Western” countries because largely speaking the oil producing countries are not the primary consumers of oil, and the oil consuming countries are not the oil producing countries.  In other words none of the oil consuming countries have domestic oil supplies, meaning that we’re all at risk to manipulation by the oil producing countries.

The proper definition for “energy security” would be, yes, domestic energy sources.  But, as I said, domestic fossil oil supplies cannot be increased so it leaves an unsolved question about the method to generating enough “energy” from domestic sources to drive the U.S. economy.  Fossil oil won’t do it so the question is how do we drive all the cars and trucks and airplanes etc when fossil oil supplies start shrinking?  (NOTE: The global oil companies appear to have already peaked world oil production)

It’s great, in a way, for domestic security that “domestic
oil and natural gas production is up, while imports of foreign oil are
down”.  It means that less of U.S. economic wealth is sent overseas to buy fossil oil.  But, as I noted, the U.S. supplies of oil and gas have already peaked and cannot be increased to supply the total needs of the U.S. transportation fleet or heating needs or the other uses of these fuels.

THEIR EFFORT TO “partner with the oil and gas industry” WILL DO VERY LITTLE TO “increase our energy security” IN ANY MEANINGFUL WAY.  Again, U.S. oil and gas supplies have already peaked.

What’s needed is urgent action on developing electric vehicles and developing a clean electricity generation system.  Fossil oil is primarily used in transportation, and continued dependence on fossil oil driven transportation is the crux of the problem we’re facing.  That the transportation system will collapse as the fossil oil supply collapses as the global peak of oil production becomes more apparent in the next couple years.

Improving the efficiency of the U.S. vehicle fleet is a huge step in the right direction.  It will buy us time by making real steps to decrease fossil oil use while the effort to build useful electrified vehicles plays out.  Obama’s statement does discuss the proposal to increase CAFE standards, and it’s great so far as it goes.  The real direction must remain firmly on electrified vehicles because they have fuel flexibility because electrons can come from any energy source.


About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.
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