July 28, 2013

Energy Independence for America? Pseudo Environmentalists say “No Way!”

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

We seek no quarrel with the environmental community.  Quite the contrary, we admire the conscientious work that many environmental organizations have produced over the years. However, the scare campaign that some groups such as the Sierra Club are mounting in opposition to the Keystone Pipeline System seems, to us, to be more about fundraising than about environmental protection. The project has been studied to death (which has literally become a strategy of the green extreme corner of the environmental movement) and the risks pale compared to the enormous benefits the pipeline will provide to the country.

            To review: The Keystone Pipeline System is a system to transport oil sands bitumen from Canada and the northern United States to refineries in the Gulf Coast of Texas. The pipeline will have capacity to transport 830,000 barrels of oil per day to Gulf Coast and Midwest refineries, reducing American dependence on oil from Venezuela and the Middle East by up to 40 per cent.

The products to be shipped include synthetic crude oil and diluted bitumen from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Base in Alberta, Canada.  Two phases of the project are in operation, a third from Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf coast is under construction, and the fourth is awaiting U.S. governmental approval.

If approved, upon completion the Keystone Pipeline System would consist of the completed 2,151‑mile Keystone Pipeline and the proposed 1,661‑mile Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion Project.  The controversial fourth phase, the Keystone XL Pipeline Project, would begin at the oil distribution hub in Hardesty, Alberta and extend 1,179 miles to Steele City, Nebraska.  According to TransCanada, the project’s sponsor, the $5.3-billion Keystone XL Pipeline Project is the largest infrastructure project currently proposed in the United States. Construction of the 1,179-mile pipeline will require 9,000 skilled American workers. The project will provide jobs for welders, mechanics, electricians, pipefitters, laborers, safety coordinators, heavy equipment operators and other workers who rely on large construction projects for their livelihoods.

In addition to construction jobs, an estimated 7,000 U.S. jobs are being supported in manufacturing the steel pipe and the thousands of fittings, valves, pumps and control devices required for a major oil pipeline. TransCanada has contracts with more than 50 suppliers across the U.S., including companies in Texas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Indiana, Georgia, Maryland, New York, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio, Arkansas, Kansas, California and Pennsylvania.

TransCanada is currently employing 4,000 Americans in Oklahoma and Texas on construction of the $2.3-billion Gulf Coast Pipeline Project, which is expected to be complete by the end of this year.

Construction and development of the Keystone XL and Gulf Coast Pipeline Projects is anticipated to generate $20 billion in economic impact in the United States, including $99 million in local government revenues and $486 million in state government revenues during construction.

The pipelines will also generate an estimated $5 billion in additional property taxes.

Keystone XL Pipeline will be the newest and most technologically advanced pipeline built in the United States to date. TransCanada has voluntarily agreed to incorporate 57 special safety conditions into the design and construction of Keystone XL, including a higher number of remote-controlled shutoff valves, increased pipeline inspections, burying the pipe deeper in the ground and using thicker steel pipe at river crossings.

The Keystone Pipeline system is monitored around the clock at TransCanada’s high-tech pipeline control center that is staffed by highly trained pipeline operators. Information from 21,000 data sensors along Keystone XL will be sent by satellite every five seconds, providing real-time updates on operating conditions. Any sign of a problem on the pipeline is quickly detected and any section of the pipeline can be isolated within minutes by remotely closing any of the hundreds of valves on the system.

So why is President Obama now shuffling the project back for yet more study?

No one really believes the nation can satisfy its energy needs with windmills and solar, yet that’s what opponents are, essentially, demanding we do.  Republicans and Democrats, both by wide margins, support the project, as does business and labor.  Not only would it provide energy independence for the United States, and keep us from being held hostage by the Middle East Oil Cartel, it would allow us virtually to become independent suppliers of our own needs and maybe even a net exporter of oil to our allies. The latest United Technologies National Journal Congressional Connection poll finds that two‑thirds of Americans support building the pipeline to carry Canadian oil to the Gulf Coast, and that includes fifty‑six percent of Democrats.  Less than one‑quarter of Americans oppose the project.

As John Bussey said in a business article in The Wall Street Journal, “Sometimes it seems as if the environmental movement has been left behind by the sheer speed of America’s shale energy revolution.  That may be because a resource, natural gas, that environmental groups once saw as part of the solution, has become part of the problem, as they see it.”  Shale gas and oil are widely viewed as one of the biggest forces to hit the U.S. economy in modern history.  Total U.S. gas production has rocketed 33% since 2008, and oil 46%, driving down energy costs.  The expanding shale industry supported 1.7 million jobs in 2012 and produced $62 billion in state and federal tax revenue.

So where does this leave the environmental movement?  Trying to change the conversation about shale gas.  For years the environmental groups saw gas as an ally in the cause.  Gas has half the carbon footprint of coal.  It was the ideal substitute for coal and a bridge to greater use of renewable energy.  But as shale gas production soared, the price of natural gas plummeted. This has become one of the most positive developments of our time, promising an abundance of cleaner, cheaper energy. Everyone should be cheering this extraordinary turn of events. But not the extreme green pseudo environmentalists.  These groups now worry that the abundance of clean gas is here to stay, taking the momentum out of the shift to so-called renewables such as solar and wind.  The Sierra Club, once a venerated environmental group, now states that “gas should be used as little as possible for as short a time as possible; renewables are the answer.” This is an astounding statement that is of little relevance for a nation the size of the United States. Virtually all polls report overwhelming support among the American people for going forward with the pipeline.  Polls show that there is support across the gender and age gap in favor of the full pipeline.

If America is to limit its production of coal, which was at one time our largest source of energy, what is to replace it?  Saudi and Venezuela oil can’t be the answer since the oil cartel controls the supply and, therefore, determines the price, and we have to get down on bended knee and hope that the Cartel will spare us the indignity of begging for their oil.

Now that Nebraska Governor Dave Heinemann, a Republican, has endorsed a revised pipeline route through his state, governors and congressional delegations from the four other states it crosses have already pressed for Federal government approval.  The fate of the project now rests squarely with the Obama Administration, which has the final say because it crosses an international boundary.

For the White House, the issue is a perfect storm of competing interests:  a promise of thousands of new construction jobs, and the potential of cheaper energy, but with stiff opposition from some environmental groups such as the Sierra Club which raised and donated approximately $1.0 million (100% to Democrats) during the last election cycle.  This is the extreme green faction that is saying “No Way!” and the President seems to be bowing to their demands.

Speaker John Boehner states “the President alone stands in the way of tens of thousands of new jobs and energy security.  Every state along the proposed route supports this project,” he said, “as does the bipartisan coalition in Congress, and a substantial majority of Americans.”

Fifty‑three Senators, including nine Democrats, have joined the chorus sending a letter to the White House requesting a meeting with the president to discuss the issue urging him to expedite approval.

“After more than 4½ years and an exhaustive review process, it is time to come together, Republicans and Democrats, and do what is clearly in our national interest,” said Republican John Hoeven of North Dakota.  By going forward with Keystone, America effectively controls the global price of oil.  That means we get to outflank the Middle East sheiks.   This is a huge deal because OPEC is essentially neutered when the U.S. and its various states control thirty percent or more of the world’s supply.  Refining, in America, Canadian and American crude from oil sands allows for this to happen.

As these oil resources are recovered, we will have enough oil to sell to China, India, whoever, but it is time to stop wasting valuable time.  America and China contribute over fifty percent of all emissions on the planet, mostly from coal. 

There are refineries in the southern U.S. that are operating way under capacity, and by processing American and Canada’s crude, we can continue to employ the people in those refineries who are currently refining heavy oil from Venezuela to the delight of Chavez’s successor.

This entire debate is a debate over whether we want to get oil from Canada or from Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.  We do not normally use the term “no brainer” in our essays, but this one clearly comes under that heading.  America gets jobs; America gets cleaner and more secure energy. America benefits and the risks associated with this project are minimal.  The choice is clear and there is no legitimate reason for the President to delay any further his approval of the project.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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6 responses to “Energy Independence for America? Pseudo Environmentalists say “No Way!””

  1. Don Borsand says:

    Is the environmental lobby that strong that it can delay or stop a ” no brainer?” Why are they so willing to shoot themselves & the country in the foot?

    • Not everyone with credentials to address Keystone is opposed to the project. Listen to what the National Academy of Science had to say just a few weeks ago.
      “WASHINGTON–The unique type of oil to be shipped through the Keystone XL pipeline is no more likely to cause spills than more conventional oils, the National Academy of Sciences said Tuesday, bolstering the case for the pipeline’s construction at a pivotal time in its review.

      The findings come as the Obama administration nears a final decision on the 1,200-mile Keystone pipeline, which would provide a way for oil from Canada’s oil sands to reach refineries in the Gulf Coast. The project has been under review since 2008.

      The National Academy of Sciences looked at the safety of bitumen, a dense and heavy oil that has to be diluted with lighter hydrocarbons before being shipped through pipelines. The Keystone pipeline would carry this diluted bitumen, or “dilbit,” mixture.

      The council said it failed to find evidence that dilbit poses a greater risk to pipelines than more conventional heavy crude. “There’s nothing extraordinary about pipeline shipments of diluted bitumen to make them more likely than other crude oils to cause releases,” said Mark Barteau, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Michigan and chair of the committee that wrote the report.”

      Our concern is that much of the overblown hype and hysteria over Keystone is about politics and fund raising and less about unmanageable risk to the environment. Pipelines carry crude all over the United States and have for many years. We depend on this technology and, as the National Academy of Science has found (as has the preliminary report published by the US State Department) Keystone offers little new threat to the environment.

  2. mark j levick says:

    Common Sense says the Keystone Pipeline is good for America. Unfortunately common sense runs counter to political correctness. Thus we focus on wind and solar which create few jobs and cannot reduce our dependence on foreign oil in our lifetime because it is politically correct and not because it make any sense. If common sense was in vogue we would be energy independent and what goes on in Venezuela or Middle East would be irrelevant. Sad but true.

  3. sheila says:

    The position of the environmentalists on the Keystone Pipeline is not hysteria and hype. You, of all people must know that this is no ordinary pipeline – it is not at all like the pipelines that now crisscross the country. In fact, there are very real dangers posed to the environment if this particular pipeline happens –only one of which is the transport/risk of leakage/contamination of water supplies and the surrounding lands.

    Despite the fact that the Pipeline could create additional jobs and has the potential to reduce our dependence on foreign oil (though that fact is debatable as well), the trade off (jobs for tar sands oil) will be devastating for the environment.

    While I am certainly no authority on this issue, I have done some reading in the last few years. Here are some of the facts, of which I have no doubt you are aware:

    A New York Times Editorial from 2011, documents a Canadian Ministry report that the goal of doubling the tar sands crude production will require the destruction of 740,000 acres of boreal forest land – a natural carbon catch area which, given the tragedy occurring with the burning of the south American and African rain forests, (to make way for palm oil plantations), this would be a loss of huge magnitude –which we can hardly afford. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/22/opinion/tar-sands-and-the-carbon-numbers.html

    Scientific American also reported in 2011, “the extracting, processing and burning of liquid fuel from tar sands emits between 10 and 45 percent more greenhouse gases overall than conventional crude. Extraction of oil from tar sands also damages land to the point where it can no longer sustain forestry or farming.”

    Tar sands oil is considered to be the dirtiest oil on the planet, and in fact, the Pipeline is a violation of Section 526 of the Energy Independence and National Security Act of 2007, signed into law by President Bush – which unfortunately, may be eliminated by Congress very shortly. Section 526 prohibits the government from using taxpayer money to purchase fuels that have a higher carbon footprint than conventional oil. There has been a strong conservative movement to repeal Section 526 –it was already voted down in the House earlier this month. Here are some important reasons why the effort to repeal ultimately should be defeated: http://www.pewenvironment.org/uploadedFiles/PEG/Publications/Fact_Sheet/Clean%20Energy%20Campaign%20-%20Section%20526%20two-pager_11-22-2011_revised.pdf

    A Scientific American article from last April further documents the extent to which the tar sands oil would emit CO2 into the environment: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=keystone-xl-oil-pipeline-exacerbates-climate-change

    The truth is that for every scholarly article you pull on why the tar sands will make a nominal dent in the current CO2 levels, there are numerous others which dispute that theory.

    You are right, however, that this issue is about politics – it is about the denial of climate change –denial of the severity of the problem——despite all the scientific evidence to the contrary –it is about Canadian politics, but even more, it is about the challenge by environmental groups to the big oil lobby and its investors/stakeholders. Turns out that (no big surprise!) the ERM Group, which wrote the Environmental Assessment Report for the Pipeline is a member of the American Petroleum Institute – the largest lobby for the U.S. Petroleum and Gas Industry (which it appears, has its fingers in many pies)– and was selected as the contractor by none other than TransCanada. http://www.desmogblog.com/2013/06/27/api-22-million-keystone-xl-lobbying-erm .

    So – let’s call a spade a spade. Yes – the Pipeline could, as you say, have some short term benefits which are undeniable. But at what price? This is not at all black and white — a no brainer as you say– not for people who care about the health of the planet – and ultimately about our survival on it.

    The real question of the hour is how as a nation – as a global community — do we get off of fossil fuels? Elon Musk had one brilliant idea with his Tesla brand of electric cars – which hopefully will become a national phenomenon. And here’s another : Carbon War Room, started by the visionary Richard Branson, who is figuring out how to create wealth through entrepreneurial efforts that reduce CO2 levels – Initiatives like these, in my opinion, are where we should be focusing our resources. http://www.carbonwarroom.com/what-we-do/mission-and-vision

  4. Jerry Kaufman says:

    Can it be that Warren Buffet, a big supporter of our president and the owner of Burlington Northern, a railroad that now moves this oil, has been given some say in this matter?

  5. John Fairfield says:

    Jerry Kaufman may be on to something. For some time I have suspected an industrial/environmental complex, perhaps led by locomotive maker GE, is distorting our economy for their own gain. Where do Sierra, Natural Resource Defense, and the others get their money?

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