Little passion greeted President Joe Biden‘s decision to kill the Keystone XL pipeline. Remarkably little.
Sure, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called the move an “insult.” His Canadian province had sunk $1.1 billion into the project, designed to transport dirty oil from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.
But the Keystone XL pipeline was an artifact from an earlier time. When it was proposed in 2008, the price of crude had jumped to over $120 a barrel, causing some to fret that the energy supply would fall short of demand.
Oil is now down to about $50 a barrel, thanks in large part to the shale-oil boom. Thus, American oil producers won’t be losing much sleep over the loss of a venture that would have added to supply, possibly depressing their prices even more. By the way, energy economists say that producing petroleum from Canadian tar sands could not turn a profit until the global oil price passes $65 a barrel.
The earliest objections to the pipeline were mostly environmental. Ranchers, farmers and Native Americans in Nebraska worried that pipeline leaks would foul groundwater, an especially precious commodity in their part of the world. Its demise also ended ugly eminent domain fights, as the Canadian pipeline builder, TC Energy, tried to force landowners to give it right of way across their farms.
“Thank you President Biden and all the thousands of voices who have stood strong these many years,” Jeanne Crumly told the Omaha World-Herald. Her ranch was right in the pipeline’s path.
Not only is tar sands oil a dirty fossil fuel; it is the dirtiest. A spill rapidly sinks to the bottom of waterways, making any cleanup harder than it would be with conventional crude.
Of course, 2008 was before climate change jumped to the top of our list of existential crises. Extracting and processing tar sands oil creates up to four times the carbon pollution emitted in other crude production.
But what about the arguments in the pipeline’s favor? They are yesterday’s talking points, though some politicians are still making them.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts issued a short statement criticizing the cancellation as follows: “Failure to construct the pipeline would mean more dependence on overseas energy sources as well as fewer jobs.”
On energy independence, one of Ricketts’ key points, the United States already has it. The U.S. has actually been a net exporter of refined petroleum products for 10 years. Starting two years ago, more crude oil was leaving for other countries than was coming in.
And employment? TC Energy said the pipeline would create 119,000 jobs. A State Department report came up with a somewhat smaller number. It said the project would require fewer than 2,000 construction jobs over two years. And once built, the pipeline would employ about 35.
In a short address, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shed half a tear over the pipeline’s undoing and noted the many Canadian jobs tied to fossil fuel production. He then said he looks forward to working with Biden.
Our acceleration into a post-carbon world will not be stopped. In 2020—even as the pandemic pushed down global car sales by a fifth—sales of electric cars rose 43 percent. Consider the optics of an electric Ford Mustang about to roll off the assembly line.
The debate over the Keystone XL pipeline had its day. Fortunately, it never advanced much beyond debate. It is dead—this time, we expect, for good.
Froma Harrop is an award-winning journalist, author and syndicated columnist.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.
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