NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Obama Is Losing the Keystone Pipeline Battle

May 11, 2012

Once again, the famous Keystone XL pipeline is becoming an issue in the American political system.  TransCanada, the potential builder, filed its application a second time with the State Department last week for a permit to build the pipeline, after its first application was shut down by the president in February, says Ronald Bailey, Reason Magazine's science correspondent.

With the entire issue being revisited, environmentalists are again up in arms, using all means available to them to propagate anti-pipeline information.

  • They emphasize the danger a spill would pose to groundwater, especially to the Ogallala aquifer.
  • They also highlight the environmental risks of increased global warming exacerbated by the pipeline: the oil that would flow through it comes from oil sands that have been shown to increase carbon emissions between 6 percent and 20 percent.
  • Creating another line of attack, other members of the opposition have asserted that the pipeline would increase gasoline prices for U.S. consumers in the Midwest.

Each of these arguments, however, has been severely overblown. 

First, regarding the safety of the aquifer, U.S. Geological Survey researcher Geoffrey Delin has explained that any dissolved hydrocarbons from a break that enter into groundwater would probably remain within 1,000 feet of the spill point.  Furthermore, TransCanada has agreed to reroute the proposed line to avoid the most vulnerable area.

Second, concerns that the pipeline would lead to increased emissions are also exaggerated.

  • Oil sand emissions currently account for 0.15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Even if production triples, as projected, the sands would amount to less than one half of a percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Therefore, the fact that their emissions levels are marginally higher is of little significance.

Third and finally, suggesting that the pipeline would lead to increased gasoline prices is completely unfounded.

  • The wholesale price of gasoline is actually set in the national market, according to Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Analysis at the Department of Energy Carmine Difiglio.
  • Furthermore, Difiglio says that by relieving the current bottleneck of oil pipelines in the Midwest and increasing access to cheap oil refiners in the Gulf, national gasoline prices would more likely go down than up.

Source: Ronald Bailey, "Obama Is Losing the Keystone Pipeline Battle," Reason Magazine, May 8, 2012.

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