NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Alaska's Lessons for the Keystone XL Pipeline

September 25, 2014

Earlier this year the Obama administration again delayed a decision about the Keystone XL pipeline. The 1,200 mile, $5.2 billion pipeline could increase North American energy security and create more than 15,000 jobs, according to Stephen Moore and Joel Griffith of the Heritage Foundation. The unwillingness to approve the pipeline can be found in the insistence by many environmental groups like the Sierra Club that are vehemently opposed.

Yet there is a lesson to be learned about whether to proceed with the Keystone XL Pipeline from the debates that occurred during the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAPS) in which environmentalists also opposed the pipeline's construction.

  • Since its completion in 1977, TAPS has flowed more than 17 billion barrels of oil worth more than $1.5 trillion today.
  • However, the Pipeline was almost not built thanks to the propaganda campaign launched by many environmental groups, like the Wilderness Group.
  • Court injunctions, fierce congressional debate, lobbying by environmental groups all delayed the construction of the pipeline.
  • Since then, the pipeline has not been involved with any environmental catastrophes.

Many opponents of TAPS argued that there would be threats to wildlife, earthquakes, and massive oil spills along the Pacific Coast. None of these doomsday scenarios ended up transpiring.

In fact, a study delivered in 2002 to the American Society of Civil Engineers found that "the ecosystems affected by the operation of TAPS and associated activity for almost 25 years are healthy," and that the pipeline "is simply another feature on the landscape, to which the flora and fauna have habituated."

There was one major accident, the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, which involved a tanker, not a pipeline leak. And even the impact of this disaster has mitigated with the passage of time. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's 25th anniversary report, the "measurable impacts have diminished over the last two decades. In 2013, even two vertebrate species that had shown consistent and lengthy signs of exposure and effects -- harlequin ducks and sea otters -- appeared to have recovered."

Source: Stephen Moore and Joel Griffith, "Alaska's Lessons for the Keystone XL Pipeline," Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2014.


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