Clean energy is path for security, not the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

The August 13 Washington Post editorial (Oil pipeline politics) diagnoses the problems with tar sands and then gets the solution wrong. The proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will take us in the wrong direction, making global warming worse and bringing additional dangers of oil spills to America’s heartland. The United States is the main market for the bitumen that is strip-mined and drilled from under Canada’s Boreal forest. Despite Canadian claims that they’ll sell tar sands to China if we don’t take it, not only are there no major pipelines to the Canadian coasts, but opposition to these pipeline proposals is fierce. Instead of providing energy security, the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will give oil companies a Gulf Coast deepwater port for export and raise gas prices in the Midwest. After a summer of droughts and heat waves, we need to be working harder than ever to reduce our demand for oil. With fuel efficiency standards and cleaner ways to move people around, America can be a leader in clean energy rather than giving into our oil addiction. That is the path of true energy security.

The Washington Post editorial infers that Canada only needs to open the spigot and tar sands oil will flow to China instead of the United States.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  The prospect of tar sands oil flowing to China is more than a decade away, if it ever happens. As of now, there are no major pipelines to the Canadian coasts for tar sands. There is fierce opposition from First Nations, landowners, policy-makers and many others to the dangers of pipeline oil spills and to opening fragile coastal waters to large oil tanker traffic.  Ironically, it is the Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf Coast that would provide tar sands oil with its first major deepwater port. The fact is that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will put U.S. lands and waters at risk without guaranteeing security of oil supply from Canada. Once tar sands reaches the Gulf Coast's robust oil transportation network, it can go anywhere in the world.  Instead, of energy security, what we have is the pipeline company’s own assertion that 10 states in the U.S. Midwest will see increased gas prices at a time when our economy is on very shaky ground.

The governments of Canada and Alberta would like nothing more than for Americans to think they have other customers in play for their controversial tar sands product.  Canada knows very well that America is and will remain the export market for Canada which is why they have been lobbying the U.S. government so intently for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  Despite strong messaging from Big Oil, this pipeline has nothing to do with energy security and everything to do with sweetening oil company profits by giving them access to the foreign markets they so desperately desire.

Reminders of climate change are all around us these days. Here in DC we’ve seen record temperatures this summer and the U.S. south has suffered the worst drought since the dust bowl. In fact, globally, violent storms have put the first half 2011 into first place in terms of financial losses which reached $265 billion – of that $27 billion in the United States. Energy security has to mean more than getting oil from an ally such as Canada. It has to mean long-term security that we can only find by ending our dependence on oil, fighting climate change and becoming a leader in clean energy solutions. A recent U.S. Defense Department statement rightly found that U.S. dependence on non-renewable fuels such as tar sands “degrades our national security, negatively impacts our economy, and harms our planet.” The good news is that America is on a path to stabilize our oil use and global warming pollution in the transportation sector for the near-term, assuming fuel intensity does not increase. NRDC’s analysis shows that by 2025, the U.S. can reduce oil use by over 4 million barrels per day (mbd), consistent with the President’s pledge to reduce oil use by about 3.7 mbd, within the same timeframe. Deeper cuts – 7 mbd – are possible by 2030. We do not have an ever-escalating need for more oil pipelines such as the proposed Keystone XL project and we can offset our oil use already now in the short-term.