The current threat from Iran to block oil movements through the Strait of Hormuz has some Republicans calling for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast refineries. Energy security is important and the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not the way to get there. Our economic and national security lies in clean energy, not in deepening our dependence on ever more expensive, dirtier and riskier forms of oil such as tar sands. Dependence on oil (from anywhere) is what makes us vulnerable to price spikes or supply disruptions. So the more fuel-efficient we get, the less we are beholden to foreign sources of oil - whether Iranian or Canadian. This is one of many reasons why the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest.
Tar sands oil interests claim that Canadian tar sands are the only way for America to avoid the messy international politics of Middle Eastern oil. But Iran's current bluff underscores the point that many in the defense and intelligence communities are also making: we have to work harder to break our dependence on oil. All oil. The bluster of Canadian tar sands doesn’t change the dynamics of the world oil market. Here is why.
The threat of a oil crisis if Iran blocks the Strait of Hormuz is immediate and will not be alleviated by Canadian tar sands oil. Tar sands does not have spare production capacity. Tar sands bitumen is strip mined or melted from deep under the Boreal forest. You cannot turn the tap on high and have more come out. Unlike with conventional oil, it takes a long time to bring new tar sands production online. In fact, America already has more pipeline capacity than tar sands oil to fill it and that is likely to be the case for another 15 years or more. Tar sands doesn’t help in times of oil shortage due to conflict or natural disaster because it carries no spare capacity.
In fact, the primary purpose of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is to bring Canadian oil to the Gulf Coast where Valero and other refineries have said that much of it will be turned into diesel and exported. This is not a path to energy security for America.
But even if Keystone XL’s tar sands oil were to stay in the United States, this would only deepen and prolong U.S. dependence on oil. Dependence on oil (from anywhere) is what makes America vulnerable.
The bottom line is that even if we get more oil from Canada, we are still at the mercy of price spikes when some other part of the world oil market blows up. True energy security lies in kicking our addiction to oil and moving ahead more quickly with clean energy that does not tie us to a dependence on the Middle East and other conflict areas.