07 June 2011

The Talismanic Significance of Keystone XL

Writing in today's NYT, Ian Austin doesn't sugarcoat the realities of Keystone XL and just tells readers how it is:
One way or another — by rail or ship or a network of pipelines — Canada will export oil from its vast northern oil sands projects to the United States and other markets.

So the regulatory battle over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would link the oil sands to the Gulf Coast of the United States, may be little more than a symbolic clash of ideology, industry experts say. Even if the Obama administration rejects the Keystone plan, the pace of oil sands development in northern Alberta is unlikely to slow.
The article also has a great quote from Michael Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations:
This situation has reached such talismanic significance that whatever the U.S. government does will be read far more deeply than the substance merits.
For earlier discussions of Keystone XL see here and here.


  1. There's also an editorial in today's Wall Street Journal on the campaign to shut down and dismantle the Alaska pipeline, apparently with the support of the Obama administration.

  2. Here in Nebraska, the anti-Keystone XL campaign has cast itself in local terms; specifically, that the pipeline will cross the ecologically fragile Sandhills and the Ogallala aquifer. It's been run by Jane Kleeb, a former MTV mini-celeb married to a Nebraskan, Scott Kleeb, who in turn came here after graduate school to run, somewhat quixotically, first for Congress and then for the Senate. You'd be surprised how little a Yale doctorate in political science helps you if you're running for NE 3rd district on a Democratic ticket :-)

    The local campaign has tried to wave off the fact that the proposed route for XL crosses only a tiny peripheral lobe of the Sandhills; that ground water in the Sandhills flows approximately ENE and therefore would take any contamination from the spill away from the aquifer; and that several other pipelines already cross the Sandhills. In other words, it is doubly talismanic; the professed concern for the route through the Sandhills is really a proxy for trying to stop the pipeline entirely; and of course, as the article says, stopping the pipeline won't stop exploitation of the tar sands.

  3. From what I understand, the cost to extract and process tar sands is so high that it does not make money unless oil is at ~$90 a barrel. If the environmentalists really wanted to shut down this source, policies that caused the price of oil to go to $75 a barrel or lower would bleed it of the cash needed to stay in business. Unfortunately, this administration's policies are pushing prices higher rather than lower.

  4. The funny thing is a pipeline is by far the safest way to transport oil. Most oil spills occur during shipment by boat, barge, etc. SO not building the pipeline is certain to cause more spill on US waterways and coastlines.

  5. Sean you are way on production costs for tar sand oil. It is closer to $30 per barrel.