Keystone Pipeline in U.S. Security, Environmental Interests

San Jose Mercury News

Mervyn Danker

November 28, 2011

The Obama administration's decision to delay building the Keystone XL pipeline from the oil-sands region of western Canada to the Gulf of Mexico should disappoint anyone concerned about our nation's energy security.

For nearly 40 years, Washington has struggled to find ways to significantly reduce our dependence on oil from nations far away and hostile to U.S. interests, with minimal success. Much of our oil is shipped by water, most of it from unstable sources: politically shaky Middle Eastern and African states, some of which are not our friends, and Venezuela, which is openly hostile. Our reliance on such suppliers makes the U.S. vulnerable to sudden price hikes and possible politically motivated cutoffs.

Canada, our neighbor and reliable ally, shares our global view and supports our policies on the world scene. It has also stood up for our ally, Israel. Canadian oil, piped in overland and not subject to the vagaries of ocean transport, has the potential to lower our energy costs, create jobs for pipeline workers in the U.S., and sharply reduce our dependency on suppliers whose trustworthiness is suspect.

The proposed pipeline project would increase the flow of fuel from the oil sands to the U.S. from the current 435,000 barrels a day to 1.1 million by 2013. Squandering this opportunity and possibly insulting our Canadian friends in the bargain would be a grave mistake.

Much of the opposition comes from environmental groups, which have lined up support in Congress. They claim that ramped-up development of the oil-sands will produce ecological damage and higher greenhouse-gas emissions in Canada and that extension of the pipeline into the U.S. will bring in "dirty" oil contaminated by tar, exacerbating the greenhouse emissions problem here. Also, they say that possible leaks in the system could ruin drinking water and devastate croplands in Nebraska. After President Obama announced the delay, TransCanada, the company behind the project, reached agreement with the state of Nebraska to reroute the pipeline.

AJC, which recently attained existing building LEED gold certification for its national headquarters, takes environmental stewardship very seriously. In this case we find the objections insufficient to block the planned pipeline.

For one thing, U.S. refusal to participate will not stop development of the tar-sands fields. If the Americans are not interested, Canada will pipe the oil to the Pacific and ship from there to Asia. Thus our pulling out will not affect the ecological situation in Canada one iota.

As for potential dangers to our environment, there already are 200,000 miles of similar piping in the U.S. today. With the new project, according to the State Department, improvements will ensure Keystone XL "a degree of safety over any other typically constructed domestic oil pipeline system under current code." And let us not forget the high greenhouse emissions produced by the oil-tanker alternative, which are estimated to be greater than those that would come from the new pipeline.

Other pipeline opponents are more nefarious. The National Post, a respected Canadian newspaper, reports that oil-rich Saudi Arabia hired lawyers to silence Canadian television commercials promoting use of domestic oil, and that two other major oil producers, Nigeria and Venezuela, have lent a hand to the anti-Keystone campaign.

The administration should revisit the issue without delay, approve the project and commence construction. There are no quick fixes to America's energy challenges, and it is critical to move to transportation options that do not depend on oil. Seizing this opportunity to collaborate with our reliable northern neighbor just makes sense.

Mervyn Danker is regional director of the American Jewish Committee of Northern California. He wrote this for this newspaper.

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