THE latest turmoil in the Middle East has sent oil prices up, with higher gasoline prices on the way. Good thing a Canadian pipeline project has finally been approved.
No. Not that pipeline.
As predicted, the Canadian government isn’t waiting for the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline that would cross the international border and make its way to Oklahoma.
The Northern Gateway pipeline project still faces many hurdles, but it’s clear that Canada will find a way to export its oil sands. In contrast to Keystone, Northern Gateway would cross some truly pristine wilderness areas along its 731-mile route.
Standard arguments will be used against the project, including safety concerns. Such concerns also have been cited by the Obama administration in its continued refusal to approve a permit for Keystone to cross the border into the United States.
In a report released last week, the Manhattan Institute examined oil transport safety records and reached the conclusion that Americans are far more likely to get struck by lightning than to be killed in an oil and gas pipeline accident. And underground transport isn’t just safer for people. It’s safer for the environment as well.
“A review of safety and accident statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation for the extensive network of existing U.S. pipelines — including many linked to Canada — clearly show that, in addition to enjoying a substantial cost advantage, pipelines result in fewer spillage incidents and personal injuries than road and rail,” the Manhattan report said.
While Washington dithers on this issue, the number of accidents involving rail shipments of oil is climbing. One of the worst took place last year in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic when 72 rail tankers of crude crashed and killed 47 people.
Perhaps ironically, the oil being transported came from the Bakken field in the United States and was bound for a Canadian refinery.
Critics of Keystone have argued that the Alberta tar sands would merely pass through the U.S. and be refined for export to other parts of the world. This reflects a simplistic, naive view. North American energy resources, including oil, natural gas and coal, are part of a world market in which buyers and sellers reach purchase agreements.
Most U.S. crude can’t be legally exported until it’s in a refined state. Canadian tar sands will be exported somewhere at some point, either into this country via Keystone or using a Pacific Ocean port via Northern Gateway.
America’s national security and supply reliability are best served by an open exchange between the U.S. and its North American neighbors. If an Islamic uprising in Iraq can so quickly affect markets, this country needs to have the maximum number of options for obtaining crude supplies from a friendly neighbor. And that neighbor wants our oil and coal as well.
The former is already flowing freely from the United States to Canada. The latter remains in demand north of the border even as the administration’s war on coal threatens to curtail its usage here.
Canada wants to tap world markets for its tar sands and could do so with Northern Gateway. As for how the product is transported, the underground method is clearly safer for the environment and for people.
The Manhattan Institute report reminds us that rising U.S. oil and natural gas production is outpacing the capacity of the national pipeline infrastructure. Crude shipments by rail are expanding at an accelerating pace.
This makes us wonder again why Keystone protesters are holding up a pipeline while the tank car trains keep going longer.