Nobody From Nowhere (@i8dc)

Occasional Common Sense

What’s the Real Impact of Keystone XL?

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Jennifer Rubin is a conservative columnist/blogger at The Washington Post. She’s very bright. This makes certain statements of hers rather maddening, because she simply must know better.

I turned on Friday’s Diane Rehm Show pretty late, and heard Rubin say this in response to a caller asking about the Keystone XL pipeline issue:

“When we make choices like this, it’s not simply your choosing “don’t do the pipeline”; that then requires energy sources from other areas. Those may be better for the environment or they may be worse, but there’s never a cost-benefit analysis between those choices. That’s just not how government operates. They look at each individual plan and decide whether it meets whatever environmental impact study that they have.”

It’s interesting that when Democrats propose inserting cost-benefit analyses into medical care, what we get out of conservative commentators is “rationing” and “death panels.”  But that’s another matter.

Rubin here completely ignores a couple of very pertinent points.  First, oil transported through the proposed pipeline would be destined for foreign markets.  The oil would go to gulf coast refineries, where it would be processed and then shipped overseas.  I suppose it could end up in domestic markets, but the general consensus is that the direct impact on U.S. oil supplies would be zero.

Yes, one might say, but as Obama’s saying as he desperately tries to avoid blame for high gas prices, oil is a world market.  Surely adding Canadian tar sands oil to the world market would have some impact on prices?  Yes. Yes, it would.

So then obviously we should build the Keystone XL, right?  Not so fast.  What happens to the oil if we don’t build the pipeline?  The Canadian government has made it clear that it would find another way to bring Alberta oil to market.  While there are significant obstacles to a pipeline across the Canadian Rockies, including major environmental concerns in coastal British Columbia, the odds are very high that a solution would be found to exploit the tar sands.  Canada’s been talking about shipping it all to China.

CHINA??! Clearly we have to build the Keystone XL, otherwise China will get that oil!  Well, no.  Remember, oil’s market is global.  If China’s getting oil directly from Alberta, it’s replacing oil that it would otherwise buy elsewhere.  It would be a wash.  It would be exactly the same as if that oil were refined in Texas and then put into the world market from there.

So what we’re really talking about here is not a yes or no about adding the tar sands oil to global supply; we’re talking about a few thousand temporary pipeline construction jobs and a few thousand permanent refining jobs  (and related downstream service jobs).

But Rubin’s narrative is in trouble if all she has on the scale against potential environmental damage across the great plains is a few thousand jobs in Texas. And of course Rubin knows this, because she’s very smart. Which is why she skips off into talking about the government not doing cost-benefit analyses (a claim I can’t comment on).  And this is why so many other conservatives are playing Keystone XL falsely, as a choice between oil and no oil.

It’s bogus; one way or another, if there’s money to be made, the oil will come out.  The only oil-or-no-oil choice here is being made by conservative lawmakers and pundits:

Snake oil or no snake oil?


Written by David Clayton

March 26, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Debunkery, Punditry

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