A U.S. Department of State finding that a proposed crude oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico will cause minimal environmental damage threw gasoline onto a continuing protest outside the White House.
Demonstrators object to the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline for two reasons: the potential environmental damage along its 1,700-mile route, and the likelihood ready access to U.S. refineries will accelerate development of possibly the planet’s largest petroleum reserves – the tar sands of northern Alberta.
Far more modest demonstrations targeted a proposed coal export terminal at Longview, Wash., a project at least temporarily halted while the developer reassesses its future. Millennium Bulk Terminals would be a new shipping point for Montana and Wyoming coal bound for China.
Whether or not a single ton of coal ever leaves the docks at Longview, Spokane and other communities along the BNSF Railway main line will be watching, and waiting for, more coal-bearing trains headed west for loading at a British Columbia terminal.
Strangling the pipeline and terminal, say their foes, will halt or slow the horrific scarring of the Canadian boreal forest and high plains grassland. Secondarily, denying the Chinese coal and U.S. refineries crude will help contain carbon dioxide emissions, and associated global warning.
Admirable objectives all, but based on the notion the United States should be, if it can be, the choke point for global energy consumption.
Domestically, the country has made great progress restraining new energy demand by substantially increasing the efficiencies of industrial processes, commercial buildings and homes, and all forms of transportation. But the nation still looks to the Mideast and other volatile regions for the bulk of its oil needs. Canada is our most dependable supplier.
President Barack Obama, who will make the final decision on the Keystone permit, will have a hard time reconciling whatever new jobs initiative he unveils next week with a decision that would kill an estimated 20,000 pipeline construction jobs. The environment might be better served if project opponents focused on changes that would redirect the pipeline around a major aquifer, and other remedial measures.
Approval might go down better, too, if it was conditioned on agreements with the Canadians to improve reclamation efforts.
The Chinese, meanwhile, will have their coal as long as there is a willing seller – U.S., Australian, or Indonesian. Canada, had it sufficient rail capacity, might be able to fulfill China’s needs itself, in part from mines along the headwaters of Montana’s Flathead River.
Fundamentally, the best way to attack energy production and transportation is to minimize demand. Conservationists have been highly effective addressing that side of the equation.
That’s the keystone to a better energy future for all.