Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Why Naysayers Should Pipe Down About Keystone XL

The Keystone Pipeline debate has been going on for about six years ago, and by the looks of it, Congress should allow for its construction soon enough. A lot of the debate behind it seems to be symbolic from both sides, which might explain why former Energy Secretary Chu said that the decisions behind Keystone are political. Republicans want to make it look like they're creating jobs and stimulating the economy. Democrats want to appear as the protectors of the environment.

In the grand scheme of things, I have to ask why building this is a big deal. The United States already has more than 190,000 miles of oil pipelines running through its infrastructure. Will another 1,179 miles do that much harm? If pipelines were so harmful that they cause an exceptionally high level of oil spills that spoil Mother Nature, don't you think we would have heard about pipeline safety issues by now? According to the Department of State's environmental impact statement, it "remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil lands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States (p. ES-9)." Allowing for this pipeline would create 18.7 million metric tons of carbon per annum, which might sound like a lot, but if we used a climate model developed at NASA, we would see that building Keystone would only increase the planet's temperature by 0.00001ÂșC, or a hundred-thousandth of a degree. Even climate activists concede that Keystone would only be 0.2 percent of the world's "carbon budget."

We're talking 168 billion gallons of untapped oil, which is only third to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Do you think that Canada is going to sit on that metaphorical gold mine and do nothing? Good luck with that! If Keystone doesn't get passed, they're still going to extract it and find a different way to transport it, or even find a different purchaser for all that precious oil. Did the protesters think that it was more than a distinct possibility that alternative methods of transporting the oil would be more expensive, increase risk for oil spills, or increase carbon emissions even more? Pipelines are the safest way to transport oil, so if naysayers have a better way of transporting the oil, I'm all ears.

And let's talk about some of the benefits. There is no significant effect on federal spending. Oklahoma and Texas have already experienced a combined $5.7 billion boom to their economies for the construction of the southern leg of the pipeline, so it's reasonable to assume finishing the pipeline will have similar effects for the affected states. There's also that estimated $54 million in tax revenues. Even the Left-leaning CEPR admits there would be some job creation (granted, most of it would be temporary, but at least that speaks to how low-maintenced oil pipelines are, which is a good thing because it speaks to their overall safety). None of this gets into how increasing supply will make oil even cheaper.

Until renewable energy makes itself as price-effective with a capacity to meet our energy demands, we're "stuck" with oil, coal, and natural gas as our main providers of energy. Much like with fracking, there are residual risks to the construction of this pipeline. We have a safe way to bring affordable energy to many while boosting the economy. The fact that environmentalists' imaginations like to run wild on these matters should be no basis for dictating public policy.


  1. I guess it may seem like a small matter if you're not one of the hundreds (at least) of people whose land TransCanada is asking state governments to steal for it.

    Then again, most libertarians don't agree with the idea of governments stealing land to hand over to their cronies.

    1. Dear Thomas,

      Two points I would make, knowing what I know about property rights in the United States. The first is that the land is not literally being stolen. Below fair market value? A distinct possibility, but it's technically not taking it without being recompensed at all. This leads me to my second point, which is if this is a prevalent issue, the Supreme Court allowed the government to have this sort of power back in 2005 via Kelo v. New London. I don't like crony capitalism, so if "land-grabbing" is that much of an issue, one should make sure there aren't any eminent domain abuses.

  2. Hello, Im David. I have been reading your website for a while now. Im also a Libertarian Jew, and its nice to hear from you. Im posting about an unrelated issue in your comments section because I don't know how else to send you a message, but is the following video true?

    I tend to be wary of Stephan Moleneux. I know less about Israel, and know less about which sources are reliable. Maybe you could helo with this confusion.

    1. Hello, David! It's nice to meet a fellow libertarian Jew. My life has been crazy the past few weeks, and I haven't had much time to sit down and do much of anything, let alone watch Moleneux's video. Considering it's an hour and there's probably a lot to address, I can only say that if I have the time, I can see what I come up with. Otherwise, I would suggest that using your past judgment about Moleneux is probably a good way to go.