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On Inauguration Day, President Joe Biden wasted no time in advancing his regulatory agenda by signing a series of 17 Executive Orders. Amidst this deluge, the Biden administration revoked a crucial construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, leaving the $8 billion project dead in the water. In doing so, President Biden sent a very clear signal that his administration’s climate agenda aims to target the oil and gas industry like never before.
Originally commissioned in 2010, Keystone Pipeline is an oil pipeline that runs from Alberta, Canada through the Western United States to refineries in Illinois and Texas. Planned in four phases, the first three sections of the pipeline were completed in 2010, 2011, and 2014, respectively, and are still operational.
While the existing sections of the Keystone Pipeline already connect American refineries to western oil fields, the proposed XL portion of Keystone would take a more direct route through Nebraska, South Dakota, and Montana. Additionally, as its name suggests, Keystone XL would be significantly wider than the existing pipeline, allowing greater access to the oil rich regions of Alberta that boast the third largest oil reserves in the world.
Unfortunately, Stage 4 of the pipeline’s construction, dubbed Keystone XL, became quagmired in partisan politics, leaving construction in limbo. After supporting the construction of other sections of the pipeline, President Obama reversed course and revoked approval for Keystone XL in 2015. The Senate was unable to override his veto of their approval for the project. Two years later, in one of his first official acts, President Trump issued a memorandum reaffirming US support for the project. In March of 2017, President Trump approved the permits for Keystone XL, allowing construction to resume.
Following a series of hard fought legal battles with environmentalist groups, native tribes, and municipalities, the Supreme Court weighed in on the matter, issuing a stay on construction pending appeal of US Army Corps of Engineers v. Northern Plains Resource Council in June of 2020. Finally, on January 20, as one of his first official acts, President Biden once again revoked approval permits for the Keystone XL.
As with President Obama, President Biden claimed that Keystone XL presented environmental problems, stating that the United States “must prioritize the development of a clean energy economy.” In their view, Keystone XL “disserves the U.S. national interest” not because it is particularly dangerous, but because it will perpetuate the use of petroleum for American energy production, and thus increase the dangers of climate change. This obsession with ending Keystone XL for the sake of carbon emissions is unfounded, and flat out wrong.
President Biden and the progressive left seem to want to stop the flow of all oil and gas around the country, but this is a fool’s errand. In spite of the beliefs of the more radical environmentalist, petroleum is, and will remain, essential to all of our daily lives. Thus, the more important question is: how should we safely and efficiently transport oil and gas? The answer is pipelines.
To begin with, Democrats often like to act as if ending the construction and use of pipelines will magically halt the flow of oil and natural gas to refineries and power plants. On the contrary, crucial raw materials like petroleum have multiple means of transport like trucks, trains, and boats, and most of the alternatives are far worse for the environment. Regardless of Keystone XL, companies will continue extraction in Alberta, and that oil will continue to be transported to American oil refineries.
There are many facets to consider when comparing means of transportation, but on practically all accounts, pipelines have been proven to be the safest and most cost effective method to transport oil and natural gas. Perhaps more importantly for the Biden administration, newly constructed pipelines also happen to have some of the lowest carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In fact, in a bid to continue construction on the pipeline, TC Energy, Keystone’s developer, has stated that they will eliminate all GHG emissions by 2030.
There is to be no doubt that halting Keystone XL again is just phase one of President Biden’s climate agenda. As was the case under President Obama, Keystone XL has become a symbol of climate activism, representing the progressive left’s broad antipathy towards oil and gas, even when it’s counterintuitive.
If Democrats top priority is to reduce America’s carbon footprint, then attacking oil pipelines like Keystone XL is tilting at the wrong windmill.