Newsflash: Pipelines Are Everywhere

Like many of you, I have been following the debate over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would bring crude from the oil sands of Canada to refineries in the U.S. I am on mailing lists covering both sides of the issue, and based on some of the e-mails I get it seems that many people don’t realize that we already have pipelines crisscrossing the U.S. I get the impression that some people feel that it would be unprecedented to lay an oil pipeline across the country. But below is a map showing the location of the major oil and gas pipelines in the U.S.:

Figure 1: Major Oil and Gas Pipelines in the U.S. (Source).

If you include smaller regional pipelines, it becomes clear that the ground underneath our feet is saturated with pipelines:

Figure 2: Oil and Gas Pipelines in the U.S. (Source).

This morning I got an e-mail calling attention to a video op-ed by Robert Redford for the New York Times arguing against the pipeline. Redford said “Let’s be honest. The Keystone XL pipeline is an accident waiting to happen.” The truth is that all of the pipelines in that map are accidents waiting to happen, as are the power lines that crisscross the country. For that matter, the cars we drive are accidents waiting to happen. And accidents will happen. Oil and gas leaks occur every year. That is part of the price we pay for the energy we use. The fact that the Keystone pipeline could have a leak isn’t unique; it is just like all the other pipelines already running beneath our feet.

U.S. Oil and Gas Pipelines with the Ogallala Aquifer Drawn In

Figure 3: Pipelines Already Crisscross the Ogallala Aquifer

This essay is not meant to argue in favor of the pipeline; I may weigh in on that at a later time. I just wanted to comment on what seems like a total lack of knowledge about the way energy is currently moved around the country. I want to see us reduce our oil usage as much as anyone, but I predict that the pipeline will ultimately be approved. Obama is facing a tough reelection campaign, and he wants to point to job creation — and a lot of weight will be placed on that factor in this tough economy. (Ironically, some on the Canadian side are protesting because the pipeline would export refining jobs to the U.S.)

Obama could attempt to drag out the decision past the election, but doing that would have the same political impact as rejecting the pipeline. His political opponents would press the issue that his administration is standing in the way of energy development (even though as I have pointed out before, both domestic oil and natural gas production have increased since Obama has been in office). But I think Obama weighs his political options and approves the pipeline, just as he weighed his political options recently and decided against tougher ozone standards. After all, what’s the downside for him? That the protesters will throw their support behind Romney?