Addressing Some Keystone XL Claims

Two of my recent articles — namely here and here — seem to have spawned or at least contributed to a firefight between critics of the Biden Administration and its defenders. I know my articles contributed, because they were quoted — often without attribution — to make specific (and sometimes out of context) points.

Meanwhile, I also got a lot of feedback over these articles. It ranged from praise to one guy who hoped my home would be destroyed by the effects of climate change.

I had intended to address the issues in one article, but it got pretty long so I am going to split it into two parts. In this first part, I am going to address some of the recent claims.

The Two Opposing Camps

Last week Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw tweeted:

First, a little background information.

Both of those numbers — the 595,000 barrels of oil per day (BPD) from Russia and the 830,000 BPD that the Keystone XL pipeline would have transported — were numbers I derived for a previous article. I am confident my article was the initial source — even though Representative Crenshaw may have gotten them secondhand — because there are many different ways to measure both of those numbers. A different analysis may have derived different numbers for both. The fact that both of the numbers I used were repeated in his tweet is a strong indication that I was the initial source.

For the record, the Russian oil import number I provided was the last month available from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) when I wrote the article — November 2021. Since then, the EIA has posted the December number, which was 405,000 BPD. Alternative, I could have used the November year-to-date average of 695,000 BPD when I wrote that article, or the three-month rolling average of 620,000 BPD. I just grabbed the last available month, which was the source of the 595,000 BPD.

Likewise, you will see several different estimates for how much oil the Keystone XL pipeline would have transported, but I relied on a previous article that I wrote in 2017 (source) that itself derived the number from TransCanada’s (at that time) website.

I just want to put some clarity around the sources of the numbers.

In response to some of the claims — in fact they included Representative Crenshaw’s tweet — The Washington Post wrote a rebuttal: “The clumsy effort to criticize Biden on Ukraine using Keystone.”

The article is a good read, and it provides a lot of useful background information for context. There are some specific things the article gets wrong (more on that below), but it concludes with “…the point of the Keystone XL comparison isn’t to hurt Russia in the first place. The point is to hurt Biden.”

Let me assure you that my intention isn’t to hurt President Biden. Some may use it that way (as Rep. Crenshaw did), but my intent is to promote resilient energy policies and energy security.

Further, there are important points to be made about Keystone XL that are lost by both sides in this firefight. So let me address a few specific items. In the follow-up article I will spell out in simple terms why I so strongly believe cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline was a bad decision.

Rebutting a Few Items

It isn’t my intention to rebut every item I think the two different narratives got wrong, but I want to address some of them.

Let me state the obvious first. If President Biden had allowed Keystone XL to be completed, it would have made no difference regarding the current situation. It wouldn’t be helping to keep oil prices in check, because it wouldn’t have been completed yet (although it could have been if not for years of delays).

But, if we need that pipeline in the future in a situation like today’s — and we don’t have it — we may see similar consequences.

Next, there have been many claims — including in the Washington Post article — that Keystone XL would have carried dirty oil sands that have a higher carbon footprint than other forms of oil. Further, the claim goes, much of the oil was earmarked for export. This is wrong on all counts.

A large percentage of oil sands are upgraded in Canada to a much lighter product. This notion of widespread pumping of tar-like sludge is nonsense. In 2013, following a visit to multiple oil sands facilities in Alberta, Canada, I detailed the process and the carbon footprint of oil sands production. It is lower than that of many heavy crudes that the U.S. currently uses. See The Cost of Production and Energy Return of Oil Sands for details.

In addition, Keystone XL would have provided transportation for oil from the Bakken Formation in the U.S. Currently this oil is moved by rail, which is a far more dangerous way to move oil. When the environmental impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline were being investigated, the U.S. State Department did an analysis that projected that if oil were to be shipped via the Keystone XL pipeline, there would be 6 fewer deaths per year than if that same oil was shipped by rail.

Finally, the volumes on the pipeline weren’t fully committed. People who say “the oil was just going to be exported” or who claim it would simply be refined on the Gulf Coast (which would support U.S. refining jobs) don’t actually have a sound basis for making that argument. But, even if it were true, that’s Canadian and American oil that is helping reduce the world’s dependence on Russian and Saudi oil.

I always thought the win-win scenario was to build the pipeline, and then work hard to ensure that it is never needed. But if it is needed, it’s there. I address this line of reasoning in the next article.

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