Keystone XL is not perfect, but it’s our best energy option

Keystone XL is not perfect, but it’s our best energy option

Earlier this week, the Nebraska Public Service Commission voted 3-2 to approve Nebraska’s share of the $8 billion, 1,200-mile Keystone XL Pipeline route, seemingly clearing its final regulatory hurdle and allowing construction to move forward. However, more obstacles loom before it can bring North Dakota and Canadian crude oil to Texas refineries.

Commissioners who voted against approval have concerns and objections, some landowners still object to the pipeline crossing their lands, other landowners may not even be aware that the new route will cross their properties, and environmentalists threaten more lawsuits.

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Further complicating matters, the Nebraska commission-approved route is not TransCanada’s preferred path through the Cornhusker State. A company spokesman said project engineers will have to assess how much the newly revised route will affect construction costs and schedules.

 

The most delayed and litigated pipeline in U.S. history, Keystone XL has stirred controversy for over a decade. Proponents say the pipeline is a necessary, safe, effective way to transport crude oil to refineries that produce fuel for vehicles, asphalt for roads and raw materials for countless petrochemical products. They note that segments of Keystone have already been in operation for several years, and are delivering crude oil to refineries in Illinois and Texas.

However, those lengthy, indirect routes caused TransCanada to push for a shorter, more direct path — the Keystone XL — that would run diagonally through Wyoming, the Dakotas and Nebraska. The more northern portions were approved years ago, but the Nebraska section encountered prolonged opposition from environmental activists and President Obama.

Several years ago, TransCanada agreed to move the proposed route away from an environmentally sensitive wetlands known as the Nebraska Sandhills. The Nebraska commission’s decision shifted the pipeline further away from Sandhills.

Still unhappy opponents say pipelines are inherently unsafe, prolong the use of climate-damaging fossil fuels, and will become obsolete relics as America shifts entirely to renewable energy in a decade or so.

The United States already has 160,000 miles of liquid petroleum pipelines, 300,000 miles of natural gas transmission pipelines, and 2,200,000 miles of local gas distribution pipelines. Skilled craftsmen will use the latest steel, valve, monitoring and other technologies to build the Keystone XL segment and prevent spills.

Of course, there is no guarantee that spills will never occur. A recent pipeline break in South Dakota caused a 5,000-barrel leak. However, the original section of Keystone and Keystone XL lines traverse mostly rural areas, whereas truck and rail alternatives go along busy, congested highways and through towns and urban areas — with far greater potential for loss of human life and property.

A fiery 2013 derailment in Quebec killed 47 people and left many more badly burned; 2014 rail accidents in Colorado and Virginia resulted in significant oil spills but fortunately no deaths. By carrying 830,000 barrels of light and heavy crude every day, Keystone XL would eliminate the need for 1,225 railroad tanker cars per day (448,000 per year) or 3,500 semi-trailer tanker trucks daily (1,277,500 annually).

It’s also important to note that the Greenpeace-Sierra Club preference for wind and solar replacements for fossil fuels have their own massive ecological impacts — which few environmentalists ever acknowledge.

Using wind power to replace current U.S. electricity generation and charge batteries for just seven windless days of backup power would require some 14 million towering 1.8-MW bird-and-bat-killing turbines, sprawling across acreage twice the size of California. The backup power would require over 650 million 100-kWh Tesla battery packs on still more acreage.

This does not consider what it would take to replace vehicles with electric versions — or coal and gas fuel in foundries, refineries and factories. The steel, copper, lithium, cobalt, rare earth elements, fiberglass and other raw materials to build all these turbines, batteries and transmission lines would require mind-numbing quantities of earth removal, mining, processing, smelting and manufacturing.

Renewable energy is simply not ecological or sustainable.

Those worried about climate armageddon attempt to tie every temperature rise and extreme weather event to human greenhouse gas emissions. They cannot explain the record 12-year drought in Category 3-5 hurricanes striking the U.S. mainland, prior to Harvey.

The 1976-1997 warming began at the end of a cold period that caused Newsweek and National Geographic to worry about a new little ice age. Climate computer models predict average global temperatures a full 1 degree Fahrenheit higher than have actually been observed by satellites and weather balloons — and that gap is widening every year. With a new La Niña system developing, the 2015-16 El Niño temperature spike is slowly receding to the “warming hiatus” that has prevailed since 1998.

Carbon dioxide actually loses the ability to trap heat as its atmospheric concentration increases — thus helping plants grow faster and better, thereby making Earth greener. It now appears that Western Antarctic ice shelf instability is due to volcanic and magmatic activity beneath it — not climate change.

Legislators, regulators, judges, voters and consumers also need to remember that heavily subsidized, sporadic, unreliable wind and solar combined provide less than 3 percent of all U.S. energy. One day, they or some other as yet unimaginable energy source will replace the fossil fuels that still account for 93 percent of the energy that makes our livelihoods, living standards and life spans possible. But that day has not yet arrived.

Fossil fuels provide feed stocks for paints, plastics, pharmaceuticals and other products that enrich and safeguard our lives. They keep our lights, heat and air conditioning on, and power the manufacturing centers that create computers, smart phones, healthcare technologies, vehicles and batteries. They take patients to hospitals, people to work and events, products to retailers and homes.

They are the most efficient, most affordable power source for the modern civilization, which we Americans enjoy and take for granted — and to which all humans aspire. Pipelines are the fastest, safest, most direct, most economical way to get oil and natural gas where they are needed.

Keystone XL is a vital addition to America’s pipeline system. It is not perfect. But it is essential for a healthier, safer, more prosperous United States.

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and author of books and articles on energy and environmental policy.