Kill the pipeline: A path to real energy security

President Obama’s decision to delay approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is a clear demonstration of U.S. leadership on both the domestic and international stage. It demonstrates that the U.S. is moving away from an insecure energy pathway. Resisting the pipeline, and future projects like it, will be critical for ensuring that the security of the United States is not compromised by reliance on oil and that the U.S. plays a global leadership role in building a renewable energy economy.

But the arguments and interests in favor of such projects are not going away. Recently, 37 Republican senators sponsored a bill urging President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. He should resist, and not just on environmental grounds.

One of the major messages in support of the pipeline is that it would “strengthen our national security” and reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

That’s simply not true.

The oil market is global and volatile and we can’t drill our way out of it. If anything, projects like Keystone XL increase our dependence on oil and hurt our national security.

First, given the realities of a global market, most of the oil in question would be slated for export. As retired Army Brig. Gen. Steven Anderson noted in a recent blog, the pipeline’s biggest client, Valero Energy Corp., informed investors that the refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, would be focused on exports. In short, very little of that oil would actually make it to U.S. households, keeping American consumers just as vulnerable to global oil price fluctuations.

Second, in terms of supply, Canadian tar sands — the source for the Keystone XL pipeline — are a drop in the bucket compared to OPEC supplies. If OPEC decides to turn off the spigot, oil prices will skyrocket, no matter how much oil we extract in Canada or the U.S. Indeed, in its 2010 World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency demonstrates that a better way to reduce our dependence on OPEC would be to reduce global demand for oil consistent with combating climate change. This could lead to OPEC losing $5 trillion over the next couple of decades —a real impact on OPEC dominance.

Third, the Keystone project would primarily be for the benefit of very specific, short-term special interests, not the American public and long-term energy security. The idea behind the proposal was to give Canadian businesses access to the ocean and global market, not to help America reduce its dependence on foreign oil. TransCanada, the company that wishes to build the pipeline, is beholden to Canadian interests, global demand and its shareholders. Its Texas partners, including Valero, also serve their shareholders and global demand. None of them are driven by U.S. national interests. If the U.S. wants to enhance its national advantage and lead the world’s energy future, we would do better to invest in building a 21st century renewable energy infrastructure.

Fourth, the project would be antithetical to our national security objective of getting off our addiction to oil. Committing ourselves to projects like Keystone XL would further lock us into a global oil market that aids and abets tyrants and terrorists, and holds American consumers hostage. Clearly, this is not in the interests of the United States.

Lastly, approving such a project would severely diminish U.S. global leadership in building a world based on renewable energy, combating growing greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, and reducing dependence on a volatile oil market. Clear and concrete signals that we are transitioning away from oil dependence will demonstrate that the U.S. is serious about its role as a global leader.

The president’s decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline is an important step in reducing our dependence on oil and enhancing our national security. That delay should become the end of it and similar projects in the future. The best path to real energy security — combating price volatility, shielding the American public from the whims of Middle Eastern states, and living up to our role as leaders on the world stage in building a renewable energy economy and combating climate change — is to break our addiction to oil. Holding the line on Keystone XL is a good start.

Soderberg is a former deputy national security adviser and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She is president of the Connect U.S. Fund, and a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the University of North Florida. This article is written in her personal capacity.