Build the pipeline
By Ken Root
Idealism must painfully give way to pragmatism. Fantasy has to yield to reality. There has to be realization that we must utilize our logic and ability to survive and thrive. Proposed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Cushing, Okla., has become another of the political, emotional and environmental separations that gridlock our country and impact our economy. It is time to lay down our differences and pick up our shovels.
The Bakkan region of North Dakota and Canada is being developed. The technology to produce oil from the shale formations has been propelled by $100-per-barrel oil. Putting it in volumetric and energy terminology, here are 42 gallons in one barrel of oil, which is approximately 5.8 million British thermal units or 1,700 kilowatt hours. That means every gallon of oil is worth about $2.38 at the wellhead. Once you have that price level, it is just a matter of transporting it out that comes into play. This situation is not unlike the fur trappers who went into the frontier to trap beaver, or the miners who went after gold. The value was too great to leave it alone and their impact was already made before society started to react to the consequences of their actions. Fur trading and gold mining opened up the continent and accelerated settlement. If there is no pipeline, the oil will still come out whether by truck, train or pack mule.
We built the Alaskan pipeline in the 1970s in one of the greatest technological feats in the history of the world. Can’t we build another one 40 years later that would be even better? The Alaskan pipeline runs over mountain ranges and across earthquake zones and the biggest spill was on a ship after it had sailed.
Nebraska has put up some big roadblocks to the Keystone XL line and continues to fight internally over the route. This is the modern day challenge of rights of the minority to prevail over the common good for the majority. If we had faced today’s sensitivity in the past, there would be no railroads, no dams, no interstate highways and no transmission lines. Visual pollution, as it is called, has stopped many projects just because activists could get the public to side with their view and tie the project up in the court system or get a government agency to deny a permit.
This brings up condemnation of land under Eminent Domain. It is sometimes defined as: “What is good for the country as a whole is constitutional.” The spirit of that concept has been abused by government, business and the court system but a narrowly defined version should still remain in effect for this type of project. Proper damages for construction and remediation payment for future liability should be enforced by the government, but an individual or a state should not be able to block the path of this pipeline.
It is so hard to be fat, happy and realistic. We have gone to war to keep our foreign oil supply and killed thousands of our military and civilians. We would not have entered the first Gulf War nor would we have invaded Iraq if it had not been for our addiction to oil. Note the atrocities in Africa that we verbally condemned but watched from afar because they didn’t have oil so our national interest was not at stake.
For those who want renewable energy, the Bakken region may be the pathway. As we build infrastructure in North Dakota, we open up one of the largest potential wind energy states in the nation. This oil is not going to be cheap, nor last forever, so we can use it to bridge from low mileage vehicles to higher mileage and to hydrogen fuel cells and other technologies because we keep or money and our troops at home while drawing oil from a friendly nation next door.
Projections for the field show that it will produce a million barrels per day through the end of 2029. Part of the field is in the United States and part in Canada. They have the opportunity to sell their oil anywhere they want. Wouldn’t it be a sad statement if Canadian oil was shipped east and west for export and not pipelined south to us?
Finally, the political aspect of this controversy is thick as molasses. The Democratic president doesn’t want to alienate his environmental constituents or play into the hands of Republicans, so he won’t endorse the project. The Republicans want to make sure they don’t lose their chance at taking over the Senate and the presidency in 2016, so they will do whatever is required to keep the president from raising his favorable ratings. We need to get beyond politics on this issue because it will bring enough economic good that everyone can share in it.
If we would honestly look back to Sept. 11, 2001, and ask what brought that terrorist attack, it would all come down to our thirst for foreign oil. We spent so much on high-tech military dominance that we made ourselves vulnerable to suicide attacks. We are now spending millions of dollars every day to protect oil interests in the Middle East and we are alienating the world by hitting terrorists with drone strikes because we can’t lose dominance in oil producing countries. It’s time to let Arabs keep their oil and stuff their animosity. Let’s shift our supply line straight north. I don’t fear attack from Canadians or North Dakotans for buying theirs.
Editor’s note: Ken Root has been an agricultural reporter for 39 years. Root now does daily radio and television programming and is a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send mail for him to High Plains Journal.