Column | March 11

The case for Keystone

By Duncan Hosie 

Last week, nine University students were arrested while protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project. Approval of the project, they argued, would be a dangerous and devastating blow to the environment. “We believe that a peaceful protest involving a lot of civil disobedience,” Nikolaus Hofer ’17 contended in a March 3 Prince article, “is the best course of action.”

I offer a different perspective. The Keystone XL pipeline is a bipartisan, common-sense measure that is safe for the environment. More importantly, it would support middle and working-class families while providing a significant boost to the U.S. economy ($3.4 billion, according to the State Department). I echo the sentiments of President Bill Clinton, who argued “we should embrace [the project] and develop a stakeholder-driven system of high standards for doing the work.”

American workers are struggling. Keystone XL will help them. According to the State Department, the “proposed project spending would support approximately 42,100 jobs.” Unemployment and underemployment remain far too high in this country, and this project would provide many hard-working Americans with high-paying wages in engineering, construction and pipeline maintenance. For this reason, America’s labor unions and labor leaders have endorsed the project, including Sean McGarvey, president of the North America’s Building Trade Unions, Leo W. Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, and even Richard Trumka, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Currently, the United States imports over 300 million barrels of oil annually from unstable regimes in the Middle East and Latin America. This increases our dependence on turbulent regions worldwide and often negatively impacts our own domestic economy when order is not maintained. Although the University students protesting the Keystone XL pipeline may believe alternative forms of energy are a solution to this problem, the failure of federally subsidized green energy companies, such as Solyndra and Ener1, has proven that these alternatives are not yet sustainable on the private market.

The United States will inevitably need to procure crude oil for a long time. The Keystone XL pipeline has the potential to reduce America’s dependence on unfriendly governments in favor of a trusted, stable ally. Would we not feel more comfortable getting our energy from Canada rather than from hostile nations overseas? From a national security standpoint, the benefits of the Keystone XL pipeline are unassailable.

The students protesting the pipeline are promoting a false premise; they are arguing that President Obama has to decide between building a pipeline and not building a pipeline. However, that is not the decision the President faces. Indeed, The Wall Street Journal reports that Canadian companies are already working on developing an alternative to Keystone XL that would triple the amount of oil shipped to Canada’s west coast. Rather than going to the United States, “the boost will allow Asian buyers to load Canadian crude in significant volumes … and ship it across the Pacific.” Therefore, President Obama’s choice is whether to allow a pipeline to be built for the benefit of American consumers and workers or to force that pipeline to be built for the benefit of the Chinese.

There are significant environmental benefits to opting for the former outcome. Extreme environmentalists love to create a false dichotomy between economic growth and environmental sustainability, yet Keystone XL would undeniably be beneficial for both. “Scientific American” concludes that “pipelines are generally regarded as a safe way to transport fuel, a far better alternative to tanker trucks or freight trains,” or shipping vessels. Pipelines are better constructed than other methods of transport (the Keystone XL pipeline is no exception with hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the most up-to-date technology) and, if a leakage ever did occur, it would be easier to clean up than an offshore spill. Of the 10 worst oil spills in history, nine were the result of an oil tanker or offshore rig explosion.

The State Department has concluded that denying the Keystone XL pipeline “is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the [Canadian] oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States.” Because of this fact and the increased rate of oil spillage via non-pipeline transportation, the State Department has concluded that not building Keystone XL “could result in the release of up to 42 percent more greenhouse gases than would be released by building it.” Surely that is not an outcome that will guarantee victory in “the climate change battle,” which Mason Herson-Hord ’15 identified as one of the protestors’ goals.

By protesting Keystone XL, those students were not protecting nature but rather harming our national security interests, economic growth and even environmental wellbeing. They were protesting against the wishes of a majority of Americans, 65 percent of whom, according to Pew Research, support Keystone XL, and they were protesting against economically vulnerable Americans, many of whom desperately need the high-paying jobs Keystone provides.

The fate of Keystone XL rests with President Obama. He has waited long enough: it is now time to reject political extremism and approve this sensible, bipartisan project.

Duncan Hosie is a sophomore from Belvedere, Calif. He can be reached at dhosie@princeton.edu

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