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Pipeline may be a 'magical solution' that's neither

February 21, 2012 - Mike Maneval
George Zornick, writing for The Nation, and Keystone XL opponent Bill McKibben are going against the emerging conventional wisdom on the likely temporary delay in approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, and make a credible case.

The argument becoming the conventional wisdom on the proposal, heard perhaps most frequently from Republican candidates and conservative pundits, is that delays to the pipeline limit petroleum supplies, contributing to the rise in energy prices.

But McKibben argues that, since the oil market is global in nature, oil prices generally are set at a level where the pipeline's impact likely is negligible, especially compared to the impact Iranian hostility in the Persian Gulf plays. The principal exception McKibben notes is a 15-state region in the Mid-West, where the oil the pipeline would transport is creating a localized surplus, depressing prices. Were the pipeline already completed to move this oil to overseas markets with greater ease and efficiency, the competing international demand would drive prices in this 15-state region up.

This argument presented by McKibben and seconded by Zornick only is bolstered by a reality Ezra Klein of the Washington Post noted some time ago: More drilling can't be the answer - or, at the very least, the primary answer - to slowing the rise in gas prices since, under the Obama administration, the number of domestic oil rigs operating is greater than under the administrations of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, or George H.W. Bush.

While I support the prudent development of the Keystone XL pipeline, pretending the hastiest construction of the pipeline - and the pipeline's proponents in Congress created an artificial and hasty deadline for its approval - is a magically simple solution to the problem of depending on two finite sources for 80 percent of our country's energy needs may leave America with an unsafe pipeline that fails to relieve Americans of the burden of increasing energy costs. Which isn't a solution at all.


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