Keystone XL was shaping up to be among the cleanest pipeline projects ever built. Calgary’s TC Energy was planning to spend $1.7 billion to power the pump stations along the 1,900-kilometer line extension entirely with renewables like solar and wind, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday night.
The project promised to provide thousands of high-paying jobs and included deals with several American unions, and TC Energy had partnered with five First Nations that had taken equity in the pipeline.
It is exactly the kind of project that any sane politician would be excited about in these recessionary times.
So naturally, incoming U.S. President-elect Joe Biden plans to cancel construction after he is inaugurated on Wednesday.
Whatever relief Canadians, including conservatives, might feel at the prospect of sleepy Joe in the White House after the Donald Trump-inspired violence at the United States Capitol earlier this month, this is a sharp reminder of what it’s like to have a Democrat in charge.
Trump may have been a protectionist who started unnecessary trade spats with Canada, but his approval of Keystone promised huge benefits to both countries.
The fact that the 830,000 barrel-per-day pipeline connecting Alberta to the Gulf Coast is a safer way to move oil than by rail should matter.
As should the fact that heavy oil refineries have spare capacity, and that the U.S. State Department previously concluded that Keystone XL would not overly contribute to climate change.
All of that should matter, just like the environmental improvements TC Energy is planning should be of consequence.
But they are likely not to be because now that the Democrats control the presidency and both houses of Congress, Biden will be facing pressure from the progressive wing of his party, which favors massive investments in clean energy and moving the U.S. off oil.
And a Canadian company’s pipeline carrying Canadian oil is a perfect target. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who represents that wing of the Democrats as much as anyone, tweeted Sunday: “The Keystone pipeline is & always has been a disaster. I’m delighted that Joe Biden will cancel the Keystone permit on his first day in office.”
If the anti-oil lobby and politicians who favor aggressive green policies cannot be placated by TC Energy’s efforts, then the message that will be sent to industry is that it doesn’t matter. There is no point in spending money trying to protect the environment if Biden wants to kill the industry, end of story.
While progressives complain about dirty Alberta oil, pipeline construction has been booming in the U.S.
For example, in 2019, three pipelines that were completed between the Permian Basin in western Texas and the Gulf were slated to add three times as much oil per day as Keystone XL.
In the five years before then-president Barack Obama decided not to grant a presidential permit for the project, the U.S. built enough pipelines to equal 10 Keystone XLs.
If the pipeline did not cross a border, there would be no need for a permit and less temptation for presidents to make a show of appearing to do something about climate change without necessarily doing anything.
The fact that canceling Keystone XL comes at the expense of high-paying union jobs at a time when such employment has been shrinking tells you everything you need to know about progressives and how much they actually care about workers.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is said to have pressed Biden on Keystone XL after the American election and it is safe to assume that Ottawa has pointed out that greenhouse gas emissions from oilsands production have dropped about a third since 2000, and that Trudeau has trumpeted his plans for a national carbon tax and fuel standard. All for naught, apparently.
There are likely to be howls that Trudeau didn’t lobby hard enough, or that his heart wasn’t in it, given his penchant for regulating the oil industry.
True or not, this is a decision that two Democratic presidents have now made and all the signs point to internal politics being the culprit and not a lack of eager Liberal apple polishers.
This brings us to Alberta, where Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government foolishly purchased a $1.5-billion stake in the pipeline to help ensure it would get built.
In the spring, Kenney told the Edmonton Journal, in reference to pandemic spending, that, “For fiscal conservatives like me, we’re going to have to do things we’re not normally comfortable with.”
There are good reasons to be uncomfortable with spending public money on private projects, namely that if a company cannot raise its own capital, it is usually because the market has not judged a specific project worthy. Kenney should have followed whatever conservative instincts he still has.
The province has had a pipeline bottleneck for years, forcing Alberta oil to sell at a sharp discount against American and international benchmarks.
There has been increased urgency to build shipping capacity since the price collapse of 2014 that was largely driven by growing U.S. shale production.
There is clearly a frustration over the fact that the American government would block a pipeline that’s needed to help ease a discount that has been made worse by … American producers.
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