Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's not about this pipeline in particular

I've been reading about all the people protesting the big Keystone XL pipeline they want to build between Alberta and Texas to get the crude oil to refineries in the US. Even Robert Redford has waded into the discussion.

I am all for environmental responsibility and I hope we can do something to clean up our act over time. That said, I think people need to stop commenting on or protesting about things until they get all the facts. Right now, there are hundreds of pipelines scattered around the world, some that leak on a regular basis and nobody even knows about them let alone protests about them. There are fossil fuel infrastructures from the well site through to the refinery that are over 30 years old that are potentially anywhere from weeks to months away from major catastrophe, but nobody is doing anything about any of this. This means there are much more serious and environmentally catastrophic things to worry about than a brand new pipeline being built in a time where technology, regulations and visibility are much better than they have been in years. I'm not saying there is no risk. I'm saying there are riskier things in the business that have gone ignored until now. It's almost like people complaining about the new gas guzzling Hummer next door while down the street, a smoke-billowing junker fills the air with acrid black smoke on a regular basis.

As much as it pains me to say this, until we find a way to wean off of fossil fuels, the world demand for these fuels continues to increase and the oil companies need a way to get the product to the consumer. We could abandon the pipeline. But all that would do is force us to either ship the oil via other means (more expensive), or find another customer (likely Asia) which in turn would require building a pipeline, but to a different coast, our own West Coast. American protesters would be silenced only because the risk is removed from their backyard. Without a pipeline, the lack of oil to the US would reduce supply versus ever increasing demand, which in turn would make the cost skyrocket. Then we would have people complaining that there isn't enough oil to go around. I digress - there won't be enough to go around soon enough, we'd just be speeding up the process before we're ready.

So the only way to honestly demonstrate our disapproval of the dangers of a new pipeline, is to start to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels - now. This shows no signs of happening anytime soon, let alone next month or next year. Interestingly, I find that the amount of oil that would be supplied by this pipeline is not more than 5% of the total oil consumed by the US. So assuming that these figures are correct, I wonder what actual effect it would have on the US economy if the pipeline were cancelled. Would the US just get the oil somewhere else, for now?

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