Witnesses disagree on Keystone XL’s potential US security impacts

Witnesses at a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing sharply disagreed on whether the proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline would help or hinder US security. The Mar. 13 hearing came days after the deadline for submitting public comments to the US Department of State, which is considering whether the project would be in the national interest (OGJ Online, Mar. 6, 2014).

“I hope this can be a balanced, thoughtful hearing—[one] that puts aside some of the politics that have surrounded this debate, and deal with the underlying question of what is in our national interest,” Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the committee’s chairman, said in his opening statement.

DOS continues to deliberate that question, but the final decision whether to grant TransCanada Corp., the project’s sponsor, the necessary cross-border permit rests with US President Barack Obama.

Mar. 12 marked 2,000 days since TransCanada submitted its original applications, noted US Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), a House Energy and Commerce Committee member who has called for Keystone XL’s approval. The Calgary oil and gas transmission company submitted a revised cross-border permit application reflecting a different route across Nebraska in 2012.

DOS released its final environmental impact statement covering the revised application on Jan. 31 (OGJ Online, Feb. 1, 2014). The project’s supporters and opponents have intensified their campaigns for and against it in the time since.

Security implications

Retired US Marine Corp. Gen. James L. Jones, a former presidential national security advisor who now co-chairs the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Energy Project and Task Force on Defense Budget and Strategy, said in his written statement there is no doubt that the Keystone XL determination will be of strategic importance to the US. America’s Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, primarily to secure continued free passage of crude oil through the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz to global markets, he reminded committee members.

“I would like to pose what I regard to be a pretty fundamental question: Why would the United States spend billions of dollars and place our military personnel at risk to ensure the flow of energy half a world away, but neglect an opportunity to enable the flow of energy in our very own backyard—creating jobs, tax revenue, and greater security?” Jones said.

He called the Keystone XL cross-border permit decision “a litmus test of whether America is serious about national, regional, and global energy security, and the world is watching.” Jones said the proposed pipeline is integral to US and North American energy security, which in turn is paramount to the nation’s prosperity and leadership.

“America’s ability to prosper and lead in a dangerous and uncertain world that needs us is quite clearly a preeminent matter of national interest,” he maintained. “I think that is why Congress has voted consistently, and in a bipartisan manner, to move forward with Keystone.”

‘Needed and welcome’

Karen A. Harbert, president of the US Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, said the group looked at how much of the total global oil supply is in the hands of potentially politically unstable countries in its latest indexes of US and International Energy Security Risks. It found that since 1980, crude output from free countries has been stuck in the 17-20 million b/d range while production from partly free and not free countries has grown, she indicated.

“At a time when North Sea oil output is falling, large emerging economies are growing into large oil consumers, putting pressure on spare oil production capacity globally,” Harbert said in her written statement. “Political instability in many producing countries is also on the rise, and greater output from a closer friend and ally like Canada is needed and welcome.”

She said that Canada has been looking to India, China, and other countries as markets for crude produced from oil sands while the Keystone XL proposal has been under consideration and delayed. “Reliable, long-term energy supplies from Canada are critical to US energy security at a time when global supplies are often found in geopolitically unstable regions of the world and in countries that aren’t concerned with US best interests,” Harbert said.

But two other witnesses argued that global climate change poses an even greater threat to US national security. They called for policies which discourage the use of fossil fuels and encourage development and deployment of alternatives.

The recently released Quadrennial Defense Review 2014 warned that climate change impacts could increase the frequency, scale and complexity of future military missions while undermining domestic military installations’ capacity to support training activities, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune testified.

James E. Hansen, who retired in April 2013 after 32 years of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies to devote his time to educating the public about climate change dangers, said that taxing oil, gas, and coal’s carbon emissions and rewarding consumers who move to low-carbon and no-carbon sources would make Keystone XL unnecessary.

“The annual reduction of oil use alone, after 10 years, would be more than three times the amount of oil” it would carry, he said in his written testimony. “By eliminating the need for the pipeline, the danger of oil spillage on American soil is also eliminated.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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