The State Department says it will decide by the end of the year whether to issue a permit to TransCanada, a giant energy infrastructure company, to build a crude oil pipeline from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, tapping fields in the Dakotas and Montana as it goes.
The hard fact of the matter is that if it's not the Keystone XL pipeline it will be another, similar pipeline built when costs are higher, demand is greater and — because of crimped supply — oil prices are higher.
During the Bush years and the early Obama administration, time and money were wasted searching for a "green energy alternatives." Windmills, which supplied small, niche markets, sliced up migrating birds in the process. Products like corn-based ethanol fell heavily on the taxpayer in the form of huge government subsidies and higher food prices.
If the country is serious about workable energy alternatives, there are only three: coal, nuclear and natural gas. The first two face serious political obstacles. The third we have in seeming abundance in the Lower 48 and, as it happens, in Alaska and northwestern Canada, where it will take massive pipelines like Keystone XL to bring the gas to market.
The Keystone project has percolated along quietly, ignored by the general public, for several years. But opposition has begun to build; at least 1,000 opponents were arrested this August in a demonstration outside the White House.
The lineup is slightly different than the usual environmental face-off. On one side are the environmental groups and farmers and ranchers and state and local governments worried about the pipeline's possible impact on the huge Ogallala Aquifer.
On the other are the energy companies, the contractors, the unions (which quickly reached an agreement pledging labor peace for the life of the project) and the State Department and Canadian government. They make the compelling argument that the pipeline would generate 20,000 jobs while it was being built.
Our more overheated politicians wail about America's "energy lifeline" being in the hands of assorted Middle Eastern madmen. It is not.
Our single largest supplier of petroleum products, including crude oil, is Canada, at 2.6 million barrels a day. Our next largest suppliers — Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Venezuela — collectively provide 3.4 million a day. Oil is an easily transportable international commodity, but the fact is our energy future lies largely in this hemisphere and especially Canada.
Build the pipelines now or build them later, but — barring some technological rabbit out of a hat like cold fusion — they're going to get built.
© 2011 Scripps Howard News Service