Sunday, November 08, 2015


Keystone XL Update

Four years ago I wrote a post questioning the framing by environmentalists of the struggle over the Keystone XL pipeline project. Last week, the Obama administration announced it would not be approving the construction of the pipeline across the border from Canada. I would say that the major factor in the decision was the steep drop in oil prices since 2011. That, more than anything, has paved the way to block a pipeline which, for the time being, has lost much of its financial viability.

I also mostly agree with Bruce Huber's assessment of the decision. Huber is a professor of energy law at the University of Notre Dame and yesterday he told NPR:
Well, in my view, it's not really a very big decision at all. I don't think it would even make my top 10 list of the most significant events for the environment. It's not a decision that has much of an impact on our domestic energy infrastructure. And it's, frankly, not a decision that is going to have that much of an impact on the environment either ... it simply was one of a whole mass of pipeline projects that are out there that are either underway or in the inaugural stages. And furthermore, the construction of the pipeline itself was not a major determinant in whether this oil actually comes out of the ground in northern Alberta. If you didn't want to go the pipeline route, you could transport the oil by rail, as we've been doing in great quantities out of North Dakota in recent years.
Huber goes on to comment on Bill McKibben's response to the decision claiming: "it's clear that what he's [McKibben] referring to is the fact that this particular decision had assumed this larger symbolic importance." I don't know if McKibben would agree but I think it's true that the decision is "largely symbolic". Now don't get me wrong, symbolism is very important but only time will tell if the Keystone XL decision marks a key turning point in the campaign to significantly reduce the use of fossil fuels.

See also: Keystone XL: A Horse Already Out of the Barn?

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