Saturday, November 12, 2011

Michael Levi On The Keystone Pipeline: Lamenting A Train That's Already Left The Station

 Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Michael Levi thinks the decision to delay, and possibly kill, the Keystone XL Pipeline is short-sighted, and will redound to ill effect upon the environmentalists that are celebrating today.

I should say at the outset that I am more inclined towards supporting Keystone than against, because the choice may be between selling Tarsands oil to the Americans through Keystone vs. selling it to the Chinese through Northern Gateway.  I wrote once:

To me, the best/only way to "green" the tar-sands is to sell any oil from them to our American cousins exclusively, and wait for their federal and state governments to force change upon the oil patch.  Harper and Co. are controlled by Western Petro interests, but to the Yankees Alberta doesn't amount to a patch of dickweed.

But I must say that Mr. Levi's main pro-Keystone argument today strikes me as terribly naive.  The core of it is:

For green groups, the shortest route to blocking fossil fuel development appears to be leveraging local opposition. Many will seek to turn this not only against the Canadian oil sands but against United States oil production and coal exports, too. At the same time, they will find themselves increasingly appealing to the federal government for help in overriding local opposition to wind farms, solar plants, long distance transmission lines and other critical pieces of zero-carbon infrastructure. These two endeavors will conflict.

[...]

 Energy experts often note that it would be impossible to recreate today’s energy infrastructure, given the intensity of opposition to pretty much any new development. The environmentalists’ victory against Keystone XL will only reinforce that judgment. But realizing their broader vision — a low-carbon economy that enhances the nation’s security and helps avoid dangerous climate change — will require defeating the same sort of local opposition that they have just embraced.

But the scenario Levi outlines had already arrived pre-Keystone.  For example, the anti-wind/anti-solar campaigns here in Ontario during the last provincial election were  perfect examples of local groups trying to block green energy projects: the NIMBY's behind them complained about about the "annoyance" caused by turbines that occasionally exceeded 45 decibels, and solar arrays that looked ugly when viewed a mile off from the decks of their cottages. 

But these folk did not get much sympathy from the broader community and, to their credit, the major environmental groups stayed well away from their cause.  In any case, the take-away point is that with every project the balance between local vs. general concerns will be different, and enviros will have to find their way forward on a case-by-case basis.  I suspect most of them know this already, but Mr. Levi has apparently just realized the, and is  startled by it.

12 comments:

cfbborden-vet said...

The real problem with Keystone XL in my opinion is that because it is for bitumen, it necessitates the rapid expansion of the tar sands to fill it, and requires that tarsands production continue at dangerous levels once it is in place.

Lenny said...

Northern Gateway is not going to happen, regardless of what happens with Keystone.
Anyone who believes otherwise is completely clueless as to the depth of opposition in BC.

But I don't think for a moment that Keystone won't happen. And any claims that the delays will "kill" Keystone are just as laughable as Taseko's claims that they couldn't operate their mine without destroying Fish Lake.
I assume Obama's plan is to put the rubber stamp on it once the election is safely in the rear-view.

bigcitylib said...

Lenny, I think you are most likely right on both Keystone and Gateway.

lma1 said...

Agreed, cfbborden-vet, the real problem we should be dealing with is whether or not it is even possible to expand the Tar Sands in an environmentally responsible way, with transparent, independent monitoring/regulation of pollution, and reduction of GHG emissions in accordance with our international obligations and commitments.

Deno said...

Northern Gateway is a done deal. It does not matter what opposition there is in BC this pipeline and more like it are on its way and Canada will be better for it.

China wants and needs our oil and they will get what they want.

America is bankrupt and is headed for 3rd world status after a hyperinflation event over the next couple of years. By the time keystone is built Canada will not accept worthless hyperinflatedUS dollars to buy our oil so we will sell to the Chinese and BC will be thankful for all the high paying jobs that Gateway will create.

Deno

Terence said...

I agree with Lenny. This issue is off the table only until Jan.2013

double nickel said...

@Deno, Northern Gateway is most definitely not a done deal. It will never happen.

Lenny said...

"It does not matter what opposition there is in BC "

I hope Harper shares your attitude, Deno.
Not only will the pipeline not get built, but the Conservaturds will also reduce themselves to a rump in BC.
Wouldn't it be ironic if a Prime Minister, driven by a lifelong hatred of the Liberal Party sparked by the NEP, tried to ram a pipeline through BC against its wishes "for the good of Canada", to deliver energy for the benefit of Alberta, and killed the Conservatives in BC as a result?

CuJoYYC said...

First off, let me state that as an Albertan, I'm not a huge proponent of the rate of development in the tars sands. For decades, I've advocated a go-slow approach "Take only what you need, leave as much and as good for future generations". I'm also not na├»ve enough to suggest we just shut down the tar sands—much as I would like to eliminate the environmental concerns associated with such a leviathan. We'll need those resources moving forward as we wean ourselves from our dependency on oil.

There are two arguments going on in this issue.

There's the environmental issue of whether to build it and where. This is the issue that most media outlets, eco-politicians and opponents focus on.

Then there's the jobs issue. The only ones talking about the jobs issue are American politicians.

Canadian politicians such as Stevie and his clan of knuckle draggers (I'm looking at you and others Rob Anders), want to export almost raw bitumen to the US as quickly as possible—a bad idea—to make a quick buck on an unprocessed, high value, resource. Rather than exporting thick viscosity bitumen through a pipeline that requires chemical additives (chemicals that are then to be separated at the refinery and shipped back to Canada for re-use) to get enough level of flow to transport said bitumen, why is no one talking about the jobs that are not or will not be created in Canada building and maintaining refineries? Most of the America politicians are talking about the refinery jobs that will be created if the pipeline is built. If there are jobs to be created, then we must ask why our political leaders are so anxious to export unprocessed resources as quickly as possible? Why are we not holding Harper and his gang of churlish career politicians collective feet to the coal fire on why they so blindly want to ship jobs outside of Canada?

Yet another example of the hewers of wood, drawers of water syndrome.

lma1 said...

CuJoYYC, as you say it seems to be all about quick profits for the oil companies who are no doubt well aware that time is running for fossil fuels.

IMO, this carbon bomb should be left where it is, safely stored in the ground, but a slow paced, project by project production, with transparent pollution regulation and emission reduction would at least get us on the right track. If the Tar Sands are to be expanded, Albertans should absolutely get the full benefit of the resource, including jobs building and maintaining the refineries.

CuJoYYC said...

"… this carbon bomb should be left where it is, safely stored in the ground …"

Without a doubt, leaving it in the ground is the best method of carbon capture and storage. That's another one of those things that's never talked about. Sigh.

I reiterate, "Take only what you need, leave as much and as good for future generations"

pradeep nagar said...
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