Keystone pipeline might lead to instability

  • Article by: JERRY PITZRICK
  • Updated: January 18, 2012 - 8:20 PM

U.S. would not necessarily benefit from Canadian oil going international.

hide

This artwork by Mark Weber relates to TransCanada Corporation's Keystone XL pipeline project.

Photo: Mark Weber, Tribune Media Services

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview largerrr

There has been a lot of press recently about the Keystone XL Pipeline Project. President Obama has rejected the plan for now, to allow time for more thorough environmental review.

But the economics of the project are also in need of study.

As an engineer and national building industry consultant, I am familiar with the challenges of constructing projects, and also with the financial analyses that businesses make before building projects.

What concerns me is that the public is receiving only a small piece of the total story about this project -- a piece that benefits business but not necessarily regular Americans.

Because the Keystone pipeline would cross an international border, it requires federal permitting, as well as a review by the states the line would pass through.

Transcanada, the pipeline developer, says it needs this line to significantly increase its ability to move Canadian oil to U.S. refineries and markets.

Doing so, supporters say, would stabilize prices, increase national security by having this supply line in place and create more than 100,000 high-paying jobs.

Let's look at the rest of the story:

The pipeline now moving through our political process is actually one of four phases to Transcanada's Keystone XL Project.

Phase 1 was the conversion of an existing natural gas pipeline to carry crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Neb., then on to Patoka, Ill. The result: A substantial increase in oil capacity to provide crude oil to refineries and markets in the Midwest.

Phase 2, which is also complete, runs from Steele City to Cushing, Okla.

In addition to the section of pipeline receiving all the coverage in the media -- a new, larger, rerouted pipeline from Hardisty to Steele City -- there is another section Transcanada is moving through the permitting process.

That would take the pipeline from Cushing to the port of Houston, Texas. Oklahoma and Texas have oil-based economies, and the permitting process is proceeding there without much discussion.

When you put all phases of this project together, what do you have? A direct, major pipeline from the Canadian oil resource to refineries and international shipping services.

Without this pipeline, Canadian oil is available primarily to the North American market. So without the completed pipeline, Canadian oil does provide us some security and price stability.

However, if the pipeline is completed to Houston, that oil will be available to the international market, where the highest bidder gets the oil and those buying and selling have no regard for U.S. security or price stability.

Some have said Canada will sell its oil to China if Keystone is not built. Well, building a 30-inch pipeline across the Canadian Rockies to West Coast ports would make the construction of the Alaska pipeline look like a walk in the park.

To see how we can expect things to work, check out what's happening with Louisiana and the natural gas industry. Significant new natural gas resources have been developed recently in the United States. The price of natural gas has gone down here.

But prices and demand are much higher in other parts of the world. U.S. producers currently aren't able to sell to these international markets because there is very limited capacity to liquefy natural gas for shipping.

While this is good for U.S. price stability and natural gas customers, it's a lost profit opportunity for natural gas producers.

Enter Cheniere Energy, which will begin building a $6 billion natural gas liquefaction facility in Louisiana this year. Once it's finished in 2015, large volumes of U.S. natural gas will be available to the international market.

When that happens, we can expect higher prices and a more volatile market, which isn't good for price stability or national security.

The one U.S. energy product that can't be shipped beyond our shore is electricity. True energy security requires our development of energy resources that cannot be shipped elsewhere.

There are many ways to do this: Nuclear, coal and hydropower plants, as well as wind, solar and geothermal renewables.

The development of any of those resources can employ more people over a much wider area of our country than can any single pipeline project.

Surprisingly enough, when you do a thorough, life-cycle cost analysis (sorry, the engineer in me can be suppressed for only so long), the renewable option makes a lot of sense.

Unfortunately, any decision about energy is complex and is easily influenced by many deep-pocketed industry lobbyists.

We need to be sure we are supporting decisions that respond to all of us, not just to private industries.

* * *

Jerry Pitzrick is vice president of Pitzrick and Associates, a consulting firm in Eden Prairie.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

  • about opinion

  • The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.

  • Submit a letter or commentary
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close