Keystone XL

Keystone Pipeline Attempts Regulatory End Run Around Obama Administration

Environmentalists cry foul and urge President Obama to stop the pipeline



Transcanada, the would-be builder and operator of the Keystone Pipeline that would transport oil sands crude to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries has written to the U.S. State Department asking the agency to pause its review of the pipeline. Since the pipeline crosses a border, the president gets to weigh in on its approval with a finding that it is or is not in the national interest. The approval as been delayed so far for seven years as President Barack Obama deviously dithered between offending the labor union or environmentalist wings of the Democratic Party. In search of a "legacy," the signs are that Obama's State Department is planning to soon issue a ruling that the pipeline is not in the national interest due to concerns about the effects of oil sands production on the global climate.

Transcanada is apparently seeking to derail the State Department's negative ruling, by asking the agency to pause consideration while its pipeline route through Nebraska is being finalized. In addition, the fall of oil prices from $134 per barrel when Transcanada first filed in 2008 to build the pipeline to $43 per barrel today surely hasn't helped.

Naturally, environmental activists are urging President Obama to ignore Transcanada's request. One example is a statement from Bill McKibben, founder of the group that advocates reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations back down from 400 ppm to 350 ppm. From McKibben:

"Clearly TransCanada has lost and they recognize that. It's one of the great victories for this movement in decades. In defeat, TransCanada is asking for extra time from the referees, and clearly hoping they'll get a new head official after the election. It's time for the current umpire, President Obama, to reject this project once and for all, and go to Paris as the first world leader to stop a major project because of its effect on the climate. No matter what route TransCanada comes back with, the ultimate problem all along with Keystone XL has been that it's a climate disaster — that it fails the President's own climate test. It will be a sign of his solidarity with this remarkable movement when he comes right out and says that."

President Obama wants to make a good showing at the upcoming U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris. Therefore my bet is that he will ignore Transcanada's request for a pause and finally accept the State Department's determination that building the Keystone pipeline is not in the national interest.

Note: I will be publishing daily dispatches from the second week of the Paris Climate Change Conference.

Disclosure: Back in 2011, I went on a junket to report on the development of Alberta oil sands. My travel expenses were covered by the American Petroleum Institute. The API did not ask for nor did it have any editorial control over my reporting of this trip or, for that matter, any other reporting that I do. For more background, see my articles, "The Man-Made Miracle of Oil from Sand," and "Conflict Oil or Canadian Oil?"

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  1. I think it is most likely they are suspending the application because oil prices have fallen to the point that tar sands production is no longer profitable.

    1. “What? You don’t want to build it anymore? OK then, you have permission.”

      1. Seriously. Since tar sands production isn’t profitable below $70/barrel, doesn’t that make the argument against building it go away?

        1. Only if you believe prices will never again go above $70 per barrel,

          1. In which case permission will be withdrawn.

            1. It’s so unfair that they have to ask governments for permission to build a thing that crosses international borders and property lines! Freedom is the freedom to seize land, build at will, and destroy the environment with no consequences!

              1. Yeah. Because corporations have the power to seize land all by themselves, without the aid of government.

                Whenever I think you can’t get any more stupid, you go and prove me wrong.

              2. I feel better about myself already.

                Thanks for coming here and being a complete fucking idiot.

              3. The Don meddling in the the property rights of others is exactly the reason property lines could be crossed in the first place, moron

              4. Canada has allowed Americans to build pipelines across Canadian territory. And other things (like NORAD radar installations). So we’re sort of being assholes by not reciprocating the favor.

          2. Only if you believe prices will never again go above $70 per barrel,

            Or one might believe that production (say of oil from horizontal drilling and fracking) will increase so the extra pipeline capacity will be used up.

  2. I will be publishing daily dispatches from the second week of the Paris Climate Change Conference

    Sheesh, Ron — Do you have *any* idea what the carbon footprint of such publishing is?

    1. Think of all the electrons attached to all those Carbon atoms.

      Does nobody think of the Carbonettes?

      1. Are they backup singers?
        Are they black?

      1. Now, however, researchers from Dartmouth College believe that the ice may still still be relatively clean, and that its darkness in the photos could just be due to faulty sensors on the satellites.

        Nice that satellites with a 6 yr. life expectancy, that launched more than a decade ago, are described as ‘faulty’.

  3. “Clearly TransCanada has lost and they recognize that. It’s one of the great victories for this movement in decades.”

    And what did you morons accomplish? Will less oil be processed and burned if the pipeline is not built?

  4. Meanwhile – Erdogan wins in a clearly fraudulent in Turkey to set himself up as a dictator.…..ults-fraud


    The Germans are getting very restless.…..bbels.html

    But the Muslims don’t seem worried.

  5. “”It’s one of the great victories for this movement in decades“”

    The only ‘victory’ seems to be that the greens decided to arbitrarily throw their weight behind a single-company project that has zero actual impact on anything and see if they could use their influence with a president obsessed with symbolic signaling to get him to fuck with them. For no other reason than because it would show that “they can”. Which would mean that in the future, other companies will be terrified of them, and perhaps even give them money to try and avoid their censure.

    its no different than the mafia shooting someone in the street just to remind people that they know no one will claim to have seen anything. its just a silly show of power to satisfy the mob psyche.

    1. You say that like it’s a bad thing. –Ezra Klein

  6. “In search of a “legacy,” the signs are that Obama’s State Department is planning to soon issue a ruling that the pipeline is not in the national interest due to concerns about the effects of oil sands production on the global climate.”

    That petroleum will be consumed regardless of whether it’s piped to Texas.

    The pipeline they’re talking about building is going from Hardesty, Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska. However, If I understand the following map correctly, there is already a pipeline running from Hardesty to Steele City.

    They’re arguing about Phase IV, which means they’re arguing about the rate at which that oil can be shipped–not whether it can be shipped, amirite?

  7. So we do a “death-in” for an oil pipeline, but not all the foreign combat entanglements we’re in?

    1. It’s different when white farmers in the prairie are involved!! These are brown people getting droned, you monster! These are white people!! THAT’S DIFFERENT!

  8. “It’s one of the great victories for this movement in decades.”

    That’s really fucking sad. Nice movement you have there, McKibben.

  9. What difference, at this point, does it make?

  10. “In defeat, Transcanada is asking for extra time from the referees, and clearly hoping they’ll get a new head official after the election. It’s time for the current umpire…”.

    Clearly this was written by someone who was the backup punter on a slow-pitch basketball team.

  11. Is it just me, or do their peace sign salutes look a little naziesque? “Heil McKibben!”

    1. And not a looker among them.

  12. “Stop the pipeline or the people will”

    You sure about that? You’re going to go out there with guns and stop the workers from breaking ground?

    1. No they’ll do things like chain themselves to… something.

      Which, by the way is interesting. This is the kind of thing that will really test the Greens’ resolve. They’re not protesting in picturesque urban places where they can get a coffee and a pastry, and reporters are around to photograph. They’re going to be in places like… like wherever this pipeline is going and fair-trade coffee and organic-vegan muffins are nowhere to be had.

      1. Chain themselves to the ….. pipeline? Whoops.

  13. Wait a minute – these damned Canadians are building a WALL??!!! THEY CAN’T DO THAT!

  14. What should be a matter of numbers on paper and a sober calculation of national interest is instead yet another cultural signifier. And libertarians, despite the big government implications of this project (eminent domain, for example), unsurprisingly but nonsensically pick the side of oil, because oil.

    1. When did libertarians start supporting eminent domain? Oh yeah. Never. Nice straw man though. I like the hat.

      1. Funny because I was thinking specifically of you and your mindlessly taking sides on this issue despite its unlibertarian characteristics.

        1. When did I take sides? Oh yeah, I didn’t. Your idiocy has no boundaries. It’s pretty amazing to watch.

        2. One could possibly believe that if there are property rights issues, those issues need to be dealt with by the appropriate local courts and laws regarding eminent domain, and not by the state department arbitrarily barring the construction of any pipeline, anywhere, regardless of whether eminent domain is involved.
          I suspect that the property rights issues would be resolved in a just way to the local landholders (such as by paying them a lease). But that’s not what the environmentalists want.

          1. They just want to stop destroying the habitable environment for the human species, that’s all.

    2. The issue has never been about eminent domain, which is why you whine about that like it’s the most important thing in the world, even though you would gladly support it if the government called the pipeline an infrastructure project and slapped a couple of billion in taxpayer dollars onto the project.

      The issue is about approving the pipeline connection across the border. There is no reason for the US government to hold this up. The issue of eminent domain is a valid one and should be fought. It is not however relevant to the matter at hand.

      The real truth, which libertarians have implicitly accepted but you mendaciously deny, is that ED is not on the plate for discussion at all. No one outside of us is giving a rat’s ass about fucking over private property owners because they just don’t care. The likelihood of Kelo v. New London being talked about outside of libertarian circles, never mind being overturned, is practically nil. When you go to your lefty buddies, do you guys talk about how bad Kelo is or do you whine about libertarians being “hypocrites”?

      1. even though you would gladly support it if the government called the pipeline an infrastructure project and slapped a couple of billion in taxpayer dollars onto the project

        That’s so true. And funny. Principals, not principles.

      2. Whining about libertarians being hypocrites is kind of my thing.

        I said it was a cultural signifier and I meant for both sides. Not building the pipeline will not alter the course of global warming, and building it is not actually the jobs program its defenders claim it is. So it comes down to people who for some ungodly reason would prefer burning all the oil in the ground and destroying the planet than admitting that liberals are right about something.

        1. Certainly not a jobs creator like that awesome stimulus, right? Or all of that infrastructure that Obama keeps talking about?

        2. If by “liberals” you mean closet socialists, just what is this “it” they’re finally right about?

          1. The moral imperative of obstructing anything economically productive until they can extract concessions from it, duh

        3. people who for some ungodly reason would prefer burning all the oil in the ground and destroying the planet

          You really are so fucking out of touch with reality that you think this is profound. People don’t want to live in mud huts and caves dying at 30 after living a miserable life full of suffering. You really do want to consign everyone to penury and an early death, don’t you? You are anti-humanist of the highest order.

    3. a sober calculation of national interest

      Haha! Good one.

  15. Gotta hand it to Tony. He’s living proof of a certain quote from Einstein: “The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.”

    1. Sort of how like the supply of “Tony is an idiot” and “principals not principles” in your arsenal of arguments is apparently inexhaustible?

      1. The supply of “Tony is an idiot” is indeed inexhaustible, only because you keep being an idiot. Perhaps if you stopped being an idiot then I would stop pointing it out. But we all know that won’t happen. After all, you can’t fix stupid.

  16. Infrastructure is good! We need to spend more on infrastructure!

    Except evil free-market infrastructure! Only government can build infrastructure!

  17. Why buy Canadian electricity and oil when getting killed over distant Mohammedan oil is so much more exciting? I am glad the military-industrial complex can afford to hire illiterate protesters to boost sales.
    “Well come on Wall Street don’t be slow, why man this is Ear a Go-go
    There’s plenty good money to be made, supplying the Army with the tools of the trade…”

  18. You know what they should do here? Run the pipeline next to a set of train tracks to within 100 ft of the border on both sides – then pump the oil into a rail tanker, run it across the border to the other end, end offload into the pipeline there.

    That way they a) thumb their noses at the ‘president must weigh in on national interest’ bullshit, and b) in a few years when its finally forgotten, they can quietly get permission to finish the last 100 ft.

  19. McKibben is exactly right. TransCanada has lost, at least to this point, and it’s important to solidify that loss. I have said before that steering Keystone has been important not only to keep as much tar sands oil in the ground as possible, but also for the symbolic nature of it.

    Your take that Obama is doing it purely for legacy reasons is about as cynical a take you can have. What, only libertarians act on principle?

    The fact is that investment in tar sands exploration has slowed (it’s too expensive) and expansion has been deterred. And it’s not just because oil prices have dropped. It’s also because it seems the pipeline will not be approved as well as protests taking place in Canada.

    This is a real victory, not just symbolic. That is, if you believe science when it says there must be a reduction in man-made CO2.

    1. That is, if you believe science when it says there must be a reduction in man-made CO2.

      Well if you listened to all the science, you would have known the pipeline would have done nothing to add or subtract to global warming.

      This is solely a political payoff to Obama’s economic and political backers.

      1. Do tell, economist…is that magical carbon that will come out of tar sands oil that doesn’t add to CO2 in the atmosphere?

        1. That oil will be pumped out of the ground and used. The only question is where it will be processed. I’d rather it be processed in the States. Jerb, u-no?

          1. *Jerbz*

          2. Taking your “logic” to it’s illogical extreme, why not take all oil up out of the ground and burn it all? After all, if we follow deniers wishes, there is nothing to be worried about, and what the heck, it’s gonna get burned anyway.

            Nope. The objective has always been to leave as much of that tar sands oil in the ground as possible. And how do you do that? You deter investment and expansion, and vetoing tar sands is one way to do that.


            Note the two projects in the tar sands that She’ll has already abandoned. Reasons cited in addition to low prices? Lack of infrastructure…aka keystone and other pipelines.

            It’s not “all gonna get pumped out of the ground and used.” So far so good. Just another step forward.

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