We live in a global economy dependent on fossil fuels and until the day arrives when renewable energy can adequately meet the world’s growing energy needs, we’ll continue to need a ready, affordable and reliable source of oil, natural gas and coal.
In recent years, fringe environmentalists have convinced themselves they can hasten the transition away from fossil fuels before other energy sources are readily available by stymieing new traditional infrastructure investments, such as the final leg of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Despite their best efforts, however, market demands will not allow them to succeed.
The basics of economics teach us that the market is driven by supply and demand. The structure of our economy relies on abundant and affordable energy — in all forms. When government actions place environmental concerns over economic impacts, it destroys the competitive advantage of our free marketplace.
Where there’s a will, however, there’s a way. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that oil imports will find their way to market one way or another, regardless of environmental impact.
The New York Times reported last month, “Canada will potentially increase its exports to the United States by more than 20 percent,” even without the completion of the final leg to the Keystone XL pipeline between Canada and the United States. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy seems to agree. Just recently, in a wide-ranging discussion with the Boston Globe that included the Keystone pipeline, she said, “If there’s oil there, someone will find it and use it.”
The five-year review process for Keystone XL has pushed companies to use other means of delivering that very same Canadian oil to refiners in the Gulf Coast and energy-hungry markets in Asia. The media is rife with reports of expanding rail operations throughout Canada and the United States, and there is talk in the Northeast of using an already approved pipeline operating between Maine and Canada, called the Portland Pipeline, to start importing Canadian oil rather than sending refined crude to the north. The idea here is that from Maine, the Canadian oil would then be put on tanker ships and sent down the East Coast and around the tip of Florida to refineries in Houston and the Gulf Coast
As the former head of the federal agency in charge of all transportation infrastructures, my goal is to ensure safety in transportation. All forms of energy transportation have exemplary safety records. None, however, are as safe as transporting oil by pipelines.
Pipelines are five times safer than trains, 13 times safer than ships and 530 times safer than trucks. One doesn’t need to be an expert to realize the longer the oil takes to reach its destination, the greater opportunity there is for an accident, not to mention the greater the carbon impact will be on the environment, and the higher costs will be passed on to consumers.
The consequences of high energy costs are real. Families living paycheck to paycheck cannot be forced to absorb higher costs in the name of poor policies. Every single piece of legislation, every proposed rule, every action undertaken at the federal and state levels that affects energy production and utilization should be vigorously evaluated to assess impacts to energy costs, not only on the environment, but the welfare of the people to provide the cheapest, safest energy available.
Ultimately, by trying to prevent the construction of the final piece of the Keystone XL pipeline, activists are undermining their own credibility as defenders of the environment. Common-sense environmental conservation is taking a back seat to emotion and ideology. And in the end, the oil still gets to market but at a higher cost to everyone.
Brigham McCown is the former administrator of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.