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The Pipeline To Nowhere

Environment Memo Pad

The Pipeline To Nowhere


When Maria van der Hoeven summed up the 20-year outlook for global energy investment in London last year, she identified a couple of daunting challenges.

The amount of money required by 2035 is a staggering $48 trillion, the International Energy Agency chief and former Dutch economy minister said. And it’s not clear how many of those trillions of dollars will power climate-friendly options.

“Will policymakers succeed in steering investment towards a cleaner, more secure energy system — or are we locking in technologies and patterns of consumption that store up trouble for the future?” she asked.

There’s no better example of what van der Hoeven meant by “storing up trouble for the future” than the Keystone XL pipeline.

After years of being flustered by President Barack Obama’s procrastination, the pipeline’s conservative backers in Congress are trying to force him to green-light this conduit for some of the world’s dirtiest, most expensive, and most dangerous oil.

The House recently voted in favor of building the 1,200-mile pipeline for the 10th time. The Senate is poised to approve it too. Although dozens of Democrats are siding with Republicans in favor of this boondoggle, those lawmakers lack the votes, so far, to override the veto Obama has threatened.

Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican and a leading Keystone XL proponent, has turned into a broken record touting what he calls “vital energy infrastructure legislation.”

Despite their similar names and obsession with all things energy, Hoeven and van der Hoeven are polar opposites. She’s a leading player in the effort to wean the world off its dependence on oil, gas, and coal. He’s a “drill, baby, drill” type.

There are many good arguments against the $8 billion pipeline on environmental and labor grounds. People like 350.org founder Bill McKibben and groups like Media Matters need no help explaining them.

Here’s another reason why the pipeline shouldn’t be built: It’s a waste of money.

First, plunging oil prices matter. A lot. They’ve sunk below $47 a barrel, losing more than half their value since last June. Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi declared a few weeks ago that he doesn’t care whether oil goes as low as $20 a barrel, a 16-year low. It just might.

By some estimates, a barrel of oil must fetch at least $95 for profits to be extracted from Canada’s tar sands. It’s impossible to say when prices will rebound to that level or if companies will give up on that oil patch, leaving the Keystone XL without much (if any) heavy crude to move.

Ultimately, there could be no oil to haul from Alberta to Louisiana to be refined — or not, if the U.S. scraps its ban on exporting crude — and then shipped to, say, China.

More importantly, tar sands oil production may stop within a few years even if it does prove profitable. You see, global climate talks are heading in a direction that’s likely to result in countries and companies leaving large amounts of oil, gas, and coal in the ground.

A new study published in the journal Nature spelled out where and what kind of fossil fuels would need to be left unexploited. Its authors predict that virtually all Canadian tar sands oil production will stop by 2020.

If it’s built by then, there’d be nothing for the Keystone XL to transport. As a pipeline to nowhere, it would become a monument to wasting colossal sums of money on dirty-energy infrastructure.

John Hoeven should listen to Maria van der Hoeven. If he did, he’d realize the benefits of losing this political battle.

Columnist Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org.

Cross-posted from Other Words

AFP Photo/Spencer Platt



  1. Independent1 January 16, 2015

    Keystone XL sounds like a typical Republican objective to me given that Republicans have consistently dragged America into one recession, one depression, one boondoggle after another with their failed economic policies (17 recessions and depressions over the past 114 years); so why not an energy related boondoggle?? Don’t forget Sarah Palin’s ‘Bridge to No Where”!!! So now the GOP wants to push a “Pipeline to No Where”!! And all with the future projection of around 35 full-time jobs as its real benefit to America.

    And don’t forget that meeting on Obama’s inauguration night where 14 treasonous Republicans gathered to plot how best to sabotage America’s economy to turn Obama into a one-term president!! That really worked out well didn’t it?? Despite the GOP’s every obstructionist effort Obama has accomplished more than the 5 previous GOP failure presidents all put together.

    What’s especially sad is that the GOP has forced millions of Americans, mostly their own constituents in red states where the vast majority of people living below the poverty level live, to suffer longer than they should have in lower wage jobs and even unemployment because of the party’s 24/7 obstructionist tactics!!!

    1. charleo1 January 17, 2015

      Well, there’s just no doubt about it, Americans are going to need to pay better attention, learn more about how their Gov. functions. And more to the point, why it seldom functions for them. Barney Frank, on lamenting the success of Republicans intentionally inflicting economic pain on their marginal constituents in their Red State strongholds. And then, blaming their impoverished conditions, stagnant wages, lack of jobs, affordable healthcare, and so on, on Democratic policies. While Frank acknowledged Democrats had yet to find an effect way to make the point, it was Republican’s obstruction of any efforts to mitigate their pain, that was the culprit. He went on to say, it was a situation that encourages, and rewards bad policy. And would ultimately completely undermine the public’s trust in government. An accurate assessment of a primary goal of the GOP. Which at the present, they could well drag back out that, “Mission Accomplished,” banner on this. This time, being the real deal. And not a photo shoot of a clueless Commander in Chief, spiking the ball at the 20 yard line.
      However, the XL in Conservative politics, has become much more than a cause celeb for oily politicians, in search of big oil’s support,
      or lack it it, at election time. It’s become a test of Republican strength, and ability to enact a wide ranging agenda of corporate friendly laws, and deregulations. No mystery, that voicing their approval of the XL was to be their first order business. Even as oil prices continued to plunge, beyond the monetary feasibility of processing the sand oil at the well head. Building the pipeline to transport this now prohibitively expensive product, has become a strictly political priority for the newly installed Republican majority. And, if President Obama vetoes the bill as promised. An endless opportunity to blame any uptick in gas prices, on his supposed war on American energy independence. Even as investors divest themselves, and cut losses in Canada. Even as America has become the number one producer of oil in the World, under his administration. The GOP will continue to seek support for their wrongheaded policy. And pummel the opposition, and their President, for being proven right all along on the matter. Big oil will surely throw it’s money in the other direction. And Congressman Frank’s observations will once again be proven out.

      1. highpckts January 17, 2015

        More than enough reasons that ALL Dems need to pay attention to what is going on! This cannot continue!

        1. ikihi January 19, 2015

          cheaper gas is GOOD. democrats don’t care about the poor, they just want to force us all to drive electric cars.

          1. Independent1 January 19, 2015

            That’s why it’s the GOP that passes every bill which cuts social services to the poor??? They’ve already done it in 2015 by passing a law that’s going to cut benefits to those who are disabled; not only does the GOP hate the poor, they hate even the disadvantaged!!

            And it’s why 20 of the 24 states which BY FAR lead the nation in having ‘poor people’ living in them; the GOP led red states with the highest percentages of people living below the poverty level because all the state GOP legislatures do is pass laws that screw the poor.

          2. bobnstuff January 19, 2015

            Cheap gas won’t last. That’s what the people building the pipeline are counting on. Tar Sand oil is
            expensive to produce and refine. It’s nasty stuff. Add to that the fact that it will go to China not the US market. No cheap gas here!

          3. hicusdicus January 26, 2015

            You are wrong. Nothing personal. The Saudi’s are doing it intentionally they are running scared. Have ever read how much of their oil income they have pledged for debt?

          4. highpckts January 19, 2015

            That is the most asinine remark. How old are you?

    2. ikihi January 19, 2015

      incorrect. the democrats are the ones who create problems and then act like they are the ones who saved it. the democrat congress in 2007 destroyed the economy.

      1. Independent1 January 19, 2015

        Sorry, nice try but no cigar. The Dems did not have filibuster proof control of both houses of congress until 2009; any legislation that got passed in 2007 was because the GOP wanted it passed and the president who signed the legislation was a Republican. On top of that, the 2008/2009 Great Recession was due to inaction of the Fed and Treasury which were controlled by a Republican president.

  2. Daniel G January 17, 2015

    Let them build it. Its the Canadian companies money. Perhaps they can pump cool Alberta air down to Texas in the summer and warm Texan air back in the winter.
    Let the economics play themselves out and let the money decide. In the end I think that building it may not even begin to pay off, the Saudis will see to that.

    1. johninPCFL January 17, 2015

      It’s the Nebraska aquifer, it’s the Dakota and Nebraska farms taken over through eminent domain foreclosures, it’s the US banks financing the construction.
      The oil has already been sold to China on contract, so it won’t impact anything here until a spill occurs, then it will poison the water used by the Midwest. Can’t happen? Won’t happen? Exxon, the largest company on Earth, couldn’t keep a pipeline from pouring oil into the Yellowstone river. Maintenance is an afterthought, cleanup is a cost of doing business.
      How much will it cost a company with zero assets set up expressly to limit liability to clean up an aquifer? Well, zero. That’s what business bankruptcy is for…

      1. Independent1 January 17, 2015

        Have you ever seen a business other than Big Oil where companies can make bad management decisions or even be hit by some form of disaster, and still end up making a bigger profit?

        When Big Oil companies pay no attention to preventing multiple refineries from shutting down at the same time for ‘supposed maintenance’; and actually two or more of them do in fact shut down; what usually happens?? Analysts claim there will be a shortage of oil, so the price of gas is raised and the companies end up making even bigger profits for their bad management decision.

        Similarly, if an oil company is hit by say a fire or some other operational shut down because of their poor safety procedures – the same thing happens. The companies actually end up making a bigger profit due to their management blunder.

        And you can be sure that if there is a major oil spill that needs cleaning up which would cost them millions or billions, big oil will figure out how to fabricate a disaster or oil shortage in some way to drive the prices up so the company itself doesn’t end up footing the bill for the cleanup; those of us buying their gas or home heating oil will end up footing the bill.

      2. Wedge Shot January 19, 2015

        Exactly right. Corporations use public money to pay for the problems private money causes.
        BP is paying out the AS% for the problems they created in the Gulf of Mexico. I hope they continue to pay forever.

    2. highpckts January 17, 2015

      Nope! It’s not about the oil! It’s about the damage done! That damage will be permanent. No do over! You can’t live without clean air and water!

    3. dpaano February 3, 2015

      Unfortunately, it may be Canadian oil, but it’s on American soil!

  3. Charvi3 January 17, 2015

    Nothing those hateful “Right Wing Republican Conservatives”…using their “NASTY POLITICS”…is going to succeed…because they want to hurt the American People….especially dealing with, Social Security…and those SSI checks that both the Republicans and Democrats receive for their families…I have said…since they have suppressed the votes of people taking their “Civil Rights” and “Civil Liberties” away…by throwing out the votes of people…they will not succeed in hurting doing what they want to do…they will pay for all of their “BAD KARMA” they have brought upon themselves.

    1. ikihi January 19, 2015

      democrats are the party of hatred and bigotry. you are just a democrat hate monger

      1. Independent1 January 20, 2015

        Really? It’s the Democrats who have been creating fake scandals the past 6 years?? Despite spending almost 100 million dollars of your and my money, Darrel Issa never proved one of his fake scandals they were just a lie!! (is creating fake scandals not spewing hate)?

        Which party was it that started a war based on lies and distortions where more than 4,000 American soldiers died?

        Which party refused to believe that al Qaeda was going to attack America and allowed 9/11 to happen where 3,000 more Americans died?

        Which party passed two unfunded tax cuts which resulted in the government robbing every American of $48,000 dollars slowly over the past 12 years?

        Which party constantly passed tax and budget cuts so the wealthy can keep more money in their pockets while the middle class and poor suffer more and more each year under growing income inequality?

        If you said the GOP to these, YOU WERE RIGHT!!!

  4. EaglesGlen January 17, 2015

    Funny. Those who do not own the pipeline just have to tell you to what to do with your own property. Pipeline is partly oil development and Natural Security issue for Canada. Complainers do not like Canada?
    Complainers can invent and patent the green thing that rules the world because of its universal application and oil is out of business. Complain or invent?

    1. bobnstuff January 19, 2015

      I like Canada but they can keep the nasty oil or refine it there and send gas that won’t eat the pipes. My question has been why not expand the Keystone pipe line that is there already, you do know that there is a pipeline already in use that has problems with leaks. The Keystone Wood River is phase I and has been use since 2011. Why not just lay more pipe on the route that is in use now?

  5. bobnstuff January 17, 2015

    The pipe line was a bad idea before the drop in oil prices and now even the Canadians are having second thoughts. The Republicans will never give it up because they will feel they have lost and they can have that. They have to keep Obamafrom winning at all costs. The other Keystone pipe line leaks and
    the new one will be no better. Just one big bad idea!

    1. ikihi January 19, 2015

      cheaper gas is GOOD. democrats don’t care about the poor, they just want to force us all to drive electric cars.

      1. bobnstuff January 19, 2015

        That pipeline was never meant to transport cheep oil, it is for oil that sells for $100 per barrel. It cost them over $60 to produce it. In addition it’s not for the US market. It’s going to China. Who do you think is putting up the money. Oh and give me the electric car, low maintenance, fast, quiet, and cheep to drive. Once the cost to buy them comes down and
        we get charging stations people will wonder why we ever used gas. It looks like the new Chevy Spark may be the first of the next generation of cars.

      2. Wedge Shot January 19, 2015

        Stop, You are making yourself look stupid.

  6. holyreality January 18, 2015

    Why must a pipeline equate to Canadian tar sands?

    We have a big exploding railcar problem in the Dakotas, I have no problem replacing outdated railcars with a new pipeline. American oil to American refineries for American gas tanks. What is up with this myopia on every angle?

    1. Independent1 January 18, 2015

      Because pipelines are not any more reliable than rail cars. And pipelines go over places that are more environmentally critical than railroads – like aquifers that furnish water to large expanses of the mid west. Call some folks in Mayflower Missouri, a town that has basically almost been made unlivable by a pipeline burst; or a river in Michigan that has been destroyed by one, or any of the other more than a dozen oil spills from pipelines over the past 2 years in places like Ohio.

      And not only do railcars go over quite as many really sensitive environmental places, they have a limited amount of oil in them to spill; while pipelines can keep spilling and leaking until someone detects the problem which can end up dumping a dozen or more railcars worth of oil – really making some destruction. And in the case of the XL pipeline, for what, for no benefit to America but maybe 35 permanent jobs 2 years from now.

      1. holyreality January 19, 2015

        Thank you for your excellent answer. Maybe I got it wrong but I thought exploding railcars were bad.

        Now while your points are great, they do highlight some areas that need attention; jobs and infrastructure. Rail roads are in as bad a state of disrepair as our roads and bridges are.

        Keystone flacks tout jobs, but even then they allocate 50 employees to monitor and maintain a pipeline moving caustic liquid that corrodes the pipe across our most vital aquifer. Bitumen sinks into the ground water, a very bad situation.

        Meanwhile crude oil so light and sweet it blows up the container it is transported within is produced within a strategic byway along the proposed path. Petroleum floats and cleans up, something impossible with bitumen spills.

        Mandating more monitoring and maintenance labor to assure good performance of the pipeline, for American oil going to American vehicles should be a priority. But instead it is all about enabling the Koch’s investment to move forward shipping foreign oil across American land to American refineries to ship to foreign consumers.

        Taking it for the team is one thing, taking it for the Kochs and outside users is entirely another matter.

        Then we get to the issue of neglected infrastructure, maybe improved railways and tank cars along with updated highways and bridges will make it safer to transport all goods.

        They talk jobs, but all they do is facilitate quick dirty corporate profits.

    2. Wedge Shot January 19, 2015

      It is not going to Americans, it is going to be exported.

      1. holyreality January 19, 2015

        You demonstrate the myopia.

        Counter Keystone XL flacks with a proposal to pipe American oil to American refineries mandating this is for American vehicles. Leave the Kochs and their Canadian counterparts high and dry.

        How could this go unnoticed? Why do Americans insist on toggle thinking?

        1. dpaano February 3, 2015

          Why do YOU insist on not knowing the truth about the Canadian pipeline. It’s been in every newspaper, conservative AND liberal — the oil refined from the Keystone project will NOT go to the U.S…..it’s going to go to other countries. Even our President is trying to propose that any gas from this pipeline stay in the U.S., but apparently, you haven’t been informed of this yet or you just don’t bother to check.

          1. holyreality February 3, 2015

            Thanks for asking, and making the main point I counter with a creative response.
            American oil in the Dakotas could be piped replacing exploding railcars with a pipeline that conservatives get so excited over. American crude can be refined for American vehicles. Canadian tar sands will not see the market under a sane counter proposal.
            Keystone XL is about profits for Canadians and Kochs while Americans hold the bag watching the bitumen product be shipped overseas for foreign vehicles.
            Why not come back with a better pipeline proposal? One that addresses the issues of bitumen corrosion on a pipe over the Ogalalla acquifer that has 50 people maintaining a vulnerable pipeline over thousands of miles. One that serves American people with American crude oil?

  7. ikihi January 19, 2015

    democrats are idiots. cheaper gas is GOOD. democrats don’t care about the poor, they just want to force us all to drive electric cars.

    1. Wedge Shot January 19, 2015

      WTF! Canadian oil is not going to make gasoline cheaper in the US.
      In fact the Canadians want to export all of the gasoline made from their dirty oil refined in Gulf coast refineries to other parts of the world. It will not help Americans one bit because Canadian oil is very expensive.

    2. bobnstuff January 19, 2015

      You keep repeating yourself and you like your own post. Say something new or say nothing at all but don’t waste time just repeating the same thing.

  8. dpaano February 3, 2015

    The conservatives don’t listen to the constituents in the states where the Keystone XL pipeline will traverse….why would they listen to someone with some intelligence?


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