Chaos in Middle East requires action on energy independence

Scott S. Powell
Richmond Times-Dispatch
June 30, 2014
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What has suddenly become obvious is the extent to which President Obama’s imprudent policy-making decisions have compounded problems with unintended and unacceptable consequences. Now that Iraqi and Libyan oil may be at risk of going off-line as a result of terrorist control, Obama’s recent decision to block construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport 1 million barrels of oil per day from friendly Alberta, Canada, to the United States, seems astonishingly shortsighted.

Environmental activists committed to blocking the Keystone Pipeline hoped that their obstructionism would force Canadian oil companies to keep the oil sands crude in the ground. A foolish assumption. Canada had made the decision years ago to invest in costly high-tech capital equipment to excavate and process their remarkable Athabasca oil sands resource — the success of which elevated Canada’s stature in the world, making it No. 3 in proven and recoverable oil reserves, exceeded only by Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

Missing from recent news coverage — replete with Obama administration scandals and the unraveling of its Iraq policy — was the report that the Canadian government was going ahead with a Keystone pipeline alternative. The new pipeline will not go south into the U.S. but rather west, transporting some 525,000 barrels of oil per day from the Alberta oil sands to the Canadian west coast. There it will be offloaded onto more than 200 tankers per year and shipped across the Pacific to China.

Ironically, that will likely result in more environmental harm per barrel than would have resulted from Keystone pipeline oil used domestically, given the lower standards of China’s refineries and its history of disregard for the environment. Meanwhile, the U.S. remains dependent on oil imports from hostile OPEC suppliers like Venezuela. 

Russian aggression and blackmail of Ukraine — which is now being actualized by President Vladimir Putin cutting off the flow of natural gas — should have been a wake-up call here in the U.S. to go forward with Keystone, extend the oil and natural gas fracking revolution and accelerate the construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals.

Now, with growing terrorist control in the Middle East and an expansionist Russia, we need to take additional steps beyond Keystone and LNG exports and open up public lands in the western states and in Alaska to oil exploration and development.

Why should U.S. energy supplies be at risk to an unstable Middle East when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management reports that “more than 70 percent of American shale oil … lays on federal land in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming … an estimated 1.23 trillion barrels of oil — more than 50 times the nation’s proven conventional oil reserves”?

Similar to what followed the aborted responses to the crossing of red lines in Syria and terror assaults in Benghazi, Libya, the U.S. failure to get serious and go forward with energy independence — which includes the Keystone Pipeline, LNG exports and oil recovery from public lands — has harmful consequences. It reinforces the perception that the U.S. is not only indecisive and weak on foreign policy, but that it can’t make the hard political decisions at home to protect vital national interests.

These three energy independence initiatives are all highly regulated, capital-intensive projects that take years to come on line. Given today’s unprecedented terrorist threats across multiple states of the Middle East, not to mention growing Iranian influence in Venezuela, the U.S. needs an energy insurance policy. Putting aside re-engagement of our military in Iraq or elsewhere, President Obama could pick up his pen and phone — and take steps to reassure the American people and signal the world that the U.S. is serious about energy independence.