Not every day you get an apology from a billionaire, but here it is.
To my friends in Calgary and across Canada: I apologize on behalf of my fellow Americans for the United States government’s actions.
Why? Because after years of poring over the engineering, design, geology and the contents of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, President Barack Obama chose to make a political statement and vetoed a bill to allow construction to begin.
I feel bad about this.
I lived in Canada in the 1960s. You have a great country, and it’s a great place to operate in the oil and gas sector. We should have done better by you.
You may not follow the ins and outs of the U.S. Congress as much as we do, but you probably know Keystone was a bipartisan bill. Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate voted for it. That was big news, as Democrats and Republicans working together on anything over the last 10 years has been rare.
There was no good explanation for Obama’s decision to veto the bill. The U.S. Department of State reported previously the environmental effects of the pipeline would be minimal. In its January 2014 report, the department stated: “emissions (from pipeline activities) would be equivalent to greenhouse gas emissions from approximately 300,000 passenger vehicles operating for one year.”
There are 250 million passenger vehicles operating in the U.S.
Keystone would have the effect of adding about 1/10th of one per cent to the fleet.
Because the pipeline crosses national boundaries, the State Department is charged with producing reports. Yet, after State made its report, the White House went “agency shopping” and asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take another look at Keystone. To no one’s surprise, the EPA fired off a letter objecting to pipeline construction, citing concerns of increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
Where the EPA went wrong, however, was calculating the effects on greenhouse gases “from the extraction, transport, refining and use of the 830,000 barrels per day of oilsands crude that could be transported by the proposed project at full capacity.”
The problem with the EPA’s math is that Canadians don’t need permission from the U.S. to recover that oil and sell it. Canadians will extract it and ship it overland by train or via pipeline and tanker, not south to the United States, but west to Asia, or elsewhere.
When oil prices come back up, Korea, Japan, China and others will benefit from the Canadian oilsands, not the U.S.
It is no surprise to Canadians that Canada is the U.S.’s largest oil-trading partner. But it is a surprise to many U.S. residents. I have long been a supporter of the idea of building on the North American Free Trade Agreement by establishing a North American energy alliance to include Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
The reason oil prices are not bouncing up and down with every piece of news out of Iraq, Iran and Israel is the U.S. and Canada are using the latest innovative technology to recover oil and natural gas — from sands and shale. Additional production from those sources has provided an international energy price shock absorber. For U.S. consumers, lower gasoline and diesel prices have been like getting a $300-billion bonus. The effect in Canada has likely been similar.
So, why is Obama so opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline?
As my dad used to say, “Son, it’s kind of like murder. It’s tough to explain.”
Politics is the most likely answer. The veto lets the president throw a bone to his political left while thwarting a win for the Republican-controlled House and Senate on their bill.
The silver lining is this: Obama’s veto didn’t kill the Keystone XL pipeline. He delayed it. Sooner or later, good planning will trump bad politics and the project will get the green light — we hope.
My Canadian friends, please have patience. The Keystone pipeline will happen.
T. Boone Pickens is the architect of the Pickens Plan, an energy plan for America. He is also chairman and CEO of BP Capital.