Editorial: This Is Not About Keystone XL

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How did a pipeline become an exercise of kick the can down the road? This issue of North American Oil & Gas Pipelines features the “2014 U.S. Oil Pipelines Report,” part of our quarterly series recapping the major oil and gas pipeline projects under development to move crude oil across North America. Of course, the report includes the one pipeline that gets all the attention these days, but it becomes laughable to consider the five-year delay of that project in light of so many others being planned and actually built in the meantime.

Is this a magic trick? With all eyes watching one project since 2008, there have been thousands of miles of new pipelines built. I wish I knew the exact number. Seriously, whoever sends me the correct number of crude oil pipelines built since 2008 — backed up with sources — gets a sticker. Regardless of the exact number, it shows just how misdirected the whole affair is.

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This year’s report on oil-related pipeline projects in the United States shows at least 2,100 miles of new crude oil pipelines in the works vs. one of 1,179 miles that the U.S. State Department announced in April would be indefinitely delayed to allow the eight government agencies responsible for approving pipelines that cross international borders more time to comment on the project. See the can, kick the can.

Meanwhile, demand for energy has not slackened, nor has the United States discovered a true alternative to petroleum products to meet that demand. Right now, oil and gas are the primary sources, and whether by hook or crook — or rather pipeline, boat, rail or truck — that product will make its way to the consumers.

“We would rather see Canadian crude traveling a well-built, well-regulated pipeline in the United States than on the rail cars, barges and ocean tankers that will move it until cheaper options inevitably come online,” the Washington Post editorial board argued in an April 23 column deriding the State Department’s latest delay, labeling it “absurd.”

As one project has become a political hot potato, the U.S. government waffles between allegiance to anti-pipeline activists and pro-industry lobbyists. How much more time could anyone need to decide whether a crude oil transmission pipeline is in the national interest? This is no longer about the pipeline, as is evident by the number of similar projects under way to carry similar product to market. This is about elections and political legacy, for both sides of the aisle.

More time will not change the impact of the project or the need for the product it supplies — that is, unless it is delayed long enough for scientists to master cold fusion and make crude oil obsolete, which I’m not saying won’t happen. More time is just that. It’s like hitting snooze on the alarm clock. Eventually you have to wake up and put on your pants.

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