Friday, December 23, 2011

Stopping Keystone XL is the Best Policy for Energy Security.

Like a crazed heroin addict suffering through withdrawal, America is frantically tapping on its antecubital vein in eager anticipation of the next fix. Of course, Keystone XL hasn't been presented in this way. They say it's a bid for energy security, and that it will reduce our dependence on Venezuelan or Iranian oil. Lets just call it what it really is: giving more heroin to the addict. Building Keystone XL will be proof that America isn't ready to find help to get over its oil addiction, and it will be proof that we don't care about energy security, nor do we care about future generations.

Oil is traded on a global market, so any suggestion that Keystone XL is going to stick it to the Saudis by allowing America to import Canadian oil instead is absolutely ridiculous. In fact, the only way that Keystone XL will impact OPEC at all is if it significantly increased the global supply for oil - which it won't. The pipeline will bring in another 900,000 barrels per day. Considering that global production is about 85 MILLION barrels per day, excuse me, but whoop-de-fucking-do.

In fact, if I was OPEC I would WANT the Keystone XL project to come on-line. OPEC produces 30 million barrels per day and they are under intense international pressure to keep up unsustainable levels of production. They are using methods of oil extraction, because they are in such a rush, that will cause their wells to dry up more rapidly than they would if they could take things out a bit slower. Keystone XL will take the pressure off of OPEC. OPEC can just drop its own production by 900,000 barrels per day, global supply remains the same, the price doesn't budge, and OPEC sacrifices a tiny bit of income now for higher-endurance production in the future.

American politicians always harp about two things: energy security, and watching after our children. What could be more secure than leaving a giant untapped oil field in North America? What would be a better gift to leave our children? The truth is, global oil production right now is quite stable, and our economy is starting to turn around. We don't NEED the oil that Keystone XL would deliver right now, but it would allow us to continue our addiction. What if someday there is a world war of a geologic catastrophe? What if oil flies over 300 dollar per barrel, threatening even access to our military and basic civilian functions? Having a giant reserve in Canada waiting for us is the ULTIMATE energy security. It is a giant piggy-bank that our children could break in a dire emergency.

Even if Keystone XL went straight to American oil markets (it won't), and even if it could all be used for any purpose (it can't), it would only satiate 4.5% of American demand for oil. Another way to achieve energy security, which would be exactly equivalent to making Keystone XL, is to DECREASE our oil consumption by 4.5%. We can (actually, will be forced to whether we like it or not) build an economy that is less reliant on oil. Currently our development is a model of inefficiency. Our cities sprawl ever outward, fueled by cheap gasoline. Government continues to subsidize roads and highways, to connect every random distant suburb to its nearby strip-mall. Why not encourage more dense urban development? Why not push our cities to rely more on the foot, the bike, light rail, or trains - and away from the car? Why not encourage Americans to carpool more?

Well the real answer is this: we don't need to encourage any of these things because the market will do it for us. As long as oil prices remain high, we will begin to shift to a post-petroleum economy. Again, this is an inevitable transition. It makes no sense to me to delay that shift when world oil production is so stable right now. It makes no sense to raid a secure deposit of resources that our children may have a vital need for in the future because we want low-hanging fruit now.

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