Good Company

Good Company
Good Company

Monday, March 17, 2014

National Energy Security: Keystone Pipeline vs. "Environmental Security"

There is a debate - of sorts - going on over whether the Keystone XL pipeline is a good or bad thing. For those of you who may not have followed the story, the pipeline is designed to transfer crude oil extracted from Canadian oil sands to refineries in the U.S.

After roughly a gazillion environmental studies on the impact of said pipeline on the Great Plains and its underlying aquifers and the double-crested Nebraska imaginary vampire vole, the pipeline has won approval from nearly everyone, including the Department of State (see here).

Nearly everyone does not include some environmentalists or, apparently, the President and some leading Democrats, who are now arguing over about the "national security" implications of the pipeline - as set out in this piece from the Oil and Gas Journal's Nick Snow, "Witnesses disagree on Keystone XL’s potential US security impacts"
Witnesses at a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing sharply disagreed on whether the proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline would help or hinder US security.
Retired US Marine Corp. Gen. James L. Jones, a former presidential national security advisor who now co-chairs the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Energy Project and Task Force on Defense Budget and Strategy, said in his written statement there is no doubt that the Keystone XL determination will be of strategic importance to the US. America’s Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, primarily to secure continued free passage of crude oil through the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz to global markets, he reminded committee members.

“I would like to pose what I regard to be a pretty fundamental question: Why would the United States spend billions of dollars and place our military personnel at risk to ensure the flow of energy half a world away, but neglect an opportunity to enable the flow of energy in our very own backyard—creating jobs, tax revenue, and greater security?” Jones said.

He called the Keystone XL cross-border permit decision “a litmus test of whether America is serious about national, regional, and global energy security, and the world is watching.” Jones said the proposed pipeline is integral to US and North American energy security, which in turn is paramount to the nation’s prosperity and leadership.

“America’s ability to prosper and lead in a dangerous and uncertain world that needs us is quite clearly a preeminent matter of national interest,” he maintained. “I think that is why Congress has voted consistently, and in a bipartisan manner, to move forward with Keystone.”
Karen A. Harbert, president of the US Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, said the group looked at how much of the total global oil supply is in the hands of potentially politically unstable countries in its latest indexes of US and International Energy Security Risks. It found that since 1980, crude output from free countries has been stuck in the 17-20 million b/d range while production from partly free and not free countries has grown, she indicated.

“At a time when North Sea oil output is falling, large emerging economies are growing into large oil consumers, putting pressure on spare oil production capacity globally,” Harbert said in her written statement. “Political instability in many producing countries is also on the rise, and greater output from a closer friend and ally like Canada is needed and welcome.”
But two other witnesses argued that global climate change poses an even greater threat to US national security. They called for policies which discourage the use of fossil fuels and encourage development and deployment of alternatives.

The recently released Quadrennial Defense Review 2014 warned that climate change impacts could increase the frequency, scale and complexity of future military missions while undermining domestic military installations’ capacity to support training activities, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune testified.

James E. Hansen, who retired in April 2013 after 32 years of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies to devote his time to educating the public about climate change dangers, said that taxing oil, gas, and coal’s carbon emissions and rewarding consumers who move to low-carbon and no-carbon sources would make Keystone XL unnecessary.

“The annual reduction of oil use alone, after 10 years, would be more than three times the amount of oil” it would carry, he said in his written testimony. “By eliminating the need for the pipeline, the danger of oil spillage on American soil is also eliminated.”(emphasis added)
I am having trouble with the "climate change" as a threat to national security issue as presented in the QDR. Here's what the QDR 2014 says about climate change:
Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating. These changes, coupled with other global dynamics, including growing, urbanizing, more affluent populations, and substantial economic growth in India, China, Brazil, and other nations, will devastate homes, land, and infrastructure. Climate change may exacerbate water scarcity and lead to sharp increases in food costs. The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.
Notice anything missing?

If it were me looking down the road, I would have put in some sort of time line concerning the effects of climate change. Are the oceans rising dramatically tomorrow or over the next 200 years? Is the QDR suggesting that "water scarcity" occurs because water is somehow destroyed or that there is a failure to plan for desalination, reservoirs and other means of recycling water? If the former, the science is bad. If the latter, then the failure to plan for projected scarcity seems to be the real issue, not just the use of a pipeline that will transport oil to the U.S. instead of to other countries via "risky oil tankers" on the high seas.

Be that as it may, much of the "debate" remains one of "near term" versus "long term." One pipeline is probably not the place to have that discussion. I think General Jones put it well in his testimony:
What we need more than symbolic, over-politicized debates on particular projects is a more strategic approach to U.S. energy and climate policy — one that promotes energy diversity, sustainability, productivity, and innovation. We can’t do that until we organize ourselves better to make and execute a bona-fide national energy security strategy
If you are interested in a good military/political analysis of the world's energy issues, I highly recommend you read General Jones's testimony:

You can find Dr. Hansen's testimony here. The Sierra Club representative's testimony is here. General Jones testimony. Ms. Harbert's testimony. All are PDFs.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:53 AM

    Are they sparkly vampire voles or the Bella Lugosi kind?

    I had about six inches of climate change in the yard Monday, the plows were busy all night.

    Meanwhile, it appears that they're having a side by side comparison of the LCS and FFG-7, should be interesting.