President Barack Obama has a big decision to make about this nationís economic future. The call is an easy one, and itís long overdue.
The president should approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would link the rich oil sands in the Canadian province of Alberta to U.S. refineries and ports in the Gulf of Mexico. On Friday evening, 17 Democrats joined all of the U.S. Senateís Republicans in urging Obama to do just that. The 62-37 vote was nonbinding but signaled bipartisan frustration with the administrationís reluctance to approve the project.
The president is expected to make a decision by this summer. He rejected a Keystone plan a year ago, in the midst of his re-election campaign. That was applauded by some environmental groups and angered the Canadian government. But the most significant impact was this: It kept Americans from getting good-paying jobs.
The U.S. has made great strides toward energy independence, thanks to conservation efforts and an incredible boom in exploration for domestic oil and natural gas. A recent report from Citigroup projected the U.S. could become North American energy independent by 2020. That is, this nation could get all of its energy from the U.S. and Canada.
The U.S. would no longer be reliant on supplies from the volatile Middle East. This country would become a net exporter of oil, and lower energy costs would help to fuel broad economic growth.
But those projections depend on the U.S. making the right decisions about supply and consumption.
One of those decisions is approval of the Keystone pipeline.
Yes, much of the oil delivered from Canada to the U.S. would then be refined for export, not consumed here. This is viewed in some quarters as a flaw, as if exporting American-made oil products exploits Americans.
We view it as Ö manufacturing. You remember manufacturing, the process in which workers take raw supplies, turn them into a finished product and sell it?
Even if every drop of Keystone oil were exported, the U.S. would benefit from the pipeline construction and the permanent refinery jobs. Making products the rest of the world wants is evidence of economic strength. And as domestic demand increases with the economic recovery, todayís exports could be tomorrowís domestic supply.
Other objections to this project are falling by the wayside.
Environmental activists said pipeline breaks would endanger aquifers in Nebraska. TransCanada, the company behind the project, has rerouted it around the aquifers.
Pipelines are a safer, more reliable means of transporting oil than trains and trucks, which have carried more North American oil since the start of the current oil boom in 2008. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that its analysis of federal data found that, from 2010 to 2012, there were 112 reported oil spills from U.S. rail tanker cars ó up from just 10 in the previous three years. Keystone would be one of the most stoutly built and secure pipelines ever constructed.
We understand the argument that hydrocarbon development should be discouraged, lest it aggravate global warming. Burning oil does indeed produce greenhouse gases, although the much-demonized oil sands of Alberta are nowhere near as big a polluter as, say, coal-burning power plants.
All the more reason to promote one of the biggest opportunities for revolutionizing the domestic energy market through production of natural gas. This clean-burning fossil fuel has become available in vast quantities thanks to technological breakthroughs. Ramped-up production has resulted in lower prices for electricity. Cheaper energy will help restore the nationís competitiveness in manufacturing and reduce costs for most other businesses ó propelling the job market. Natural gas eventually could reduce the reliance on oil for motor fuel as well, as natural-gas-powered truck and bus fleets increasingly go from the drawing board to the streets and highways.
Meanwhile, a casual glance around the United States confirms the necessity of additional oil production for the energy mix. We mostly move our goods and ourselves with oil. And overall, it makes great sense to enhance our economic security by developing resources at hand for domestic consumption and export.
Itís time to approve, at long last, this pipeline. And to let the North American energy industry make the most of the opportunity afforded by the mining of shale-oil deposits and the expanded use of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, to produce natural gas and oil.
Allow America to draw on its bounty. The economy will benefit. The nation will be more secure and successful. And Americans will go to work.