This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
Here’s an unfortunate but inescapable reality: The world will burn petroleum for decades to come.
Modern industrial economies – in other words, the hopes and livelihoods of billions of people – are sustained by oil. Greener energy alternatives aren’t remotely close to supplanting it.
Until affordable renewables can be ramped up enough to replace petroleum, squeezing off the supply of crude would wreak economic distress of global proportions. By comparison, today’s hard times would look like the good old days.
So the oil will keep flowing; governments do not deliberately create economic depressions. That’s why President Obama’s recent decision to block the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas was indefensible pandering – shameless appeasement of overwrought opponents who talk as if the project would seal the doom of planet Earth.
What’s been accomplished? Without skipping a beat, the Canadian government has turned to China as a potentially better customer for Alberta’s tar sands oil.
The China option would reroute that oil through British Columbia and onto tankers plying potentially treacherous Northwestern coastal waters.
Canadian officials seem to be taking Obama’s decision as a wake-up call – a warning that Canada can no longer take the United States for granted as a reliable market for its gas and oil.
There are all kinds of reasons Americans shouldn’t want Canadian oil going to China. Environmental reasons, for starters. Despite all the scaremongering, pipelines are the safest way to transport oil – much safer than the tankers that would carry Alberta’s oil across the Pacific Ocean. (A pipeline would still carry the China-bound petroleum, but to British Columbia, not Texas).
The Keystone project was dangerous only when compared to leaving the oil in the ground, a nonexistent alternative. Its risks and carbon impacts were thoroughly vetted by the State Department, whose professionals endorsed the project until they were overruled politically.
The United States also can’t afford to weaken its energy partnership with Canada, a paragon of stability, decency and democracy. Canada’s immense oil and gas reserves could put it in a league with Saudi Arabia in coming years, and it currently sells nearly all of its fuel exports to us.
It’s insane to forfeit the trust of Canada’s oil industry; insane to pass up crude from a friendly non-dictatorship; insane to let China nail down long-term contracts on petroleum that could instead have enhanced America’s energy security.
The need to get beyond petroleum is urgent. The problem is, that can’t happen overnight. Until factories and cars are powered by something cleaner and greener, oil is what we’ve got – and we shouldn’t pretend that a reliable supply doesn’t matter.