How Much Does Keystone Matter?

Activists In NYC Protest Against Keystone Pipeline Ahead Of Senate Vote

The Keystone XL vote came up short last night:

If just one more Democrat had voted for the measure, it would have gone to President Obama’s desk—and likely been promptly vetoed. The bill was already going to die. The suspense was simply over the identity of the executioner.

Rebecca Leber wonders about the significance:

In the end, most Americans wouldn’t notice Keystone’s impactboth good and bad. Landrieu’s own constituents have no direct stake in the project either, since it does not run through the state. It won’t noticeably impact gas prices and only creates a few dozen permanent jobs. Americans certainly won’t notice the greenhouse gas pollution associated with Keystone and the crude oil it will carry from the Canadian tar sands. Keystone has become a rallying point for climate activists precisely because of this invisible impact (the troubling image of a massive pipeline running through six states helps, too).

The irony is that, after six years of debate and deliberation, the Keystone decision comes when the economics surrounding the pipeline have largely made the issue irrelevant. Oil prices have dropped sharply, an American boom in natural gas and oil production have lessened foreign demand, and companies have proposed alternative pipelines and rail transport to carry the oil from Canada.

Keith Johnson contends that “Keystone has proved crucial neither to the development of Canada’s tar sands nor to getting it to market”:

Despite the years of delays on Keystone, Canadian oil sands production has continued steadily upward. In 2008, Canada produced about 1.2 million barrels a day from its tar sands. Last year, even without Keystone, production had jumped to 2 million barrels a day. Most forecasters expect Canadian tar sands to top 3 million barrels a day by 2020.

Plumber looks at other ways Canada is getting its oil to market:

These projects don’t mean the Keystone XL pipeline is pointless. TransCanada insists that Keystone XL would still be the cheapest way to ship Alberta’s oil to refineries in the Gulf. And if it’s blocked, that could ultimately constrain the size of the oil sands industry somewhat. An analysis by Maximilian Auffhammer of UC Berkeley estimated that blocking Keystone XL would force Canada’s oil-sands producers to leave 1 billion barrels underground by 2030 — even if rail expanded and all the other pipelines got built.

But Keystone XL isn’t the only game in town.

(Photo: Protesters participate in an anti-Keystone pipeline demonstration in New York’s Foley Square on November 18, 2014 in New York City. By Spencer Platt/Getty Images)