Pipeline Politics: The Keystone Distraction

By / 1.16.2015

The decision by Senate and House Republicans to make approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline their first legislative priority has a decidedly retro feel. Much has changed since the Keystone project was first proposed in 2008. Most important is America’s shale oil and gas boom, which has contributed to a sharp drop in global oil prices. With U.S. oil production in particular surging, why do Republicans persist in claiming that Keystone is a matter of such urgent national interest?

The answer clearly has more to do with politics than with the new realities of U.S. energy abundance. Republicans see Keystone as a classic wedge issue that splits two important Democratic constituencies, labor and environmentalists. So much for claims by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others that the GOP will use its new Congressional majority to govern responsibly and put problem-solving over partisanship.

That’s a shame, because the Keystone debate is a distraction from a bigger and more important issue: How to move America’s shale windfall to market. A good portion of U.S. production is happening in places like North Dakota, which is far outside America’s original “oil patch.” When Keystone was first proposed, about 60% of domestic production came from Alaska, Texas, and the Gulf of Mexico, where significant oil and gas infrastructure is located. However, with production now occurring in shale developments like North Dakota, surpluses are developing at storage and transportation hubs making it difficult to get to market.

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