When Barack Obama was running for president of the United States, he made a bold promise. “If I’m president, I’m immediately going to direct the full resources of the federal government, and the full energy of the private sector, to a single overarching goal,” he said. “In 10 years time, we are going to eliminate the need for oil from the entire Middle East and Venezuela.”
President Obama has had four years to make good on that promise. He’s not even close. And his decision Wednesday to deny permission for a new pipeline that would replace oil from those OPEC countries with Canadian oil, indicates that he didn’t actually mean what he said. As the famed American energy investor T. Boone Pickens put it after the White House announced its veto on the Keystone XL pipeline, “We can kiss another chance at energy security goodbye. We must really like OPEC oil.”
Obama’s insulting repudiation of Canadian oil, in favour of crude from conflict countries, like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, should outrage Americans every bit as much as it will surely gall Canadians. For decades, Americans have agonized over the fact that their reliance on energy sources from unstable regimes has frustrated their foreign policy goals. Undemocratic and brutal regimes in the Middle East, Africa, and South America — dictators and tyrants that offend and antagonize Washington — are propped up by billions of dollars every year by U.S. funds traded for oil that, until recently, the U.S. could not get in sufficient quantities anywhere else.
This president was lucky enough to be the American leader finally presented with an alternative: The Keystone XL pipeline would have delivered just about enough ethical Canadian oil to U.S. refineries to replace every drop of Saudi Arabian imports. Or Venezuelan imports. Either way, Americans finally had an opportunity to make a huge shift away from their reliance on illiberal conflict oil, and towards a greater and more secure supply of oil produced in a peaceful country, upholding only the highest standards for minority rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, and the environment.
Appallingly, Obama took a pass. The pipeline was “determined not to serve the national interest,” according to the U.S. government’s press release. Three years ago, Obama understood that more Canadian oil, and less OPEC oil, was exactly what was in America’s national interest.
What changed, in the meantime, were the political fortunes of Obama himself. Everyone sees this for exactly what it is: cynical politics. Having failed to impress swing voters with his economic performance, the president has been forced to capitulate to the extreme environmentalist lobby so necessary, now, to fund and redeem his re-election bid.
And so, the president has taken up their claims that Keystone XL was a risk to the vast Ogallala Aquifer. In fact, Obama’s own State Department’s environmental assessment found that the pipeline was acceptably safe and that, with the right precautions in place, there “would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed project corridor.”
That aquifer, a source of water for the eight states atop it, is already criss-crossed by thousands of miles of oil and gas pipelines — all of them older and frequently built to lower safety standards than Keystone XL.
This was not about the Ogallala. Nor was it about America’s carbon footprint: Much of Venezuela’s oil is already higher in its emissions-intensity than oil from Canada’s oil sands, and so, adding more of our oil to the U.S. mix, as the Council on Foreign Relations has pointed out, “would have been no more than a small fraction of one percent” more added to total American carbon emissions.
Unfortunately, just as Americans have been at the mercy of unsavoury OPEC oil suppliers for generations, this president is at the mercy of powerful extremists who want to cripple Canada’s oil sands — the environmentalists’ favourite scapegoat — by blocking all of our potential export routes.
They’re also at work in B.C. right now, where lobbyists funded by foreign “radicals,” as Canada’s natural resource minister calls them, are working to obstruct and sabotage the hearings into the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would open up oil sands exports to a world beyond the United States.
Unlike Keystone XL, the Northern Gateway pipeline is an all-Canadian affair, running from Alberta to the B.C. coast, crossing no international boundaries. It is our decision alone whether to approve that pipeline, not that of a foreign government, or foreign interest groups.
The White House has left the door open for TransCanada, the company behind Keystone XL, to re-apply again with a new proposed route, and getting more of Canada’s ethical, secure oil to the majority of Americans who want it is still a worthwhile goal.
But Obama’s self-serving decision should remind Canadians of the dangerous risks of relying on just one single customer, and toughen our resolve to build more pipelines, like Northern Gateway, to reach more customers. We must make sure that our national ambitions and our prosperity aren’t left at someone else’s mercy.