News Articles Featured | New York Times | November 11, 2011
President Obama made just the right call on Thursday when he delayed a final decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada until 2013.The decision included a heaping self-serving of politics, since a decision either way would have offended somebody among Mr. Obama’s base voters — the labor unions who want the pipeline or the environmentalists who don’t. Yet so many basic questions remained unresolved — about the pipeline’s environmental and economic impacts, about whether the country actually needs the oil — that it was reasonable to decide that a decision was impossible without further study.
The White House was also troubled by allegations that the State Department, the agency in charge of the pipeline review, had contracted its environmental studies to a company with ties to TransCanada, the pipeline operator. According to other government agencies, the department has consistently low-balled the greenhouse gas emissions that extracting heavy oil from Canada’s tar sand are likely to cause. And the route it had chosen for the 1,700-mile pipeline has aroused bipartisan fury in places like Nebraska, where voters from both parties fear that a leak would poison water supplies.
All this was reason enough for Mr. Obama to return to the drawing board. But it was also important, he suggested in his statement, to step back and put the pipeline in the larger context of other strategies the administration is pursuing to strengthen America’s energy security — doubling the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks, developing alternative fuels, responsibly expanding America’s own oil and gas resources.
As it happens, the tar sands announcement came shortly after the release of the administration’s proposed five-year plan for offshore oil drilling. The plan can be improved but is modest compared with the drill-now-and-everywhere strategies favored by industry. Most new development would occur in areas like the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Coast would be off the table altogether, and leasing in the Arctic would not occur until 2016 and then only after extensive environmental review.
The plan was a reminder that there are still huge untapped reserves in American waters — 90 billion barrels, conservatively. Add these reserves to big new discoveries in deep shale formations in Texas and North Dakota, couple them with strategies to use less oil, and the Keystone XL seems less urgent to America’s energy security.