A U.S. District Court judge in Montana recently ordered a halt to construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which could transport 800,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast each day once completed.
Judge Brian Morris, who was appointed by President Obama, ruled that the Trump administration approved the pipeline without adequate consideration of the project’s environmental impact. His ruling will force the administration to once again research whether the pipeline is safe and environmentally sound -- even though six previous government studies conducted by the Obama and Trump administrations confirm it is.
The judge’s ruling is flagrant political grandstanding. Environmentalists’ concerns about the pipeline have been repeatedly debunked. An additional review would merely squander time, resources, and tax dollars.
Green activists warn that Keystone XL, or “KXL,” will sharply increase greenhouse gas emissions, boost demand for fossil fuels, and put communities along the pipeline’s roughly 1,200-mile path at risk of oil spills.
These warnings are pure fearmongering. All studies of the pipeline — even those conducted under the Obama administration, which repeatedly delayed construction to curry favor with activists — concluded KXL would have a negligible impact on the environment. Any increase in CO2 emissions would constitute less than one percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Nor would KXL increase fossil fuel consumption. Previous State Department reviews determined that Canada would continue to extract oil at the same rate, no matter whether KXL operates at full capacity or ceases to exist entirely.
The only thing that would change is the method of transportation. If KXL isn’t completed, Canadian energy producers will use trucks and trains to send the crude to refineries. Those methods are actually less safe than pipelines. Transporting oil via truck results in nearly 20 serious incidents per “billion ton-miles.” Transporting it via rail results in 2.08 incidents per billion ton-miles. Pipelines experience just 0.58 incidents per billion ton-miles.
This nearly impeccable safety record explains why energy companies transport more than 70 percent of all petroleum products via pipelines, compared to just 4 percent via truck and 3 percent via rail.
Environmentalists’ worries about oil spills are also overblown. Accidents do happen -- no one denies these incredibly rare events.
But most “pipeline accidents” don’t even occur in the pipelines themselves, but at refineries and other facilities with comprehensive backup safety measures in place. Nearly 90 percent of pipeline mishaps result in spills under one cubic meter or no spills at all -- and 99 percent don’t affect the environment. Accidents are far rarer and less harmful than critics allege.
The recent ruling makes a mockery of the justice system. It’s unacceptable that activist judges are stalling America’s economic progress. KXL would generate 42,000 jobs, $66 million in sales and tax revenue, $2 billion in wages, and enlarge the economy by $3.4 billion.
It’s time to end the delays.
—Drew Johnson is a Madison County resident and serves as senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.