EnergyFactor By ExxonMobil | Pespectives has a new home

How Keystone XL will fit into the vast U.S. pipeline network

To hear the opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline project, you might think this was the first pipeline to be built in the United States, and the first built to carry crude oil from Canada to the United States.

For the sake of considering the facts in this debate and not just the rhetoric, let’s take a look at the U.S. pipeline system as it currently stands:

And here’s what the U.S. pipeline system would look like after construction of the Keystone XL pipeline:



If you can barely tell the difference, you’re probably not alone. Today, there are more than 168,000 miles of pipelines carrying crude oil, petroleum products and other liquids in the United States.

These pipelines operate day in and day out to provide the energy that literally fuels American life, business and economic activity, including:

  • The gasoline that allows drivers to fill up when and where they want.
  • The jet fuels that allow air passengers to travel anywhere in the world.
  • The diesel fuels that keep the transportation economy running.
  • The heating oils and other fuels that allow customers to heat their homes.
  • The petrochemical products that enable modern products from computers to smartphones to life-saving medical equipment.

And, pipelines are recognized to be the most efficient, lowest-impact form of transporting oil and natural gas to meet these essential needs.

So while critics and protestors try to portray the Keystone XL pipeline project as something new and unnecessary, it’s simply not true. There are thousands of miles of pipeline carrying Canadian oil from Canada to the United States (as the graphic below shows), and for good reason: Canada, by far, is the largest supplier of imported oil to the United States.

Keystone XL would further facilitate the supply of Canadian oil, transporting it to Gulf Coast refineries and reducing imports from other regions.

More energy supplies to support the U.S. economy and greater energy security – those are goals shared by the U.S. government, businesses and citizens alike.

Canada’s oil sands help the U.S. reach those goals, and projects to increase supplies — like Keystone XL — can also lead to more job creation and economic growth. A recent study looked at the long-term potential of oil sands development and estimated it could create hundreds of thousands of American jobs (many of which would be “shovel-ready” at the start of the Keystone XL project), and stimulate other economic activity.

A recent piece by Robert Samuelson with The Washington Post summed up the economic benefits of Keystone XL to the United States:

“By all logic, the administration’s Keystone decision … should be a snap. Obama wants job creation. Well, TransCanada, the pipeline’s sponsor, says the project should result in 20,000 construction and manufacturing jobs. Most would be American, because 80 percent of the 1,661-mile pipeline would be in the United States. Continued development of oil sands would also help the U.S. economy; hundreds of American companies sell oil services in Canada. Finally, production technologies are gradually reducing environmental side effects, including greenhouse emissions.”

So why the continued opposition to the pipeline?

If we look at the facts (and not the rhetoric), you’ll see that the pipeline debate is being used as a device by those who oppose the development of Canada’s energy resources. The thinking (however flawed) is that stopping the pipeline will somehow stop Canadian oil sands production.

But of course if the U.S. doesn’t take advantage of Canada’s oil, other countries will. Production will continue, and the crude will be shipped to overseas markets – while the U.S. will import even more crude oil from outside of North America. The State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement for Keystone XL acknowledged this: “If the proposed Project is not implemented, Canadian producers would seek alternative transportation systems to move oil to markets other than the U.S.”

So when Americans see media coverage of Keystone XL protesters, I think it’s fair to question their purpose. The rhetoric about this pipeline and the production of oil sands is at odds with the facts, and it’s time for an intellectually honest conversation about the issue.

  • Worth a deeper look...