Keystone XL Pipeline: Economics, Idealism and Politics

EconMatters's picture

By EconMatters

The latest last-ditch temporary fixes to avert another embarrassing political stalemate came on Saturday, 17 Dec. when the U.S. Senate passed a plan to extend the payroll tax cut for two months.  However, thanks to the 'creative packaging' of Washington politicians, the senate package somehow includes a measure that would require President Obama to make a decision within 60 days on the Keystone Pipeline project, which would transport Canadian oil sands crude from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf coast around 2013 (See Map Below).


Map Source:, 13 Oct. 2011

The Obama administration, under intense political and environmentalist's pressure announced in November that it would delay any decision about the Keystone XL pipeline until after the 2012 election.  Politics aside, Keystone XL Pipeline controversy seems to have morphed into one that's mostly centered on approving Keystone XL pipeline is in essence endorsing tar sands' potential negative environmental impact, which is entirely off-topic, in our view.

Oil Sands - A Canadian Resource Decision


Oil sands, as "the bomb of carbon and greenhouse gas" as some called it, is nevertheless a natural resource property of another sovereign nation--Canada--that has decided to exploit adding to the world's energy source portfolio, after weighing all risks and benefits.  This oil resource, therefore, is and will be available, judging by the size of typical capital and resource requirement, for years to come, till revoked by the Canadian government.


Strategic and Practical Sense  


The next logical question is--Does the U.S. and the world need this additional crude oil source?  The answer could be a NO if renewable and green energy has reached end-user price, supply reliability and distribution parity as the conventional fossil fuel.  However, based on various agencies' forecast, while renewable energy will enjoy increasing market share in the foreseeable future, the world will still run largely on traditional fossil sources.


Ideally, it'd be nice if the U.S. could be rid of foreign oil dependency altogether and runs on 100% renewables.  Realistically and strategically, the U.S. needs all available energy sources, and fossil fuels will remain critical.  So it comes down to a choice between either importing more from Canada or from other volatile and often not-so-friendly regions.  (See Table Below) 


Source: U.S. EIA, Dec. 2011


As natural resources are getting more scarce each day, the decision on the part of the United States is how to secure and utilize this close-to-home new energy source in the most economic and efficient way possible, rather than whether to not tar sand oil should be produced, or transported.  And pipeline remains the most economical and efficient among all transportation modes for crude oil.  

More Infrastructure Capacity and Flexibility


Regarding the project itself, the economic bottom line is that any time there's a construction project to build up and invest in a nation's infrastructure is good thing.  Keystone XL is just another crude pipeline, which, if approve, will become part of the existing 50,000+ miles domestic crude lines (as of 2009) that will enhance America's transportation infrastructure.


Since most of the domestic crude pipelines are structured to flow inland, the Keystone XL pipeline, flowing from inland to the coast, will add the takeaway capacity to some of the stranded new domestic shale oil producing basins, as well as the infamous Cushing, OK, and flexibility to the nation's existing infrastructure.


Any New Job Creation Is Good, Even Temporary


Despite some dispute regarding the number of jobs Keystone might actually create, the 5,000-6,000 temporary annual new jobs seems to be a realistic number most people can live with so far.  Some have criticized the job creation aspect of the Keystone project as a 'temporary' fairy tale.  Nevertheless, others, such as the construction sector that's facing 13.1% unemployment rate in Dec. and shrinking employment, would most likely appreciate any new jobs out there, however temporary they might be.      


U.S. Gasoline Prices Move With Brent, Keystone XL To Have Little Influence


Another argument widely cited is that by importing the more costly tar sand oil, and normalizing WTI oil marker at Cushing, which has traded at a steep discount to the North Sea Brent, American consumers would end up paying a higher price for refined petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel.


Well, here is a new flash. The oil market, as broken as its current paper pricing model, is working quite efficiently in that the U.S. gasoline prices have been moving with Brent which is regarded as the better benchmark, ever since WTI price got artificially pushed down by stranded storage glut at Cushing about two years ago (See Chart Below from Nomura).  Brent oil, on the other hand, has been moving tick by tick with geopolitics in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) more than anything else.


Crude oil is one commodity that's truly international, highly liquid and moves on its own supply, demand and most importantly, geopolitical dynamics.  So Keystone pipeline may be a big multi-billion-dollar project, it carries little weight in setting the oil and gasoline prices.  (By the way, Federal Reserve's two rounds of QEs is an even bigger factor than MENA geopolitics in driving up all commodity prices, including crude oil since the 2008 financial crisis.)



Creative Packaging Complicates 


Now the latest development is that House Republicans are set to vote down the Senate deal, and Congress is preparing for a final showdown over fiscal policy "with the fate of a payroll tax cut for 160 million U.S. workers on the line."


Initially, by forcing President Obama's hand, so to speak, the GOP probably was hoping to expedite the Keystone XL project.  And if Obama rejects, it would be another "jobs denial" token in the 2012 GOP election campaign.  


So this otherwise mundane pipeline project is now a hotly debated sticking point between idealism, politics and economics.  While it is nice that some of us are obviously on a higher tier of Maslow's hierarchy of needs worrying about the potential number of green jobs might get displaced, Keystone XL project should be evaluated based on economic merits first and foremost, rather than letting idealism and politics take the center stage.


Welcome to Washington politics, and this is one reason the nation is practically broke.


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moneymutt's picture

Econ Matters:

Before you write another stupid article on this matter do your research.

Why is Canada refusing this pipeline to their coasts, but wants US to accept it to our coast?

What is pipeline builders saying to investors about this, are they not claiming that this US pipeline to Gulf will allow them to make more money by selling to foreigners, rather than selling to US?

Why are many conservative Republicans engineers and scientists in midwest questioning the fudged safety and risk numbers presented by those pushing this stupid plan

If we are so desperate for jobs, why not build something that will save US customers and businesses money, rather than something that will raise their cost of gas, and lower taxes US govt receives?

Esculent 69's picture

Besides even Obama doesn't know who he is.ObamaDavisObamaDunham.jpg. Who does old barry look like hmmmmmmmmmmm? Now how do you suckers feel? Vote this guy out of office. 

Mamzer Ben Zonah's picture

Canada is a much better CUSTOMER for US goods, services and vacations than any other oil supplier.

Much more of a dollar paid for Canadian oil returns to the US than if that same dollar was paid to a different oil producer.

moneymutt's picture

yes, but Keystone XL would divert Canadian oil from US to foreign markets.

The exisitng pipelines from Canada are under capacity, no more capacity is need for years to come, the express purpose of Keystone XL is to ship oil to a free trade zone that will skirt US taxes AND allow Canada to sell to other nations.

Talk to refineries in upper midwest, they like the cheap Canadian oil, Canada cant get more money for it because they cant auction it, they must sell it to the only available customer, the US midwest.

Also, they could build a pipleing to the east or west coast of Canada, but Canadians dont trust this company, bad safety record and they know US has plenty of demand for Canadian oil.

A private foreign company wants us to give them an easement to build a pipeling clear across our nation, around vital river ways and aquifers, so they can skirt paying taxes to us and sell they product to foreign countries rather than us.

Building Keystone guarantees we will either by less oil from Canada because it is no longer available, or buy same amount at higher price, because now we have to compete with many other bidders. Canadians might want thier oil companies to make more money selling oil to other countries, without incurring further pipeline hazard on their soil, but why the hell would we want to take the risks simply to reduce our supply of oil from Canada or increase its costs?

If US was a business, no businessman CEO of US would take this deal, it makes no sense.

Rob Jones's picture

If we buy oil from Canada they might very well spend a lot of that oil money on US goods since they are right next door.

If we buy oil from the Middle East, they would be much more likely to spend the money on European or Asian goods. That is if they don't spend the money building nuclear weapons intended to 'wipe out the infidels'.

moneymutt's picture

Umm, I have hardly read anything on this and even I know there are many other reasons for opposition, beyond tar, say, the safety of the pipeline as it runs thru the heartland of the U.S. That you dont raise these important issues and respond to them makes your post seem less than sincere.

I'm a civil engineer and I'm very pro-infrastructure and consistently advocate infrastructure spending is the most stimulative way for govt to spend money, as money gets spent domestically and leaves behind things that reduce costs and improve efficiencies in the general economy for years to come.... but just from very light reading on this, I have seen several credible engineers severely question the data used to justify the safety of this planned pipeline, these guys are not environmental zealots or ivory tower academics but reasonable, practical concerned citizens.

Sometimes political delays and compromises result in horrible, worst of all worlds solutions, but often when an infrastructure project is scrutinized by skeptics, it comes out better in the end, safer, better looking, less impact on environment, sometimes even more cost efficient.

My hunch is, that if you set aside the whole issue of tar sands (which is not a non-issue as the author so smugly waves away), this project probably makes overall sense, if done robustly, more safely, more carefully, more thoughtfully in terms of alignment etc. But tar sands are an issue too, all these things should be weighed, openly, thoroughly, not just pushed through in a rush. Also, Hillary's office seemed to have undue influence in this matter, for potentially corrupt reasons and the review of this was not done by a nuetral board but rather private enterprise that would benefit from this project.

So what's not to like about a little delay, study and compromising and more transparency. This is NOT a shovel-ready street widening or bike trail expansion, this is HUGE! This is a massive project cutting thru the entire mid section of the country, it passes near important aquifers, across earthquake/seismic zones etc. It will cost a ton and could benefit the US more if we drive a harder bargain.

Not all politics are bad, sometimes, it's simply healthy democracy in action, assuring the people get to decide their own fate, weighing accuratly defined costs, benefits and risks and seeking to benefit the overall common wealth to the greatest extent possible while minimizing the harms to our environment and communities.

MrBoompi's picture

Keystone XL will not lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil, but transport Canadian oil to American refineries for export to overseas markets.  Keystone XL will increase gas prices for Americans—Especially Farmers.  TransCanada’s jobs projections are vastly inflated.  A rupture in the Keystone XL pipeline could cause a BP style oil spill in America’s heartland, over the source of fresh drinking water for 2 million people. NASA’s top climate scientist says that fully developing the tar sands in Canada would mean “essentially game over” for the climate.

But by all means we MUST do what's in the best interest of the energy industry.  God knows they are barely getting by.

Yen Cross's picture

 Ignorance is bliss!  Your comments are as innacurate as your knowledge of trading.  


    You must be the " semblance" , of your own "requiem"!

DaveyJones's picture

overwhelmed by the facts in your rebuttal

phyuckyiu's picture

Your schilling for Mother China is as nakedly blatant as your poor attempts at insulting. At least your schilling makes clear this oil is headed for Mother China, which some people didn't know.

Yen Cross's picture

A schilling? Geese you are pathetic.

LucasATX's picture

Interesting how this $7-$8 billion dollar project has become so very important to House members that they would be willing to tie it in with passage of tax reductions. Guess they must have been paid tons of lobby bucks to press the pipeline agenda? Canada should wake up and start building up its own refining capacity so they can bypass all of this madness.

Yen Cross's picture

 Why do you think Canada has been buying regional " US", banks?  Canada could off load the " Tar Crude" , to eastern Europe.

   You should explore the build process with the Alaska pipeline.  With respect to refining. Canada would love to do that. Try cra(c)king crude @ -40.

azusgm's picture

Canada probably does not want to try cracking crude while under Kyoto.

They are not going to re-up. Therefore, Canada will not need to build out a pipeline to a refinery complex so far away that the emissions will not register in Canadian air space.

moneymutt's picture

its not -40 in Nova Scotia or British Columbia, sent the crude to their coasts

FeralSerf's picture

Is it significantly warmer in ND than Alberta?  I don't think so.

Clark Bent's picture

Are we yet complicating matters with this douche-baggery of "renewable energy sources" and "long term energy strategies?" Wake up! If renewables were worth anything they would not need to be subsidized. News today says U.S. citizens are paying between $50k to $250k for each Chevy Volt in subsidies for a car that nobody wants and we must hush up its safety defects. Solar and wind are insignificant except in the money wasted making their politically connected owners rich by a raid on the Treasury. How about we get rid of everyone who does not actually produce enrgy from the conversation? Go and find something useful to do parasites! 

DaveyJones's picture

"If renewables were worth anything they would not need to be subsidized."...and that's why we don't subsidize oil?!. At least be consistent.  American car idiocy is not a valid measurement of electric energy produced by various domestic, renewable sources.

Clark Bent's picture

Don't know what you mean by "car idiocy" but suspect this is some nonsense about people wanting to have the convenience of cars and trucks to transport themselves and their things efficiently. But notice you have failed to acknowledge that renewables do not compete in the market. They are too expensive because they are inefficient in comparison to alternatives that actually work, like oil. I agree that oil should also not be subsidized, neither nuclear, geothermal, hydro, or anything. But neither should they suffer the political regulation of parasites. There is a level of safety that needs to be sustained, absent the hysteria of the greatest fraud of all time-global wamring. How much corruption are you willing to tolerate for the absurd luxury of Solyndra? How many truly poor and marginal lives are you willing to sacrifice to this self- congratulation?  

Lord Koos's picture

The true cost of oil is far, far higher than the cost at the pump.  If you think oil actually "works" as an energy strategy for the future, then why don't you enlist in the military, go to the middle east, and fight for it. You'll find out really fast how much oil costs.  Otherwise STFU.

DaveyJones's picture

car idiocy had nothing to do with private transport and everything to do with our industries. Small vehicles can and will be electric not petroleum based. The source of that electricity is the issue. Your definition of efficiency is debatable. Redundancy and resiliency are intelligent components as well. Renewables do not "compete" in the market place for reasons beyond free market principles. Energy, its distirbution, and coordinated transportation is an enormous industry that that has huge entry costs and is completely coupled with an entrenched and corrupt governing body who take their marching orders from the very obsolete industry that is fighting acknowledgement and transition. How many poor and marginal lives am I willing to sacrifice? How many lives have we sacrificed for our current system? That's just one war. How much money and dwindling resource have we wasted on a rapidly closing window of transition opportunity which with every passing moment is increasing its cost.    

Yen Cross's picture

 Thank you. Let's burn some " Leafs". 

ChasVoice's picture

Subversion of American Values: Personal, Political, Tax-Exempt & Corporate Empires - Schematic Mapper!

Check out the personal, political & corporate empires and their influential conduits! Most are through taxpayer subsidies with tax-exempt foundations. Extensive search feature! Truly, a pictorial roadmap to the subversion of American values and heritage.

Yen Cross's picture

I remember when I could post HTML Hyperlinks<  Get a job!

technovelist's picture

I'm not against pipelines. However, I'm completely against THIS pipeline built by THIS company. They are a bunch of lying, thieving, criminals who have been threatening US landowners with eminent domain. WTF is a Canadian company doing threatening US landowners with anything? They also have a TERRIBLE environmental record and are planning to use inferior steel from India to transport corrosive, abrasive, and poisonous crude over aquifers.

You may wonder why they don't build a pipeline across Canada instead of through the US. That's because the Canadians whose land they would have to cross DON'T WANT IT! So why should Americans?

DaveyJones's picture

because we're stupid

because the government has done an excellent job at miseducating us

Because we are too naive to realize Obama's position, like every other, is a temporary political one that will soon be abandoned for large international corp interests if he is elected. 

divide_by_zero's picture

Huh, no mention of the most important reason for Obama's delay on the pipeline, his benefactor Warren Buffett's interests in delaying it.

UrbanBard's picture

Here is someing that you may not know: OPEC is on the verge of ending its use of the US dollar as a reserve currency. Even if the news isn't sudden, this means that the price of Oil will rise at a time when the US has little it exchanges with other countries. Hence, we will be cut off from foriegn oil.

The exception to this is Canada which is a major importer of US goods. So, it seems logical to shift as much if our needs to a Canadian source. This is especially true of extending the pipeline to the Texas refineries to replace Venezuelan oil.

But, Environmentalists don't care if Americans experience $20 a gallon gasoline. Nor if people starve in the resulting depression. After all, the resulting crisis will be good for Obama as he rations oil for the good of the country. His cronies will be at the head of the line.

Lord Koos's picture

People in many other countries are already paying $7-10 dollars a gallon.  Did their world come to an end?  No, they just conserve more and drive small cars.  Expensive gas is the ONLY thing that will force the American government and the public to get serious about conservation and peak oil.  There is no free lunch.

Westcoastliberal's picture

Maybe you didn't get the memo (or actually read the story) but this pipeline will add ZERO oil to U.S. domestic usage.  That's why it's being pumped down the pipeline to refineries on the Gulf Coast, where it will be refined and loaded onto tankers for EXPORT.

Why should Americans take the environmental risks with almost zero benefit?

moneymutt's picture

yeah, Tesoro makes good money refining Canadian oil in ND, and selling it for high premium....this pipeline is simply proposed to allow Canada to sell their oil to other countries besides US.

augmister's picture

Just build the sucker.  If we loose our sources of oil, wtf difference will food make?   We never did a 1:1 ratio with food to oil, did we?  Dumb fucks we are!

WTF_247's picture

I do not understand why you would EVER create a pipeline all the way to TX - that is just plain stupid.  Total waste of money and resources.

Why not just pipe it into Montana or North Dakota, both of which have huge amounts of government/unused land.  Build a bunch of refineries there - convert the oil to gas, then supply the gas to the western U.S from there.


I guess that plan does not work because it actually makes sense.  Why risk 1000s of miles of pipeline when you do not have to?

A Lunatic's picture

The pipeline is a front for the NAFTA Superhighway. The agenda has not changed.

moneymutt's picture

they already sell it to refiners in ND, they just dont get a good price for it.

Westcoastliberal's picture

I give the reason in my earlier post, but here it is again...this tar sands crude is slated for export outside the U.S.  That's why the pipeline stretches to the Gulf; they'll refine it there and ship it offshore.

WTF_247's picture

I was not aware that this oil was not even for use by the U.S. - screw them then, what is the point?

blunderdog's picture

Probably has something to do with the Congressional battle for Federal pork.  Make the project's budget big enough and we could justify running the pipeline through every continental state in the union.

tempo's picture

After attending a Christmas party with many retiring CA teachers and Govt workers who are guaranteed $100000+ per year pensions and life time medical care, I asked them if they were aware of the $500 billion CA pension fund deficit. They all answered no and I don't care because I am guaranteed my pension by contract and law. They feel its a problems for the new hires. So no one is worried, no one cares. They all believe life will continue on for them w/o any need for economic growth. borrow baby borrow.

Lord Koos's picture

How many teachers are getting $100k a year pensions?  Lets see some numbers and facts.

augmister's picture

"Guaranteed" is an obsolete word in the New Financial Order... to be replaced by "when there is no money, the bills don't get paid..."  LOLOLOL

Just love those California Libtards!   I have a first cousin who is part of that "party"... Those folks better be putting in gardens and raising chickens!   It is going to be a very rough ride for the next decade.  Of course, none of them own a firearm, so most of their present posessions will magically become communal.   Embrace the change amigos!  Embrace the SUCK!

nothing can go wrogn's picture

The late Matt Simmons referred to Canadian tar sands extraction as turning "diamonds in to coal." Based on the huge amount of valuable natural gas and freshwater required to make a giant pile of bitumen in to a small amount of liquid oil. The energy returned on energy invested is a big loser in the long run, and the whole charade can only continue with massive subsidies of rapidly devaluing currencies.

Mining tar sands, fracking, deepwater drilling...these are all signs of late stage addiction. Similar to the alcoholic who starts drinking nail polish, or the coke head who steals his grandma's TV set for another fix. The addict usually ends up dead.


Lord Koos's picture

Tar sands extraction -- it takes 3 barrels of oil to get 4 barrels.  Not a great margin, especially when environmental costs are completely ignored.

strannick's picture

The tar sands need subsidies to be economically vialble? Thats a new one. Our economy, our civilization, runs on oil. Time to get used to that uncomfortable fact. Anyone who understands Obama's cynical reasoning for postponing the decision til after the election, realizes this is a done deal.

nothing can go wrogn's picture

The NDP estimates the oilsands industry receives roughly $2 billion worth of subsidies annually. And Layton said producers have seen their operating revenue jump to $211 billion from $117 billion since 2004.

OTTAWA — The federal government should cancel its generous tax treatment of the Alberta oil-sands industry, putting it on the same footing as the rest of the oil-and-gas sector, says a draft report by a House of Commons committee.

MONTREAL – Canadian governments spent almost $3 billion subsidizing the oil industry in 2008, according to a recent report by a Winnipeg-based research institute.

and so on...

Our civilization runs on oil, until the energy required to extract a barrel of oil exceeds the amount of energy in that barrel of oil. Time to get used to that uncomfortable fact.

Energy Returned on Energy Invested

DaveyJones's picture

Late stage addiciton, where instead of being prosecuted,  the government commits crime to keep the habit going.  

NOTW777's picture

the "5000 to 6000 temporary annual new jobs" is a dishonest number from the obama admins. and should not be parroted w/o explanation

Esculent 69's picture

NOTHING from the regime should be given any credence what so ever!!! He says he is sooooooo worried about jobs but won't tell the real # of jobs to be created and the subsequent boom of other jobs associated with those jobs, see North Dakota's 1-3% umemployment from oil.  We could get oil from a friendly socialist nation who are a bunch of environmental-wackos who believe in man made global warming and still says it's safe to transport oil to the US.  Says he will put off the decision till after the election while a possible 200k+ jobs, American jobs, can be created and get rid of the middle east oil.  besides we have over 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas sitting under NY but nope we can't use ours. He'll give Brazil $2 billion to drill for oil and as he said " we want to be your best customer."  Does this sound like a serious man or just a politically calculating marxist leninist who only cares about his agenda? What is his agenda?  Weaken this countries influece in the world and he said so last year at the G20 summit took place when someone who wasn't the US military fired a missle right off the coast of Kalifornia.  When you people realize what Obama is instead of who he is then we can get this disfunction corporation known and the USA back on track to INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM which equals CAPITALISM. Save your country and vote all these clowns out.

Yen Cross's picture

 Build the " Pipeline".  We have all watched the spread close.

phyuckyiu's picture

Yes, Mother China needs more oil. Please build the pipeline. Do I get my .02 Yen for that post?