News & Politics

Biden Promises Science Will Guide Him. So Why Is He Canceling the Keystone XL Pipeline?

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“Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to fuck things up.” — former President Barack Obama.

“…I think [Joe Biden’s] been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” — former Obama Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Keep those two quotes in mind.

Joe Biden assumes the presidency promising to base his decisions on science. He has even elevated a science adviser position to the cabinet, a first in American history. As someone who spent several years working at NASA, I strongly support science being considered in major presidential decisions. Science ought not be political. If Biden is serious about prioritizing science, one of his first calls should be to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state has remained largely open during the pandemic yet is outperforming similar states.

Scientists don’t always agree with one another, any more than the rest of us do. Science isn’t some priesthood of the infallible anointed. Science is about investigating, it’s about marshaling facts and context, and it’s very often about challenging orthodoxies, whatever they may be. Decision makers should consult science, but one branch of science alone is usually insufficient to provide the full range of information needed to make decisions.

Biden’s first presidential decision strongly suggests he’s not actually basing his acts on science. Biden is promising, as his first act, to use an executive order to bypass Congress and cancel the long-delayed Keystone XL Pipeline.

That pipeline would move about 800,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada, where it’s produced, to refineries in Texas. That’s a lot of oil. The United States produces about 11 to 12 million barrels of oil per day. 800,000 barrels is a significant portion.

There are about 3 million miles of pipelines crisscrossing the United States. They operate safely every single day, moving oil and natural gas from production fields to refineries. The Keystone XL would add just about 1,661 miles to that number while significantly adding to the amount of oil moved and refined. The pipelines not only move product, they keep tanker trucks off our roads. This reduces traffic and reduces emissions, every single day, from the trucks as well as from cars that might otherwise get stuck in the additional congestion the trucks would cause.

How many trucks? A little quick math is in order. A single oil tanker truck holds about 190 barrels of crude oil. The Keystone XL would transport about 800,000 barrels per day. Thus, it would remove about 4,210 tanker trucks from the roads that would have to transport that oil — every single day. That’s a lot of trucks, a lot of cars, and a lot of emissions not spewed into the air. Those trucks are also burning fuel, but they would not if they are not on the roads thanks to the Keystone XL.

Besides the emissions question, there is the foreign policy question. The more energy the United States and our allies produce domestically, the less we must depend on unstable foreign sources of oil that are prone to invasion, internal strife, and the like. So we’re less likely to have to intervene in any “war for oil” overseas. Biden bills himself as a foreign policy expert, despite the record that Gates, who is an expert recognized by both parties, highlights. Canceling the Keystone XL is bad foreign policy.

And then there are the jobs. The pandemic which originated in China has devastated the economy. We’ve lost millions of jobs. One sure-fire way to keep on killing jobs is to increase energy costs. Canceling the Keystone XL, along with banning fracking and other measures Biden intends to impose, would reduce domestic energy supply, raising the cost. You’ll feel that pain at the pump and when you pay your power bill, not today, but soon enough.

In addition to all this, canceling the pipeline will not result in that oil in Canada staying in the ground. The producers there will still extract it. They’ll just sell it to someone else, probably China or India, to which it will be transported by truck, train, and ship. Once it is in just about any country other than the United States, it will be refined at standards of quality and cleanliness considerably lower than that of the United States. So it will not meet our EPA emissions standards. The air will get dirtier. The transport used, ships in particular, increase the likelihood of major oil spills in our oceans. And America still loses out on access to this reliable Canadian oil.

There’s really no serious argument against the Keystone XL. Some opponents say it endangers wildlife, but pipelines have been proven through to the decades to cause virtually no environmental impact on their own once they are built.

The argument against the Keystone XL is political. Biden’s leftwing base despises fossil fuels and opposes just about every project that develops them or helps bring them to market. That’s a Luddite position. It’s not based on science.

The fact is, at this moment in history there is no more efficient way to store a great deal of energy in a usable form than a barrel of crude oil. There’s no safer way to move that product than pipelines. No nation refines oil more cleanly or efficiently than the United States, and Texas has long led the nation’s refinery industry. If Biden follows through and cancels the Keystone XL, he will break his word to base his decisions on science and he will hurt the U.S. economy at a time when it is still bleeding out jobs.

Bryan Preston served as chief of staff to Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton. The Texas Railroad Commission regulates oil and gas production in the Lone Star State, which is the nation’s top energy-producing state. He is the author of Hubble’s Revelations: The Amazing Time Machine and Its Most Important Discoveries. He’s a producer, veteran, author, and Texan.

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