By Congressman Joe Pitts
There is a lot of controversy about whether to build a pipeline between Canada and the United States to bring oil to American refineries. Protesters have surrounded the White House. Usually reliable union allies of President Obama have publicly called on him to stop stalling and approve the project. Opponents of the pipeline have staged disruptive protests at college campuses attacking endowment investments in energy companies.
Controversy over a critical national energy project is really nothing new. We only have to go back 40 years to see how the controversy over the Trans-Alaska pipeline played out.
The discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay at the far north of Alaska touched off a years-long battle over whether this resource should be developed and how oil should be shipped to the lower 48 states. Given the extreme climate and terrain, a pipeline was the only sensible way to move oil.
However, numerous legal roadblocks were thrown in front of the project. Additionally, major newspapers wrote editorials claiming the pipeline would cause irreparable environmental damage.
The New York Times speculated that construction of the pipeline would decimate herds of native caribou. Those claims not only proved untrue, but caribou populations actually exploded after construction. In 1977, the year the pipeline opened, there were 6,000 caribou in the Prudhoe region. Today, there are more than 27,000.
The Sierra Club took to the pages of the Los Angeles Times to decry the danger of earthquakes. They claimed that it would simply be impossible to build a pipeline in a region as susceptible as Alaska. Forty years later, the pipeline’s safeguards against earthquakes have been even more successful than thought. In 2002, a 7.9 magnitude quake failed to rupture the pipeline.
The Trans-Alaska pipeline was only built after Congress passed legislation to pave the way. Following this same model, the House recently passed the Northern Route Approval Act, a bipartisan bill to allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to move forward.
There are lots of claims right now about the potential environmental damage of the Keystone XL pipeline. Doomsday scenarios abound. The fact is that the pipeline would be the most modern in the world. Additionally, Transcanada, the company building the pipeline, has committed to safety measures that go well beyond what is required by law.
We can’t forget, the Transcanada pipeline is not crossing virgin ground or passing through national parks. Currently, thousands of pipelines crisscross the American plains. They pump oil, gas and other natural resources safely and efficiently.
Canadian oil currently isn’t bottled up. It is flowing to the United States via train and truck. In fact, it was recently reported that some of these trains pass through the 16th District. Transportation by train is safe, but a pipeline is even more safe and efficient.
There are also clear economic benefits to bringing more oil from Canada. Building the pipeline would create some 20,000 jobs directly and tens of thousands more in associated industries.
Shipping more from Canada also reduces our reliance on unstable parts of the world for the oil we need. Every barrel we get from our neighbors to the north is one fewer we purchase from Venezuela or the Middle East. Indeed, energy analysts predict that our nation could be North America energy independent in just a few short years.
The Northern Route Approval Act is bipartisan, and supported by the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO. These are good jobs that could be created without a single dollar of taxpayer funds.
Drilling in Alaska remained controversial for years afterward. In 1984, ABC produced a Christmas special where an oil company nearly destroyed Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. I don’t expect actors and activists to ever recognize the value of Keystone XL.
We shouldn’t let unfounded alarmism stand in the way of a project that would make our country stronger and more prosperous. The President recently said that “it takes too long to get projects off the ground” because of government red tape. Keystone has been awaiting approval for more than 1,700 days. If he won’t clear the way, then Congress must act.