The Crude Logic of Daryl Hannah

How environmentalists are out to kill hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently promised that the Obama administration would finally make a decision on whether or not to permit construction of a new pipeline that would deliver Canadian crude oil to the United States. The Keystone-XL pipeline would create jobs, provide a significant and stable new source of oil and give the economy a badly-needed shot in the arm. So, naturally, environmentalists are outraged by the plan.

On Tuesday, protesters led by actress and environmental activist Daryl Hannah demonstrated in front of the White House, calling on the administration to stop the pipeline, which would eventually deliver over 800,000 barrels of crude per day to refineries in Texas. To put that in context, the United States currently consumes about 18,000,000 barrels per day of petroleum products, so 800,000 barrels is a substantial number. Hannah has likened the protest against the pipeline to the civil rights movement and maintains that civil disobedience is necessary to fight what she and her fellow environmental activists see as a monstrosity. True to her word, Hannah was arrested after ignoring orders from U.S. Park Police to move from the spot where she was sitting down in front of the White House.

Following their playbook, environmentalists have tried to demonize the Keystone-XL pipeline in any way they can, no matter how spurious the argument. For example, the crude that will flow through the pipeline originates in the tar sands of Alberta. It is “dirtier” (in the sense that it has more contaminants that must be removed) than “sweet” crude. Because it’s dirtier, environmentalists claim that refineries will pollute more when processing it. Like so many aspects of the environmental movement, this seemingly logical conclusion doesn’t hold up once you scratch beneath the surface a bit.

Refineries are subject to a plethora of standards that limit the amount of pollutants they can release into the air and into the water. None of these standards is based on the type of crude oil that a refinery processes. The EPA does not care if a refinery is processing the sweetest crude available or if it’s processing crude so foul that it’s sometimes called “dinosaur dung” in the trade. The limits are the limits – period – and refineries that process crude from the tar sands will be held to the same standards to which they have always been held. So rather than polluting more, refineries that process dirtier crude have to improve their processes in order to handle them and still meet pollution limits. This modernization process has already begun.

Another “green” complaint about the crude is that processing it will supposedly generate more greenhouse gas emissions than processing other types of crude. Aside from being incorrect, this statement is also irrelevant. The amount of greenhouse gases generated by the production, refining and transportation of Alberta tar sands crude is about middle of the pack, compared to other crudes. But, in a larger sense, that doesn’t matter since the largest hunk of greenhouse gas emissions associated with refining crude oil is when the products are actually burned. Where the crude comes from just doesn’t matter all that much if you’re convinced that greenhouse gas emissions are a serious problem.

Which leads us to the “real” reason for which environmentalists hate the Keystone-XL project. In their minds, if the United States doesn’t have access to 800,000 barrels per day of Canadian crude, then that’s 800,000 barrels per day of petroleum products that won’t be turned into greenhouse gases. They have to stop Keystone-XL, in other words, to stop global warming.

As ridiculous to believe that petroleum demand in the United States will drop because a pipeline is not built, it’s even more ridiculous to believe that Canadian crude won’t be consumed whether or not the pipeline is built. In a reasoned editorial supporting the project, the Washington Post explained who would buy the oil if we don’t.

[W]e asked John Baird — Canada’s new foreign minister, who was in Washington recently to speak with Ms. Clinton — which nations would buy oil that America decided not to take. His answer was quick and unequivocal: the Chinese. New pipeline infrastructure will transport oil between the tar sands and Canada’s west coast, from which tankers can ship it across the Pacific Ocean. And, even now, Chinese firms are buying stakes in Canadian tar sands.

According to a study by the Canadian Energy Research Institute, full utilization of the oil sands would support 600,000 new U.S. jobs by 2035 and result in more than $775 billion in economic growth from 2010 to 2035. Just pulling the trigger on the project is expected to create 10,000 new jobs in the United States instantly. Given the state of the economy, gas prices, unemployment and our continuing need to secure stable sources of oil, this decision should be a no-brainer. And yet, the environmental movement is more determined than ever to do whatever it takes to sabotage prosperity.