The Keystone dilemma -

The Keystone dilemma

It’s time to stop delaying the decision, writes Paul Wells


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, speaks during a news conference with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird last week. Talks included the Keystone XL pipeline project. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)


We sure picked a good day to be discussing the future of Keystone XL with CPAC and a blue-chip guest list in Washington. (Showtime is 7 p.m. and you can watch it all on CPAC. We’ve got Gary Doer and John Manley and many more, and Colleague Luiza Ch. Savage will keep them all honest. I’m writing from the U.S. departure lounge at Ottawa airport, and right now it looks like I’ll probably get to the Newseum before cameras roll.)

Fifteen months after Barack Obama delayed a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, it is getting time to stop delaying. Protesters in Washington this weekend urged Obama to say no to Keystone. This Wall Street Journal article suggests that, even if he’s inclined to say yes, it’ll be tricky. This New York Times article says the same, and in fact features somebody using the word “tricky.”

Times columnist Joe Nocera, the most consistently pro-business voice on that paper’s op-ed page, writes once again this morning that he’s all in favour of Keystone passing. He offers a novel argument: If environmentalists really don’t want oil sands development, they should seek lower world oil prices to make novel technologies unprofitable. Nocera’s no fool; he knows nobody will listen to that counsel.

I’m told that, in private meetings with John Baird last week, Obama’s new secretary of state John Kerry was sounding pretty sour on Keystone. Take that unsourced bit of gossip for what it’s worth. More publicly, there was the surprising spectacle of David Jacobson, the Obama administration’s (probably departing?) ambassador to Ottawa, linking Keystone approval to Canada’s generally lousy environmental image. In his nearly four years in Ottawa, I don’t ever recall Jacobson walking toward a political controversy before. Did he just want to try it once before leaving town, or does he know something we don’t?

Environmental activist Tzeporah Berman hopes Jacobson’s remarks reveal Obama’s thinking. Lorne Gunter wishes Alberta’s premier would be a more vocal advocate for an Alberta company’s pipeline. We’ll have much to discuss tonight.


The Keystone dilemma

  1. I hope, at some point, someone points out that all this is unnecessary
    and almost entirely due to arrogance, blindness, or downright stupidity
    on the part of Mr. Oil.
    To plan for a pipeline that sits over the Oglalla Aquifer .. The main , if
    rapidly diminishing, source of water for a very arid part of the continent
    serves as a prime example of tunnel vision and gave environmentalists a
    valid peg on which to hang their hats. It didn’t have to be that way.

    I have a relative (by marriage) who works in the environmental department
    of an oil company in Calgary. Over the years she’s developed a very fetching
    way of blushing and tilting her lovely head.

    • The Oglalia Aquifer is being depleted to irrigate corn crops to produce ethanol to run American automobiles.

      More oil and less ethanol would help save the Oglalia Aquifer.

      Food for fuel is moronic.

      • And not to mention that potassium (potash) and phosphorus (fertilizer), critical to the food supply, are the two world resources in most critical short supply in the medium term.

      • Maybe you could pass that message on to the Harper govt, who are going down the same road?

  2. “Nocera’s no fool; he knows nobody will listen to that counsel.” He is a fool if he thinks environmentalists will fall for his argument.

    • So…..since he doesn’t…. he’s…. no fool. Thanks for playing.

      • What I meant to say is that his trick argument is not going to hold much sway in the public debate so it’s too clever by half. No one really expects environmentalists to get anywhere lobbying OPEC to lower oil prices. So it comes across as empty rhetoric.

  3. Haven’t read the links yet, so maybe someone goes over this ground. Granted there are any number of reasons this story might yet break this way or that. But surely, crass as it may seem ,what are the chances Obama isn’t going to use this pipeliine as a CC bargaining chip?
    For once he’s on fairly solid ground for now. He gets a chance to be the real Obama. He’s as insulated from the wolf pack as he’s ever going to be, and the duck thing is way off. Fracking has tilted the field his way. Why not trade off that pipeline and get some kind of CC commitment from both congress and Canada? A carbon tax might be nice, at least get the ball rolling for the next prez to implement.
    This should show us what Harper is made of. Right now they’re just running around showing everyone who can be bothered to look how environmentally conscientious we have been…no one but possibly Kent and Oliver are buying that straight up. I’d expect there to be some speeding up of the govt’s regulatory approach at a minimum. The worm has turned on Harper’s minimalistic – only if i absolutely must for political appearances approach – will i do anything. Let’s see how good a pol he really is when he has to sell to a suddenly skeptical audience. One that doesn’t need our oil and jobs as much as they did 5 years ago ; and not merely play keep away on the CC front with his critics, and barely just keep up with an embattled liberal US president who’s intent on going somewhere on this file now. Let’s see if Harper has any real legs, or if he really is just a shorter of the market,or simply another political opportunist?

    • The United States is restricting Canadian oil supply to the world market so they can export and sell more thermal coal to the world.

      Thermal coal exports from the United States to the rest of the world have doubled during Obama’s tenure. The less oil, the more coal from Democratic blue states can be exported.

  4. Maybe that’s just how things play out when you’re in one kind of phantasy land – politics, and thereafter in another – big business or diplomacy for big business…er for Canada. But i’m in the disappointed with Manley and perhaps to a lesser extent [but not by much] Doer camp.
    Surely either one of them would have had reservations about Canada’s approach to CC issues with this govt when they were in the political bear pit? Yet here they are sucking and grinning with the best of them once they put on the team Canada jersey…or in Manley’s case, become principally a corporate cheer leader, no matter how much he might protest that description. I mean i liked the guy when he was a liberal. Inevitably it makes me wonder if either of them ever had any principles? I just don’t see either of them speaking truth to power anymore from their present jobs. Maybe i’m wrong? Maybe in the back ground they are quietly counseling, we need to do more? But from where i stand or sit, it looks like they regard their moves as akin to transferring from the leafs to the Habs…now they’re duty bound to cheer enthusiastically for the home team. The worst part is they both came from the class end of our political actors.I wouldn’t be saying this is it was Clement or Mackay or Poilivere or Fantino…or…or… we were talking about. I just expected more from those two.
    edit: I wonder if either of them was being truly honest they might claim that where they are right now is the real world – not politics? I still don’t buy that as being an excuse for not taking your former principles along for the ride; unless those former principles never were written in stone in the first place.

    • “truth to power” Seriously? You’re actually using that term with a straight face?

      • So you think no one is capable of this in politics at all? Should we not even have it as an aspirational goal for a politician?

  5. Stephen Harper announced that his objective for future Canadian prosperity would be
    achieved by making Canada an energy superpower through rapid oil sands development, combined with pipeline and tanker facilities to get crude to international markets. Since then Harper and minions Oliver, Kent and Fast have employed tactics that his harshest
    critics could only have dreamed of to create maximum opposition to his objective. First, in the middle of a US election campaign, they thoughtlessly embarrassed President Obama’s by declaring that his decision on Keystone was a “no Brainer” thus guaranteeing a major delay in that decision. Next, they thoughtlessly set terms for the NEB review of Northern Gateway that clearly indicated the only decision the government wanted was “yes” and that broad environmental concerns could not be considered, thus solidifying opposition by a majority in BC. As if that was not damaging enough, they followed up by declaring all environmentalists were terrorists and charitable organizations that supported them were tax fraudsters needing to be audited, thus creating opposition from the entire North American environmental community and all charities with any concern for the environment. Next, they unnecessarily did away with a host of environmental regulations clearly designed to favor pipelines and energy projects, thus creating opposition across Canada. Next, they allowed a company controlled by the Communist Party of China to take over a significant Canadian energy company, thus creating opposition from the conservative base. If this kow towing to Chinese interests wasn’t sufficient, they allowed a Chinese mining company to bring workers to BC under the fiction that properly qualified miners were not available in Canada. Finally they chose to alienate aboriginal people across the entire country, the same people whose support for this project is absolutely necessary; thus ensuring a decades long court battle over all pipelines. Harper’s promotion of this energy power objective is based on securing a higher price for crude
    and bitumen which is fine for energy corporations, but the fact that it also means higher energy costs for all Canadians is not lost on consumers.

    I don’t think David Sizuki could have come up with a list of tactics more suited
    to ensuring Harper’s objective will be delayed and perhaps never happen. With this track record of bungling his most important legacy project, Harper should have a hard time getting re-elected in Calgary.

    • Highest on the list will be payback for Harper sticking his nose in the US election telling Americans to vote Republican. keystone is dead.

    • SH is Suzuki’s secret dopplganger.

    • this is a silly post. if a foreign gov’t could ‘guarantee’ a decision from a sitting president, that would be amazing.
      BC will be oppossed until they feel they are getting enough economic benefit from it.
      They did not ‘declare that all environmentalists are terrorists’; why do you feel the need to make stuff up? Also, there has been organized opposition from worldwide environmental groups from the beginning. Nothing the gov’t did, or did not do, would decrease their opposition to the pipeline. They do not want the oilsands developed under any circumstances. They will do anything to stop it, as they know that it is a huge source of oil, which will help to keep world prices lower. They want higher oil prices, to force less consumption. Harper didn’t need to do anything to promote their opposition, and can’t do anything to persuade them to agree to the pipeline.
      The rules they changed made sense. The current rules demanded that anyone who thought that they had a stake in the discussion could register to speak. The environmentalists were using this rule as a stalling tactic. They could have delayed the decision for years, with no substantial dialogue added; purely stall. I don’t know about you, but I appreciate rule changes that allow government bodies to make decisions in a reasonable amount of time. I don’t appreciate special interest groups using loopholes to delay decisions and waste taxpayer money doing it. Get your facts straight.
      The decision on the ownership thing was a tough one, but we do need investment dollars. Refusing this one might have bit us in the future (and they had just refused a different Chinese firm, so the stakes were high). I don’t think you will be able to prove a bias in favor of the Chinese from this gov’t.
      Please inform us as to what the govt can do (besides paying more more) to get the Indians support? They will simply push for more cash, period.

      Next time you want to waste this many words, talk to yourself. Most people on this site read the news and can see the bs and bias you spew.

  6. Will somebody please explain to weak kneed political driven wimpy American politicians that it is time to fish or cut bait. They do not want our bitimen, fine. We will ship east to China, India, and the rest of Asia. We will ship east to the Saudis to keep their refineries running. And we will make a hell of a lot more than what the Americans are currently paying for Alberta oil sands bitimen.

    In fact, don’t even tell them. Let’s ship to refineries in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, build a sh%tload of refineries right across the country, get the added value of refined petro products.

    The Americans can then get in line and bid against everybody else for what Canada sells.

    For Canada to put in place an A to Z full cycle oil and gas infrastructure will cost, and will take decades. So what.

    Seed money was put into the Oil Sands by Petro Canada, the same deal for internal and external transport, and value added refining is the same deal. Let’s spend the money now to be the world’s major energy power for the next 2 centuries after that.

    All we have to do is look back at the visionary accomplishments that built this country, the Trans Canada railways, the St Lawrence Seaway, and the Trans Canada pipelines and the Oil Sands development.

    Let us take the centuries view. Screw the Americans, this is all about them screwing Canada if we do not project out our national interests long term.

    • And then we have the eco-weenies, indians, dippers, and who knows what else trying to bring our country down.

      • Very clever political analysis. I suggest you publish a paper highlighting your work.

        • He can call it: How dare those Indians want their country back!

    • Plus the US environmentalists can choke on the emissions from all of those coal-fired power plants that they’re doing absolutely nothing about — because their Best Boy Obama won’t shut them down — because they’re in Blue States. But Obama is very very principled . . .

    • Basically what you are proposing is an ongoing trade war with the largest economy on earth; the one which consumes about 80% of Canadian exports. Ship oil to the Saudis? I worked in the oil and gas industry in Saudi Arabia. They certainly don’t need to import any hydrocarbons, especially ones as nasty and hard to refine as tar sands bitumen. Nothing you have proposed makes any economic sense.

      The Americans don’t really need our oil and gas exports as much as we need the American economy. A trade war with the Americans together with dependence on Saudi Arabia for crude oil exports and processing would be insane.

      • I do agree with the idea of adding value here rather than shipping crude out so others can have the refining jobs, though.

  7. Thermal coal exports from the United States to the rest of the world have exploded during Obama’s tenure.


    • It takes two to tango. Is he forcing Europeans to buy it? Does he even have any direct control over its exports? Europeans are buying it cuz they have a little economic problem right now…at least the ones who are buying it do. You haven’t provided one stitch of evidence to show a link between its export and the suppression of oil sands pipelines such as keystone.
      And if the Chinese are buying it up, perhaps you would like to explain why they are also so busy trying to get into the oil sands business at the same time? In other words maybe buying up one is not at all linked to the other as you have repeatedly asserted at Macleans over the last little while.

  8. Natural gas flaring in the North Dakota Bakken is basically entirely unrestricted. This flaring is not including in the carbon cost of Bakken light oil.

    I doubt anyone is even including this in total US carbon emissions at the moment.

    • Carbon emissions make a trivial difference in the real world anyway.

      • And you’re qualified to know that for sure are you?

  9. I thought John Baird didn’t look happy or at ease during the press conference with Kerry, so I’m not surprised that it has leaked out that he (Kerry) ‘sounded pretty sour on Keystone”. Then he comes out for the press conference with Baird all jokey and full of good humour. People like that are insufferable. Look at that picture, Kerry looks like a jack ass.