Seven people on a stage will disagree a lot. If they’re talking Keystone XL, and whatever the pipeline’s fate means for Canada-U.S. relations, consensus won’t come easy. Someone will offer that the proposal’s underlying economic argument is strong and environmental concerns are misplaced, and others will disagree; someone will argue that fossil-fuel politics don’t mean much to day-to-day friendships and business relationships across the 49th parallel, and someone’s bound to think otherwise; and someone else will insist that everyone should stop dwelling on this pipeline already.
On March 3, in the wake of U.S. President Barack Obama’s veto of Keystone, Maclean’s and CPAC brought together a bi-national panel to talk about the future of Canada-U.S. relations with or without the pipeline. CPAC’s Peter Van Dusen moderated the panel, which featured Paul Wells, Maclean’s political editor; Luiza Ch. Savage, Maclean’s Washington bureau chief; Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the United States; Sen. John Hoeven, of North Dakota; Former Rep. Bill Owens, of New York; and Danielle Droitsch, Canada Project Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Differences of opinion aside, most panellists agreed about one thing: The leaders who live at 24 Sussex Dr. and 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. don’t get along right now, and that’s important. Maclean’s political editor Paul Wells, right at the top of the night, was first to mention Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Obama’s relationship—now widely agreed to be not wonderful, at least compared to certain of their predecessors.
Recall the noise made in the wake of Obama’s recent Keystone veto by Allan Gotlieb, Canada’s man in Washington for most of the 1980s, including the period when Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney got on famously. The so-called elder statesman of Canadian diplomats called the Harper-Obama relationship “as cool as I ever remember.”
That lack of camaraderie, said Maclean’s Washington bureau chief Luiza Ch. Savage, means the leaders can’t work on the big things, such as climate change, which Danielle Droitsch, the Canada Project Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said would be a useful place to start.
The American politicians on the panel, a Republican and a Democrat, disagreed—surprise!—about the pipeline’s greater meaning to cross-border relations. John Bernstein, the chief of staff to pro-Keystone Republican Sen. John Hoeven from North Dakota (and a last-minute fill-in for the under-the-weather senator), expressed some angst about lingering effects of pipeline politics.
Spills and fires in derailments have prompted concerns about the safety of transporting oil by rail. In 2011, the American Association of Railroads required that new tanker cars meet higher standards to resist rupture in accidents, though it did not require refitting older cars. CSX said the tankers in Monday’s crash had all been built to the new specifications.
Droitsch, who’s based in D.C. but lived in Canmore, Alta., for five years and knows the landscape north of the border, disagreed with any suggestion that a pipeline would remove oil from rails. Her NDRC colleague, Andrew Swift, made the same point in testimony to the House of Representatives in 2013 that differentiated between Bakken crude from North Dakota—where the trains in West Virginia and Lac-Mégantic originated—and that from northern Alberta:
From 2009 to 2013, transport of oil by rail in North Dakota increased from a few thousand barrels a day to over half a million. In January 2013, over two thirds of light crude produced in North Dakota was transported to refineries by rail. As they turned to rail, domestic light oil producers have even rejected major pipeline proposals, including Oenok’s 200,000-barrel-per-day Bakken pipeline. When analysts talk about the upsurge of rail transport in the United States and southern Canada, this is what they’re referring to—an enormous expansion of light crude from the Bakken.
However, a similar expansion has not occurred in Alberta’s tar sands, despite the need for additional transportation infrastructure. Data from the Energy Information Administration show that no more than 21,000 bpd of Canadian tar sands and conventional heavy crude—or less than 1 per cent of production—entered the United States via rail on its way to refinery markets in the Gulf Coast by rail in December 2012.
Doer fired back that oil exports by rail have increased 10-fold in recent years. Indeed, National Energy Board data track a substantial increase in crude exports by rail since 2012.
|Quarter||Volume (m³)||Volume (m³ per day)||Volume (bbl)||Volume (bbl per day)|
|Q1 2012 (Jan-Mar)||231,086||2,539||1,454,191||15,980|
|Q2 2012 (Apr-Jun)||461,398||5,070||2,903,512||31,907|
|Q3 2012 (Jul-Sep)||837,081||9,099||5,267,630||57,257|
|Q4 2012 (Oct-Dec)||1,166,114||12,675||7,338,188||79,763|
|Q1 2013 (Jan-Mar)||1,510,737||16,786||9,506,850||105,632|
|Q2 2013 (Apr-Jun)||1,929,735||21,206||12,143,544||133,446|
|Q3 2013 (Jul-Sep)||1,809,418||19,668||11,386,409||123,765|
|Q4 2013 (Oct-Dec)||2,177,309||23,666||13,701,495||148,929|
|Q1 2014 (Jan-Mar)||2,363,453||26,261||14,872,875||165,254|
|Q2 2014 (Apr-Jun)||2,358,023||25,912||14,838,705||163,063|
|Q3 2014 (Jul-Sep)||2,661,655||28,931||16,749,414||182,059|
The gregarious Doer and the data-driven Droitsch found little common ground. They even disagreed about the prospect of agreeing to disagree, but such is the clash between the Harper government’s strident lobbying for Keystone and environmental critics’ refusal to buy the hype.
Perhaps the pair will sit on the same stage in a few years and agree to agree about what Doer predicted would be the next big continental debate: water.
Below is the full recap of our panel: