Thought Piece

It is hard to make a more compelling argument for the private investment, environment, safety, and economic development for new pipelines in the US than the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board does. So I won’t.

Keystone XL on the Cusp

The record shows that pipelines are the safest way to transport oil.

The Keystone XL pipeline cleared its final major regulatory hurdle Monday, but the fight isn’t over as opponents have seized on a spill last week on another TransCanada pipeline. The wonder is that the company still wants to build anything in the U.S. after the way it has been treated.

The good news is that the Nebraska Public Service Commission voted 3-2 to allow TransCanada to build a pipeline traversing the state. The federal government has already given its blessing, and Nebraska was the last state hold-out.

Nebraska officials refused to sign off on the preferred Keystone XL route, approving an alternative that the commission says would better protect water resources and endangered species, adding that it “would have little environmental impact.”

But it also means TransCanada will have to deal with a new set of landowners. So the pipeline is all but certain to face further litigation from property-holders and environmental groups. TransCanada says it will now begin “assessing how the decision would impact the cost and schedule of the project.”

The usual Keystone XL opponents are now claiming that last Thursday’s 5,000-barrel leak in South Dakota is proof that pipelines are inherently dangerous. “These pipelines are bound to spill, and they put communities, precious drinking water, and our climate at risk,” said Rachel Rye Butler of Greenpeace.

Their real agenda is to keep oil and gas in the ground, though Americans still rely on petroleum for 37% of their energy. But in the real world, which is marred by reality and risk, pipelines have an enviable safety record.

More than 99.99% of oil moved by pipeline arrives at its destination safely. Compared to rail, pipelines are 2.5 times less likely to have an accident that results in an oil spill, the Fraser Institute concluded after assessing Canadian government data between 2004 and 2015. A Manhattan Institute report looked at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s annual accident data between 2007-2016. Per billion ton-miles, oil pipelines charted the lowest rate at 0.66. Railways came in at 2.20, and roads at 7.11.

South Dakota’s Keystone pipeline, where last week’s spill occurred, has safely delivered more than 1.5 billion barrels of oil since opening in June 2010. TransCanada had isolated the affected portion of pipeline within 15 minutes. South Dakota’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources said emergency precautions “seemed to work very well,” and the spill didn’t spoil surface or drinking water.

Federal and state governments have deemed these to be acceptable risks, especially given the enormous economic benefits. Keystone XL amounts to a shovel-ready, $8 billion investment in American infrastructure—without taxpayer money. Unfounded pipeline alarmism has stymied this project for years, and it would be a pity if such dishonest tactics succeeded again.