Outside View: No modest proposal from Anthony Swift

By JACK RAFUSE, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  May 2, 2013 at 12:16 AM
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ALEXANDRIA, Va., May 2 (UPI) -- As the time nears for U.S. President Barack Obama's decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, the opposition approaches hysteria.

A case in point was testimony by Anthony Swift of the National Resources Defense Council at a congressional hearing on April 10. Swift said nothing new or creative; he dusted off old falsehoods by environmental groups who will do anything to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. His misstatements showed how far they will go.

Lacking the humor and logic of Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal" several hundred years ago, Anthony Swift said that the Canadian oil sands will never be developed if the pipeline isn't built; he said that there are no possible alternatives to the pipeline to move the oil, and that the risks of building the pipeline are so great that it shouldn't be built.

He's wrong on all counts; worse, he and the NRDC must know that, but he stuck to falsehoods.

First, the Canadian government has been committed to full development of the oil sands for at least 10 years, since they began to include the "new" 170 billion barrel resource as proved reserves. Production has been on the rise during all of that period, driven by improving production techniques and technology.

Recently, one Chinese national oil company paid billions to partner in an oil sands development project. They understand, better than the NRDC does, the value of the oil to their energy and economic development.

U.S. companies and governmental bodies have analyzed the projects from every angle and see the value of the oil sands to our economy and energy security. Somehow the NRDC ignores those things and continues to misrepresent every aspect of the issue.

Second, the NRDC and others who oppose the pipeline argue that rail transport to refiners will never work. That's as wrong as the claim that without the pipeline, oil sands development will come to a halt. Already about 300,000 barrels per day are being shipped by rail and companies are looking at additional rail investment.

The NRDC could logically oppose rail transport to refineries but, to do so truthfully, they would have to support the pipeline and they have dug themselves too deep a hole to do that.

Pipelines are the safest, cleanest way to move oil, gas, chemicals and other fluids; the Association of Oil Pipelines said spills are down 59 percent since 10 years ago; quantities released are down 43 percent. Compared to oil pipelines, trucks are 1,000 times more likely to be involved in a spill; barges are 13 times more likely; and rail transit is five times more likely. The NRDC knows those facts but misrepresentation is their new default mode.

Third, another consistent bleat by pipeline opponents is that the crude oil from oil sands is more corrosive than other oil. That's wrong, also. The oil industry has been pipelining and refining oils with similar chemistry for years -- virtually all California crude, for example, is almost road-tar heavy, as are Venezuelan and Mexican crudes. All are diluted with lighter petroleum products and fluids and move by pipe; all are refined into gasoline and other petroleum products vital to the U.S. economy. And, the government hasn't found a single instance of oil sands crude causing internal corrosion in pipelines.

Jonathan Swift's treatise shocked all of England -- as he had set out to do, in hopes of changing British policy toward Ireland ("Let them starve"). Anthony Swift apparently meant to scare Americans with his litany of false claims. Unfortunately, his claims are too easily disproven. The NRDC used to be better than that.


(John Rafuse, Ph.D., is a former energy adviser in the Nixon White House and currently principal of the Rafuse Organization, a public policy consultancy.)


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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