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Pipeline Pols: Apologists Advocate for Higher Gas Prices in the Heartland

Henry Henderson

Posted January 21, 2012 in Curbing Pollution, Moving Beyond Oil

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I was surprised to see Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady had been scheduled to take part in a big Keystone XL pipeline rally this week in the Quad Cities. Given the decision to deny the ill-conceived project’s permit this week, I have no idea if the event is still on. But it begs the immediate question about Mr.  Brady’s announced intention to participate in the event, which is: “what is a politician from Illinois doing promoting a project that has almost no impact on the state--aside from raising our gas prices?”

Oh, he probably wouldn’t be talking about that unfortunate economic impact on Illinois citizens.

My guess is that he has been recruited to join the chorus of the pipeline pushers  who parrot the line of the multimillion-dollar American Petroleum Institute ads that have been blanketing the airwaves to claim fantastic things for the pipeline and demonize efforts to hold the project to sound technical and legal review. In those ads, the Keystone pipeline is pitched as a massive job producer that will put gas in your tank, sourced from our friendly neighbors to the north. It is absolutely Orwellian---the pipeline is completely opposite to what Big Oil and their apologists in Congress (and now here in Illinois, too) are screaming at anyone who will listen.

So, what was Keystone XL? A proposed massive pipeline that would run 2000 miles from the tar sands patch in Alberta where the dirtiest oil on the planet is strip mined or steamed out of the ground, all the way down to Houston. It would bring highly acidic, corrosive and carbon-intensive oil to refineries located in a tax-free international business zone to be turned into fuel and shipped off to foreign markets. That’s right, despite all the hullabaloo about getting us off of Middle Eastern oil, this would be an export pipeline.  Big Oil and its political cronies will continue to push for the project, but we Americans need to know that this oil is not intended for our gas tanks…China and other international markets are the target of this project.

Despite the rhetoric, one of the main reasons that this is Big Oil’s pet project is that it would allow the Canadian oil to by-pass the Midwest and go to international markets,  resulting in increased gas prices in much of the middle of the country. That includes Illinois---which is why it is so surprising that any Illinois politician would  cheerlead for the project. Don’t take my word for it. Check out my colleague Josh Mogerman’s recent blog which plucks the real reasons for this project out of Canadian news coverage---and the Canadian promoters are pretty open about why this project is so important: it could mean $130 billion dollars more in their pockets (and out of yours). Or, you can get it directly from the horse’s mouth by reading the pipeline builder’s own regulatory filings.

The other big reason that Big Oil is willing to call in all their chits with politicians in DC and state capitols around the country is that, long-term, they don’t think we are a great customer for Canada’s tar sands. And they are right , because we are using less and less oil as the nation works to loosen ourselves from the grip of our oil addiction The President’s recent fuel economy standards win will continue the trend. But we are their only customer at the moment.

Up in Canada, they are digging faster and faster, increasing their output at massive rates. The U.S. is already a net exporter of finished petroleum products (yeah, you spend a lot, but they get way more for all that gas and diesel sold abroad), so the Canadians desperately want to sell to developing markets like India and China. Moving their gunk oil through Houston and its robust oil transportation system is the quickest way to make that happen. Now that the Keystone XL project is stalled, their dreams of additional billions in profits are in trouble. (A a similar project in Canada is stalled as record numbers of Canadians come out to express concern over climate and safety issues associated with highly acidic crude that was involved with some very high profile spills of late, including the million gallons spurted into the Kalamazoo River last summer.)

So, when so much is riding on a project and things start to go bad, what do you do? If you are Big Oil, you create a cynical campaign promising lots and lots of jobs to a public desperate to get people working again. Never mind that the job numbers have been debunked over and over again (they claimed a quarter million not long ago, but even the 20,000 that they promise now is completely overblown), if you put out giant TV ad buys and hand out talking points to politicians sympathetic to your aims some of those things are going to stick, even if they are lies. It has not worked yet, but there are a number of efforts afoot in DC to revive the project on Big Oil’s behalf.

So, do you think Mr. Brady of Illinois will mention that whole gas price thing when he joins the chorus to mourn the Keystone XL pipeline? Eh…probably not.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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