TO ANY ENVIRONMENTALLY conscious American, building the Keystone XL oil pipeline doesn’t sound like a great deal: a new pipeline that would transport dirty tar sands crude from Canada, over the Great Plains and to the Gulf Coast. Why would America “double down” on Canadian oil, when it takes more water and energy — which means more pollution — to extract? Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will decide before the end of the year whether to approve the project, has to answer that question.
Here’s what she should say: Even if the U.S. government adopts stringent policies to cut oil use, the United States will be dependent on crude for decades. Oil demand across the world, meanwhile, is rising, which applies upward pressure on prices — and makes it economical to extract oil from Canada’s tar sands. Canada will produce its oil. We will burn a lot of it, no matter what, because there’s still spare capacity in existing U.S.-Canada pipelines. But when Canada produces more oil than it can send south, the Canadians won’t just leave it in the ground; they will ship it elsewhere. And America won’t be kept from importing and refining more low-grade crude oil; the United States will just get it from the Middle East, the Energy Department has concluded.