The President held his event in Cushing, Oklahoma, this morning, announcing an expedited review of the southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline, which will move oil from Cushing to refineries at Port Arthur, Texas (in all likelihood raising gas prices in parts of the Midwest). And as Oklahomans listened and Native American protesters demonstrated in an actual cage, the President bragged about things that I would argue should not be the stuff of bragging.
Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. (Applause.) That’s important to know. Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some [...]
But the fact is that my administration has approved dozens of new oil and gas pipelines over the last three years -– including one from Canada. And as long as I’m President, we’re going to keep on encouraging oil development and infrastructure and we’re going to do it in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people. We don’t have to choose between one or the other, we can do both. (Applause.)
So if you guys are talking to your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, your aunts or uncles and they’re wondering what’s going on in terms of oil production, you just tell them anybody who suggests that somehow we’re suppressing domestic oil production isn’t paying attention. They are not paying attention. (Applause.)
This of course plays well among the non-caged citizens of Cushing, Oklahoma (which has not really seen the benefits of increased oil and gas production in America). And it’s part of what the President calls an “all of the above strategy” (mimicking the words of Republican Congressional leaders). Obama is right that all this drilling won’t alter the price of oil. But he’s extremely quick to rebut critics on the right by foregrounding this emphasis on drilling everywhere and anywhere.
Brad Johnson characterized one portion of the President’s speech as him saying “the future I want for our kids” is one in which “we’re going to keep on drilling.” He gets there by pushing two sentences together that I don’t believe really belong together. But there’s no question that continued burning of fossil fuels threatens global security and the world economy. And more energy infrastructure just perpetuates more burning, and delays the ultimate transition to renewables. Heck, it wasn’t that long ago that noted children’s toy Mitt Romney would have agreed with this notion, saying that “I’m not sure there will be the right time, for us to encourage the use of more gasoline.”
The President also said today that the big problem with the Keystone XL pipeline was that it routed through a sensitive part of Nebraska, not because the tar sands pipeline would create the “fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet,” in the words of Bill McKibben.
This whole issue of the Keystone pipeline had generated, obviously, a lot of controversy and a lot of politics. And that’s because the original route from Canada into the United States was planned through an area in Nebraska that supplies some drinking water for nearly 2 million Americans, and irrigation for a good portion of America’s croplands. And Nebraskans of all political stripes — including the Republican governor there — raised some concerns about the safety and wisdom of that route.
So to be extra careful that the construction of the pipeline in an area like that wouldn’t put the health and the safety of the American people at risk, our experts said that we needed a certain amount of time to review the project. Unfortunately, Congress decided they wanted their own timeline — not the company, not the experts, but members of Congress who decided this might be a fun political issue, decided to try to intervene and make it impossible for us to make an informed decision.
So what we’ve said to the company is, we’re happy to review future permits. And today, we’re making this new pipeline from Cushing to the Gulf a priority. So the southern leg of it we’re making a priority, and we’re going to go ahead and get that done. The northern portion of it we’re going to have to review properly to make sure that the health and safety of the American people are protected. That’s common sense.
The words “tar sands” don’t appear in that, nor the explanation of why exploiting this resource would harm the planet. This is the fundamental critique of the pipeline, and yet it’s made invisible. And when the northern half of the pipeline gets permitted sometime in 2013, it probably won’t get mentioned then either.