The Way Forward for the Keystone XL

"Under my administration," President Obama crowed recently, "there is more domestic drilling than at any time in the last 8 years."  Perhaps if this president were more concerned with truth than appearance, he might've finished that sentence with "despite my best efforts."  Our own domestic production is rising, but not for the reasons recently given by our president.

The only increase underway in the recovery of "fossil fuels" is occurring on private or state-owned land, which is not subject to the convoluted permitting process governing federal land.  Even the 38 million acres the administration recently made available for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico had already been scheduled for sale during the Bush administration, more than a year before Obama was elected.

Seven lease sales that were scheduled to take place after Obama's inauguration have been now canceled entirely: one in the western Gulf, one off the coast of Virginia, and five in Alaskan waters, all with proven reserves. 

The Minerals Management Service (MMS) estimates that the outer continental shelf alone contains 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.  These estimates are likely to be very conservative, as bans on offshore drilling have made it illegal to explore any further.  Even at the conservative estimates, these reserves are sufficient to provide for American oil and gas needs for 85 years.

"[E]nergy prices will necessarily skyrocket"...and they have, just as then-candidate Obama promised in 2008.  Foreign oil sources are becoming increasingly unstable, regardless of their hemisphere of origin, and our supposed "all of the above" domestic energy policy is a cruel slap to the average American family struggling with the dramatic increases in fuel costs and the associated ripple effects driving prices higher throughout the economy.

While more drilling is occurring on private lands, the number of acres of federal land available for drilling and exploration has been dramatically reduced.  Republicans, and more than a few Democrats, tried once again to gain approval for the Keystone XL pipeline by attaching an amendment from North Dakota Senator John Hoeven to the recent highway bill in the Senate. This amendment would have simply declared the pipeline approved by Act of Congress.  President Obama personally lobbied senators to vote against the bill.  His intervention proved successful.

Clearly, any good that is occurring on the energy front in America is happening in spite of Obama, not because of him.

Fox news recently ran an article discussing the beneficiaries of Obama's decision to kill the Keystone XL.  In the absence of the pipeline, two railroads -- the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and the Canadian Pacific -- are currently hauling nearly all of the oil from the sands of Canada and the Bakken formation in North Dakota.

The two railroads also happen to be owned by two good friends and frequent investment partners, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.  Additionally, each railroad has contracted for thousands of new tanker cars to haul the oil.  The maker of these tankers in the United States is Marmon Industries, a company also owned by Warren Buffett.  The Canadian subsidiary of Marmon that is manufacturing tankers for the Canadian Pacific is owned guessed it...Bill Gates.

I've written a great deal about the cozy relationship between these prominent investors and friends of Warren Buffett and the main opposition group to the KXL, BOLD Nebraska.  Apparently, this link has not gone unnoticed, as the Institute for Energy Research (IER) has filed a FOIA request for all communication among the EPA, the Obama administration, and a whole host of anti-Keystone groups, BOLD Nebraska included.

IER requested copies of all communications and correspondences regarding the Keystone XL pipeline between the EPA and all of the following entities:

  • The Executive Office of the President
  • The U.S. State Department
  • U.S. Senator Mike Johanns and his staff
  • U.S. Senator Ben Nelson and his staff
  • Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman and his staff
  • Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
  • BOLD Nebraska
  • League of Conservation Voters
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Sierra Club

IER Director of Regulatory and State Affairs Dan Simmons writes:

After more than three years of study, the State Department failed to decide whether or not the pipeline was in the national interest.  After Congress imposed a deadline to make a decision, President Obama rejected the pipeline application on Jan. 18, 2012, arguing that making a decision after more than three years of study was "rushed and arbitrary[.]"

The EPA has frequently been accused of misusing its regulatory power to further a distinctly anti-development agenda in recent years.  The release of the communications requested in this FOIA will nudge open a door to the inner sanctum of the High Priests of green-think in the EPA, as well as provide much-needed insight into the EPA's operational allies amongst environmental NGOs and associated non-profit advocacy groups.

The White House indicated that the president felt the need to personally lobby the Senate against Senator Hoeven's amendment because it did not provide for a means of review by appropriate agencies of the federal government.  Obviously, this is a tactic, not a reason, but it does provide an opening for Republicans to take control of the narrative.

Republican Congressman Lee Terry of Nebraska has a bill with a great deal of support that would place the responsibility for review and permit with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  The FERC has a tremendous amount of pipeline experience, as they are responsible for the oversight of natural gas pipeline projects. 

Recognizing the value of the extensive work already performed in review of this project, Rep. Terry's bill would require the FERC to review the existing data and render a decision within thirty days. 

This more reasonable "fallback" position from the gung-ho approach of Sen. Hoeven would satisfy President Obama's call for appropriate federal review while simultaneously creating a media narrative of good-faith compromise, providing political cover to pipeline-supporting Democrats.  Under intense pressure from the left wing of their own party, these pro-pipeline Dems can declare the review of the FERC a reasonable answer to the president's stated concerns -- an argument that would be difficult for the White House to counter.

With the president announcing his support for construction of the southern leg of the KXL, even   offering to "cut through the red tape" to speed up the process, this would seem an opportune time to put him on the spot with our "reasonable compromise" as embodied by the Terry bill. 

Of course, much of the general public doesn't know that the president really doesn't have a darned thing to do with the permitting for the southern leg of the KXL, as it doesn't cross any international boundaries.  The state governments are the relevant authorities here.

It is Obama's feigned willingness to become personally involved in helping the project along that creates an opening for House and Senate Republicans.  We must move quickly and make a big, splashy deal out of our offer to compromise.  We should answer Obama's phony show of interest with our own earnest effort in the form of Congressman Terry's bill -- in the spirit of crafting a bipartisan solution, of course.

The left has always forced us into an uncomfortable corner by demanding the impossible and settling for what they really wanted all along.  Hoeven's bill was impossible, but it nearly succeeded.  Terry's bill is what we have wanted all along, and with clever timing and a deft use of the media, we can succeed in finally bringing this issue to a close.  Get the bill to the president's desk.  Make him sign it or answer to the public in November for his veto -- Buffett and Gates be damned.

The author writes from Omaha, NE and welcomes comments at  Visit his website at