Reading this endorsement of the KeystoneXL pipeline makes you wonder what exactly the WaPo Ed Board is thinking. Frankly, it’s got to be either stupidity or outright corruption. Only those two could account for the glaring omissions in the piece.
After years of federal review, there was little question last year that construction of the pipeline, which would transport heavy, oil-like bitumen from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico coast, should proceed. Thousands of miles of pipeline already crisscross this country. An environmental analysis had concluded that the risks of adding this new stretch were low. An economic review had found that Canada would get its bitumen to the world market — if not via pipeline to the gulf, then very likely by ship to China. Supply would make it to demand, one way or another.
First up, calling what’s coming out of Alberta ‘bitumen’ is technically accurate, but misleading especially when you lie and call it oil-like. Many of you see bitumen every single day, you just know it by another name… asphalt. What the Canadians are digging up (in a project that’s turned a significant portion of Alberta into a moonscape) is natural asphalt that’s pretty close to the surface material on many roads in Texas. See, when you refine a barrel of oil into alkanes like octane (for gasoline) and propane (for LPG), there is always a small fraction of heavy alkanes left over, asphalt or bitumen. Decades ago in Texas, we had a lot of that since it was too expensive to coke that asphalt into lighter alkanes and the cost of it wouldn’t be recovered in product sales. So, that asphalt had to go somewhere and road surfacing was a perfect fit. Of course, the supply and demand dynamics in the energy markets have changed and now it’s very profitable to coke that asphalt into lighter alkanes which is why more roads are being built with concrete.
So, yeah, THAT’S what is in that pipeline. It’s not ‘oil-like’ in it’s natural state, it has to be treated with some really toxic chemicals to be able to flow through a pipeline.
Now, the big problem is what happens to it when it gets here (granted, pipeline breaks are bad enough especially given the toxicity of what’s inside the pipe) to Port Arthur. There it has to be upgraded to actual oil, a process that requires a massive amount of water (in already drought stricken Texas) and a lot of electricity (which is funny since our electrical grid is also stressed at current demand loads). As if that wasn’t bad enough, the process creates an enormous amount of air and water pollution as well as everyone’s favorite industrial byproduct, toxic waste. This is just the thing you’d want in an area of the state where 7 million+ people live.
All this is done so the upgraded oil is finally in a state that can be shipped to… China. Not the US. It won’t drop our gasoline prices, we are already generating so much over domestic demand we’re actually exporting refined product.
All in all, the threat this asphalt will go to China is an empty one. Oil is a global market and I’d much rather see it shipped to Vancouver than Houston metro. It will just decrease China’s buying of other supplies around the world freeing up other supplies for domestic use. However, it won’t go to Vancouver… there is a reason this is coming here and it’s because Texas Republicans don’t really care about pollution and the Canadians do. Plus, there’s the expense of building an export terminal near Vancouver which would cost billions ALONG with the pipeline to get it there. It’s cheaper to bring it to Houston in every conceivable way.
The WaPo Ed Board’s made a major mistake endorsing this project. It’s one that will lead their already declining readership to further question their motives and shoddy thinking on important issues.