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Why The Keystone Pipeline Is Nothing More Than Political Football


The Keystone XL Pipeline has been one of the most contentious debates in recent politics, with members from both parties arguing their opinions vociferously.

The environmental impact and economical boost have been hotly contested for nearly six years in Washington, and with the Republican Party in charge of both the House and the Senate, passage of the Keystone bill is inevitable.

On Monday of this week, the Senate (the biggest hurdle to the bill’s passage) voted in favor to advance the legislation by a vote of 63-32. With a similar vote in the House, Keystone XL appears to be headed for President Obama’s desk, where he will most likely veto it.

Although everyone could debate the cost of the pipeline to the environment and its environmental impact, there is one important thing to remember: Congress is playing politics with the pipeline.

Being for or against the pipeline has gone from a true belief in the idea to a political statement in an effort to gain either party’s support. During the 2014 Midterms, Senator Mary Landrieu (D) was forced into a runoff with her Republican challenger.

In the time between, Landrieu became a leading supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline, as she and a few fellow Democrats attempted to pass the legislation in the Senate in an effort to save her seat. The bill was defeated and so was Senator Landrieu.

Instead of using their positions in Congress to further the advancement of the country, this Congress has decided to focus on one bill that, in most respects, is now obsolete.

Falling oil prices have all but eliminated the viability of the Keystone XL pipeline. Proponents of the pipeline argued that it will drastically lower oil prices and help America become energy independent, with cheaper gas being the result of such a tool. The issue with this argument is the recent plummet in oil prices.

Combined with nearly a double in production of US oil and more fuel efficient cars, a surplus of oil in the market has led to a free fall in the price of a barrel of oil. At close on Wednesday, January 14, oil was trading around $48 per barrel.

All of this has occurred without a single section of the Keystone XL pipeline being built.

In order for the Keystone XL to be truly viable, oil would need to be trading at around $65-$80 per barrel. While it is still able to operate at a profit down into the low 40s, the fact that oil has fallen on its own means the pipeline is no longer necessary.

While building the pipeline would make it cheaper to move the oil from Canada to the refineries in the Gulf (roughly $5-$7), the Canadian oil companies have already begun to move their product via train.

In the third quarter of 2013, Canadian exports of oil to the United States via train nearly tripled, and US imports of Canadian oil are at near-all-time highs.

In a world of falling gas and oil prices, the Keystone XL pipeline appears to be less and less important to contributing to that. Which leads me back to point of this article: All the banter and debate over the Keystone XL pipeline is nothing more than politics.

Congressmen and party officials are pursuing this project simply in an effort to gain political capital going into the 2016 presidential elections. If one party can make the other appear worse in this debate, they “win.”

As noted by Robert Stavins, Director of the Environmental Economics Program at Harvard, Keystone XL is a political game:

The political fight about Keystone is vastly greater than the economic, environmental or energy impact of the pipeline itself. It doesn’t make a big difference in energy prices, employment or climate change either way.

It is worth noting that many experts agree on one key point: With or without the Keystone XL pipeline, the oil from Canada will continue to flow freely to the United States refineries. We are not put in dire economic straits by rejecting such a controversial bill.

With all the political rhetoric that is constantly being spewed out of Washington, it is important for everyone to remember that much of what our politicians say is calculated to the point of absurdity.

As is the case with the Keystone XL pipeline, politicians are hoping you pick a party rather than support or reject a bill.

Washington is abuzz with the Keystone XL pipeline, and congressmen and women are stumping for or against it. But, at the end of the day, it is just an effort to grab political capital, not make our country a better place.

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