Global Ethics Corner: The Keystone XL Oil Pipeline and the National Interest

September 2, 2011

This is part of the Carnegie Council's third annual SEPTEMBER SUSTAINABILITY MONTH.

Access to energy is a vital national interest, but we remember the Gulf, the Yellowstone River, and other spills.

A proposed Canadian pipeline would transport bitumen from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast, crossing the border. The State Department has finished its environmental review, and now Secretary Clinton must determine whether the project is in the national interest and deserving of a permit.

Supporters of the Keystone XL oil pipeline make several arguments: The U.S. economy needs more energy, and the pipeline would deliver additional supply over a shorter route. This would offset less friendly sources. Canada is already America's number one source of foreign oil, and a stable ally. Finally, pipelines lessen maritime exposure and the associated security costs.

Yet every administration since Nixon has proclaimed that America needs to reduce dependence on foreign oil, and there are doubts that Keystone XL would offset the Middle East.

Additional supply may not even be necessary. The Obama administration increased automobile fuel efficiency standards, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that liquid fuel imports will fall due to increased domestic production.

Finally, the shortest supply line is the one not needed—the barrel not burned through efficiency, new technology, or better urbanism.

A different sense of energy and natural security might leave the tar sands in the ground. They are dirtier than the average barrel of oil, and the global warming impact of additional energy consumption further complicates the decision.

How would you advise Secretary Clinton? Is Keystone XL in the national interest? Is secure access to oil worth the climate change consequences?

Edited by William Vocke

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:

United States Coast Guard Michon Scott, NASA's Earth Observatory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Travis S.

U.S. Department of State

Evan O'Neil, Carnegie Council

Prensa Miraflores


White House Photo Office

Scott Bernstein

Dino Abatzidis

Evan O'Neil, Carnegie Council

Evan O'Neil, Carnegie Council

U.S. Department of State

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