How the Keystone XL Pipeline is a New Diplomatic Lever

Michael Whatley

1/21/2014 12:04:00 PM - Michael Whatley

Just last month the International Energy Agency predicted the United States will become the world’s largest oil producer by 2015. That same week, White House officials noted that U.S. oil production outpaced imports for the first time in twenty years.

Developments like these led President Obama to declare in late November that, “After years of talk about reducing our dependence on foreign oil, we are actually poised to control our own energy future.”

While all of this is great news for the U.S. economy and consumer, one glaring hole remains in our national energy policy. Specifically, if we really want to control our energy future we must embrace an all-of-the above energy policy that includes the Keystone XL pipeline. Green lighting construction taps a reliable ally to help the U.S. reduce its dependence on volatile sources of oil.

President Obama has two choices: stall or lead. Ending the five year delay in approving the presidential permit needed for construction will clear the way for 830,000 barrels of U.S. and Canadian crude oil to be shipped each day to Gulf Coast refiners. Or, the president can give into the demands of one agenda driven billionaire. Facts are facts. Oil sands development is happening. Canadian oil imports are on pace to reach four million barrels a day by 2020. By utilizing the Keystone XL pipeline, the United States will reduce crude oil imports from overseas by 43%.

The shift away from overseas crude will have significant strategic implications for U.S. foreign policy. Recently a comprehensive study found that, “increasing supply from Canada allows the United States to reduce its dependence on more distant supplies of oil by tanker, often from regions that are less stable and more susceptible to disruption.”

Chief among those distant suppliers are nations like Venezuela – our 4th largest supplier of oil imports – whose leaders recently called U.S. officials “imperialists” while declaring they, “have…men and women of dignity that…will…confront [us] on all levels.”

In November, Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen argued at the North American Energy Security Dialogues, that the Keystone XL pipeline will create a diplomatic lever to pressure Venezuela on its relationship with Iran. She stated, “Because the oil carried by the Keystone XL pipeline will be of similar quality and grade to that of Venezuelan oil, Gulf Coast refineries will be able to maintain full capacity as these sources directly compete for access. This competition may allow U.S. foreign policymakers to maximize pressure on the Venezuelan regime to return to its democratic principles and reassess its relationship with Iran.”

The president could largely erase our reliance on Venezuelan oil with approval of the Keystone XL pipeline - a project that a “solid majority” of Americans support. It’s true. During the first six months of 2013 the United States averaged just over 750,000 bd of heavy crude oil imports from Venezuela. Given that a large majority of these imports head to Gulf Coast refineries – the same destination as the Keystone XL Pipeline – the Venezuelan imports become far less important once the pipeline is in place.

Put another way, Keystone XL will bring oil supplies from a neighbor able to offer help during challenging times instead of from an adversary that touts confrontation as its agenda.

The short-term economic benefits of Keystone XL are significant, its long term contribution to America’s safety is even more important. The Keystone XL pipeline can be the main artery to reaching energy self-sufficiency and a new diplomatic lever to improve national security.

For these reasons, the President should approve the Keystone XL pipeline.