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Pipeline Hate Is Misplaced

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Jason DeCrow

Sixteen-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg, likely at the behest of her parents, admonished global leaders at the United Nations this year: "We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!"  


But it's her parents who are truly daring. Why terrorize children with fairy tales of mass extinction? Why refuse to compare standards of living from 50 or 100 or 500 years ago to today -- and show that, on balance, we are better off?

When faced with a choice between easy rhetoric and actual science-based reductions in greenhouse emissions, green activists opt for emotional grandstanding. So it was no surprise when last month, Greta's handlers had her visit American Indian reservations in the Dakotas to condemn two pipeline projects.

One of them, Keystone XL, would traverse under South Dakota as it brings Canadian crude oil to Nebraska. The other, Dakota Access, would increase the amount of oil flowing through an existing underground pipeline between North Dakota and Illinois.  

Activists insist on scaring Greta, rather than acknowledging that pipelines are in the environment's best interest.

Transporting oil underground generates over 75 percent less greenhouse gas than transporting it by train, according to research from the University of Alberta.  

It is also far safer. Spills are over four times more likely to occur via rail than pipeline, according to a study by the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank.  And the vast majority of pipeline incidents take place in energy facilities, where operators are standing by to mitigate the damage. That's partly why 99 percent of pipeline accidents do no harm to the environment. If activists actually wanted a cleaner environment, they would support pipelines instead of using them to terrify an impressionable 16-year-old.


Keystone XL and Dakota Access have also undergone numerous environmental reviews. During the Obama and Trump administrations, Keystone XL passed six different environmental assessments determining the project was safe. Dakota Access twice received the "green" light from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Now perhaps in the environmental fantasy sold to Ms. Thunberg, all oil and gas production gets shut down immediately in favor of clean energy and renewables. Unfortunately, that would result in the very mass extinction she has been taught to fear. Well into the foreseeable future, there is no way to power the global economy without some greenhouse emissions.  

In fact, behind the biggest source of reduced emissions over the past decade has been the increase in production of natural gas, which has replaced older, dirtier coal in electricity generation plants nationwide.    

Also consider the well-established data point that richer countries have more resources to devote to environmental protection than poorer ones. I suspect Ms. Thunberg may one day look back and wonder why she was told that economic growth was evil.

Five months after operations began, Dakota Access added $43 million to North Dakota's state coffers. Soon after that, the state collected an additional $250 million in tax revenue. And during construction, the pipeline generated roughly 12,000 jobs.

If allowed to move forward, Keystone XL will yield similar benefits. The pipeline is projected to create 20,000 jobs and yield $6.5 billion in worker income during construction. Keystone XL would also generate over $138 million in annual property tax revenue for local governments. Finally, the project would add $20 billion to local economies through increased consumption in areas from lodging for workers to construction supplies.


This is not Ms. Thunberg's department, but Americans need to remember that pipelines also bolster U.S. national security.

We've come a long way since the 1970s, when Middle Eastern oil producers could hold our economy hostage by choking off our energy supply. Today, the United States leads the world in oil and natural gas production.  

Yet we still import 7 million barrels of oil from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Venezuela every day. The more crude oil we can import by pipeline from friendly nations like Canada, the less we have to rely on hostile regimes.

Pipeline projects like Keystone XL and Dakota Access will bring environmental, economic, and national security benefits with them.

That is, unless green activists stand in the way. How dare they.

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