There’s Something About Biden… and Pipelines
On Nov. 13, 1973, a freshman Senator from Delaware named Joe Biden voted against building the Alaska Pipeline.
On Jan. 20, 2021, that same Joe Biden — now President of the United States — revoked a permit to build an oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada into the U.S.; namely, the Keystone XL.
Here we have two major energy infrastructure projects separated by nearly 48 years. Yet both are distinguished by Biden’s opposition.
Let’s look at the two pipelines — Alaska and Keystone XL — in the context of time, history, strategy, energy, the environment… and by what Biden’s long-term opposition tells us.
Let’s also look at what it means to you…
First, a few words about pipelines. Most of them are buried and out of sight. But a map illustrates the scope of America’s underground pipe grid, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Joe Biden may or may not like it, but America is crisscrossed by over 200,000 miles of pipelines. They go everywhere. They carry crude oil, natural gas and refined products.
According to the Congressional Research Service, over 70 cross-border pipelines move oil and gas (exports and imports) between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.1
Pipelines are vital arteries. The U.S. couldn’t function without this vast system and a multitude of products delivered through an extensive complex of pumps and pipes.
Pipelines are how people heat homes, and run power plants and factories. Pipes carry fuel for cars, trucks, trains and airplanes. They supply feedstock to industry, including chemical plants and refineries in Biden’s home state of Delaware. All this and much more.
Meanwhile, America’s pipeline buildout is a product of 200 years of industrial effort.
For example, the country’s first pipelines — a series of hollow logs — were laid in 1820 in upstate New York to carry natural gas from bubbling creeks to nearby factories. The first oil pipelines (also made of hollow logs) were laid in West Virginia and northwest Pennsylvania during the early days of the oil boom of the 1860s.
Hollow logs were soon replaced by cast iron pipe, then by steel. And over time, a robust American pipeline industry evolved which has long been at the forefront of metallurgy and technology. It’s an impressive story if you get into it.
On the map above, the green line illustrates the 1,180-mile route of the proposed (now canceled) Keystone XL line.
If constructed, Keystone XL would carry 830,000 barrels of Canadian oil per day from the heart of Alberta into the U.S. to connect with existing lines that feed refineries on the Gulf Coast.
But in a stunt that was as much gaudy showboating as knee-jerk policy, President Biden canceled the project on day one of his administration. I touched on it here.
What is it with Biden and pipelines?
In 2014, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates published a 640-page book entitled Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War. Of Joe Biden, Gates wrote, “I think (Biden) has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
Much of Gates’ criticism of Biden has to do with the long-time Senator’s views on geopolitical and military matters. But take that criticism a step further…
Much of America’s geopolitical mess from the 1970s through 2010s (especially many of the country’s wars) involved the Middle East and foreign sources of oil.
Which brings us back to November 1973 and Biden’s vote against the Alaska Pipeline.
Quick background: Oil was discovered on Alaska’s North Slope in 1968. The oil industry wanted to drill up the resource, but there was all manner of environmental opposition. It’s how these things go.
Between 1968 and 1973, North Slope development was tied up in the courts. Then in October 1973, Israel was attacked and the Yom Kippur War resulted.
During the war, the U.S strongly backed Israel. In retaliation, a bloc of Arab nations embargoed oil exports to the U.S.
Almost immediately, the U.S. awoke to nationwide fuel shortages and long lines at gas stations. There was political panic in Washington over the nation’s energy security.
Gas station lines and fuel shortages, 1973.2
Quickly, the issue of long-term access to assured oil supplies moved from an industrial and environmental matter to a sharp point of national security.
Powerful forces in Washington (key “deciders,” one might say) looked at the North Slope and saw a source of domestic oil that would last well into the 21st century.
Legislatively, the matter was resolved via the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act of 1973.3
This law expedited court hearings on the environmental angle, establishing tight timelines for court action. These foreclosed endless cycles of litigation. Plus, the law enabled financing and granted a north-south right-of-way for construction across Alaska.
The Pipeline Act breezed through the House. It sailed through the Senate, with but five votes against it. One of those “nay” votes was by a young, 30-year-old Joe Biden.
Biden claimed that he voted against the Alaska Pipeline for environmental reasons — and maybe so. But despite Biden, the pipeline was built (another long story) and first oil flowed on July 4, 1976.
Over the past 45 years, the Alaska Pipeline has transported cumulatively over 18.1 billion barrels of oil.4 There are billions left to go if oil companies can continue to drill in northern Alaska.
According to the Anchorage Daily News, “the pipeline has generated immense private wealth and pays for most of state government.”5
Looking back, there’s no denying that Alaska oil development would have been impossible absent the pipeline. And yes, it altered the environment, as well as the sociology of much of Alaska.
Then again, all that Alaska oil altered the economy of the U.S. too. Indeed, Alaskan oil likely spared the nation from another war or two, which is grist for what we called “counter-factual history” at the Naval War College.
No doubt, there are environmental issues with the Alaska Pipeline. Leaks and spills happen, which is part of running a complex system. But for the most part, the big issues with the Alaska Pipeline are maintenance problems — not environmental disasters.
Indeed, the worst problem with Alaskan oil came with the Exxon Valdez tanker spill in 1989, which was a navigation accident involving a ship and a drunk captain. It had nothing to do with the Alaska Pipeline.
And the Alaska Pipeline owes no thanks to Joe Biden, which brings us back to the present, and the Keystone XL pipeline.
The largest foreign source of imported oil for the U.S. is… tick-tock-tick-tock… Canada!
According to the Department of Energy, 48% of U.S. oil imports come from Canada; about 3.4 million barrels per day.6
Were you thinking that, maybe, Saudi Arabia supplies vast amounts of oil to the U.S.? No, Saudi is a negligible supplier. In recent months, the U.S. has imported exactly zero oil from Saudi.7
Much imported Canadian oil already arrives via pipelines, across numerous border crossings. In that respect, Canadian oil is no big deal. Just one more product out of many.
And more Canadian oil also crosses the border in trucks or via rail cars.
The point is one way or another, the U.S. imports significant volumes of Canadian oil.
The idea behind Keystone XL was to take over 800,000 barrels of oil per day off roads and rails and pipe them to the U.S. Then once in the U.S., those barrels would simply take their normal place as part of the U.S. oil refining blend.
Right now, though, there’s a built-in cost penalty to Canadian oil due to higher shipping rates for rail transport and handling.
The idea behind a new pipeline was to move much of that same oil more efficiently. That is, in terms of energy and cost per barrel, pipelines offer significant savings over trucks and rail.8
A new Alberta-U.S. pipeline is safer, too. There’s less handling and loading at terminals in Canada. And there’s less risk of spillage along the journey south from potential highway accidents or derailment. Indeed, some critics call oil by rail “bomb trains.”9
So, you might think it makes sense to build a new pipeline— especially when Canadian money will pay the bill. And many U.S. workers will be employed too, while governments along the route will rake in the benefits of investment.
But no… That’s not how America rolls these days.
According to Biden’s executive order that killed off Keystone XL:
“The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would not serve the U.S. national interest. (That is) … the significance of the proposed pipeline for our energy security and economy is limited. … (T)he United States must prioritize the development of a clean energy economy, which will in turn create good jobs. … (A)pproval of the proposed pipeline would undermine U.S. climate leadership.”10
These are not the words of someone who thinks in terms of national security and national interests. There’s no strategic discipline in this thought process, marrying resources with goals.
President Biden is merely acting out on his environmental-themed, industrially ignorant campaign promises. He’ll boldly lead the country into a Green New Disaster.
Meanwhile, cancelling Keystone XL does nothing to alter the global environment, let alone improve it.
At the source, Canada will continue to produce oil, including from its massive oil sands industry. But now, our northern neighbor has more impetus to complete a pipeline to its Pacific coastline and export oil to China. This actually diminishes long term U.S. energy security.
Canadian oil will still move south, just on less efficient trucks and trains; and many of which are BNSF rolling stock, owned by Biden supporter Warren Buffett.
Here in the U.S., homes, transport and industry will continue to combust hydrocarbons. Although yes, Biden is doing his bit to help along with the long-term deindustrialization of the country, which I discussed last summer.
To the extent that U.S. refineries require heavy oil to blend, they will import from Venezuela or Saudi if Canadian product is unavailable.
Meanwhile, killing Keystone XL sends a signal to investors that the U.S. now offers increased levels of jurisdictional risk for large capital investment projects. Deals come and deals go. It depends on the winds of politics.
Finally, there’s a certain elitism about the whole pipeline cancelation issue. It’s the out of touch “Washington class” versus the working people of the country.
They don’t care… They don’t have to.
In a circus-like atmosphere, Biden killed a multi-billion-dollar energy project. He eliminated thousands of good-paying industrial jobs with the wave of a hand and stroke of a pen.
Then to rub it in, along came Biden’s appointee for Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg.
The former mayor of South Bend, Ind. testified to Congress about the first tranche of workers — several thousand — who lost their jobs because of this politicized mess. He said, “We are very eager to see those workers continue to be employed in good-paying union jobs, even if they might be different ones.”11
Oh c’mon, man…
From Alaska to Keystone XL, we’ve seen this before. Political theater overwhelms fundamental national security. Flowery dreams steer policymaking away from reality.
Biden and his handlers have assumed power, and they’re going to take this country where they good and damn well please. It’s going to be a mess.
On that note, I rest my case.
That’s all for now… Thank you for subscribing and reading.
Managing Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder
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11 Ted Cruz Spars With Buttigieg Over Loss of Jobs After Keystone XL Cancellation, Washington Examiner