Look North For Energy Security

Solar power alone won’t solve America’s energy woes. Thousands of acres of wind farms won’t get the job done either. In fact, there is not one single way to guarantee we’ll have sufficient energy now and in the future.

Instead, it’s going to take a mix of energy sources applied efficiently—at the right place, at the right time and in proper combination. That’s why the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) supports a multifaceted, comprehensive approach to making the United States energy-independent without restricting the use of any clean, safe resource.

Like NECA, the Obama administration also supports an “all-of-the-above strategy to deploy every available source of American energy.” At least, that’s what David Danielson, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, said.

But maybe I’m missing something. If the Obama administration is sincere about an all-of-the-above approach, shouldn’t the Keystone XL oil pipeline have reached the United States by now? (I wrote about the Keystone XL in my letter in the March issue of this magazine.)

It’s been more than five years since TransCanada first proposed building a segment of its Keystone pipeline between Hardisty, Alberta, and Steele City, Neb., to transport 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day to refineries in the United States, and it’s still 1,179 miles of nothing but frustration.

The U.S. Department of State has jurisdiction over the project because it crosses an international border, and part of the delay is due to the Department of State conducting a lengthy review—both a detailed environmental analysis and a national interest assessment—before it signs off on a permit. Criticism from environmentalists has stalled the project ever since it was first proposed.

The biggest environmental concern is that extracting petroleum from oil sands, as would be performed by the Keystone XL operations, emits roughly 15 percent more greenhouse gas than the production of the average barrel of crude oil used in the United States. However, the Department of State released its final environmental impact statement in January, concluding that the Keystone XL pipeline would not substantially worsen carbon pollution. The report also indicates that, if the pipeline is not built, carbon-heavy oil would still be extracted at the same rate from pristine Alberta forests and transported to refineries by rail instead.

The Department of State still needs to conduct a national interest assessment before making a final decision, and it’s looking like the result may be delayed until after the midterm elections in November. I certainly hope the fact that building the pipeline will create jobs in the construction and manufacturing industries, without imposing serious environmental threats, influences that decision-making process.

Keystone XL and other pipeline projects like it create thousands of direct construction jobs for electricians, welders, mechanics, pipefitters, laborers, safety coordinators and heavy equipment operators. Electrical contractors, for example, would have the opportunity to build the more than 23 pumping stations and substations associated with Keystone XL and upgrade and modernize the transmission lines surrounding it.

However, the true economic impacts would be far more widespread. The real potential exists in the tens of thousands of jobs that would be supported throughout the supply chain—jobs for the manufacturers that make the steel pipe and fittings, valves, pumps and control and safety devices required for a major oil pipeline. The Department of State says the project could potentially support some 42,000 jobs during the construction period. Other economists have predicted the pipeline would create 20,000 jobs in manufacturing and construction. TransCanada predicts 118,000 spin-off jobs will be created. Additionally, construction of the pipeline is estimated to generate $585 million in state and local taxes plus another $5 billion in property taxes.

Those are all good reasons to get it done, but I think the most important reason to construct the Keystone XL pipeline is that it will greatly enhance our nation’s energy security and promote energy independence.

Increasing global demand for energy and the continued economic and political volatility in many oil-producing regions demonstrates a clear and growing need here at home for all forms of reliable and affordable energy. Canada is already our largest supplier of imported oil. At a time of unrest and uncertainty in other energy-producing countries, Canada’s vast energy reserves are more important to U.S. energy security than ever before.

The failure to come to an agreement on the Keystone XL pipeline demonstrates our country’s need to address energy policy in a serious, meaningful way. We must explore all available opportunities to increase all avenues of domestic energy production and upgrade transmission networks as part of a comprehensive plan. Keeping energy options open will benefit our nation’s economic competitiveness, improve energy efficiency and put us on the path toward a sustainable energy future.

About the Author

Dennis F. Quebe

President, NECA

Dennis Quebe is a former president of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and contributed the President's Desk column monthly. He took office in January 2012 and served a three-year term.

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