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While European and Asian countries have become increasingly dependent on oil imported long distances from politically volatile regions of the world, the United States has its own supplier right next door in Canada.
There’s nothing threatening about our friendly neighbor to the north, unlike the disparate oil-producing countries of the Persian Gulf whose revolutionaries and rulers belong to a restricted club of oil producers known as the OPEC cartel.
Canada is America’s No. 1 source of imported oil, supplying 2.5 million barrels daily by pipeline, an extraordinary amount of crude oil that’s carried to refineries in the United States, where it’s turned into gasoline, diesel and other petroleum products that fuel and sustain our economy.
Roughly half of the Canadian crude oil is derived from the Athabasca oil sands, an oil formation in northern Alberta that few people 20 years ago could have imagined would become the world’s second largest oil reserve and transform the economies of North America.
Canada’s vast oil sands hold an estimated 174 billion barrels of recoverable oil, second in the world only to Saudi Arabia’s reserves. What’s significant is that Canada now supplies the United States with more oil than all of the Middle East countries combined.
If not for our access to Canada’s oil sands, the United States would be unable easily to replace declining oil imports from Mexico and Venezuela, and we would be at the mercy of Gulf sheikhdoms with shifting allegiances.
By 2020, the amount of Canadian oil shipped to the United States could double from current levels, increasing up to 5 million barrels per day, and accounting for at least 40 percent of America’s oil imports. But that depends on the construction of the Keystone pipeline, a 1,700-mile artery extending from Alberta to Texas refineries at the Gulf of Mexico. Because it would cross the U.S.-Canadian border in Montana, the Keystone pipeline would also carry stranded American oil that is flowing in large quantities from shale deposits in Montana and North Dakota.
Despite the Keystone’s great importance to U.S. energy security, environmental organizations are trying to block its construction, largely on ground that an increase in oil-sands production, processing and refining would increase greenhouse-gas emissions.
But experts tell us that the carbon content of oil sands is no greater than California heavy oil or some of the oil produced in Saudi Arabia.
Despite harsh attacks, the Canadian government and oil-sands developers have shown they’re serious about mitigating carbon emissions and curbing environmental damage from mining operations.
As for the Keystone, it will be the most modern pipeline in the world, equipped with monitoring devices to check the facility’s integrity.
Most important, if construction of the Keystone pipeline is blocked, the Canadians won’t leave oil sands in the ground.
China covets the oil, and if need be, a pipeline could be built to carry the oil to Pacific ports in Canada, where it would be loaded on tankers and shipped to Asian markets.
Another thing: The Keystone pipeline would create 20,000 American jobs and nearly 120,000 indirect jobs as well as increase revenues for state and local governments along its route.
It would be senseless to forfeit such a huge economic stimulus with guaranteed job creation and an estimated $20 billion in revenue at a time when 25 million Americans are looking for work.
The enormous size of the challenge before us is obvious. If America is to have a reliable and affordable supply of oil in the future, we will need Canada’s oil sands.
Since this great resource is nearby and its development will stimulate our economy, provide jobs and strengthen our energy security, there are few more important tasks than ensuring the Keystone pipeline gets built. President Obama should approve its construction, for the good of the country.
Mark J. Perry is a visiting scholar at AEI
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