Editorial Board

Approve Keystone and Move On

Waiting to become a pipeline.

Photographer: Scott Dalton/Bloomberg

At this point, Keystone XL has more value as a political issue than as a pipeline. That's why President Barack Obama should just approve it already and put this absurdly politicized issue to rest.

True, the president has said he will veto the current congressional effort to force approval of the pipeline, but his objections seem more bureaucratic than substantive. And last week, the highest court in Nebraska, through which Keystone will run, quietly opened the door to allow him to approve the project through the proper channels.

To reiterate: The pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast is neither a threat to Earth's climate (as its opponents claim) nor a boon to employment (as its proponents argue). The construction is expected to create only about 10,000 temporary jobs; only a few dozen permanent employees will be needed to run the thing once it's built. And the pipeline's actual impact on the environment is minimal.

What's more, with the price of oil hovering around $50 a barrel, the economic rationale for the pipeline is shaky. Nonetheless, the wisdom of allowing TransCanada Corp. to build the pipeline remains as sound as it ever was: In the long term, it can make the U.S. more energy-secure.

As an immediate side benefit, U.S. permission could also be used to help coax Canada into a climate agreement with the U.S.

Oil Sands and the Environment

The Keystone XL has been a hot-button issue for some environmentalists, in part because extracting oil from tar sands creates more pollution than drilling for oil. But the pipeline would be a net gain for the climate if it could help prod Canada to cut carbon emissions.

This shouldn't be so difficult. Canada has always matched U.S. pledges on greenhouse-gas targets -- even if, so far, it has not done as much as the U.S. to make good on them. Both countries vowed to lower carbon emissions 17 percent from their 2005 levels by 2020. In a recent climate deal with China, Obama upped the ante to 26 to 28 percent by 2025. Canada should follow suit.

Finally, there is the reality that, even if the Keystone pipeline is never built, Canada's oil won't stay in the ground. Even as oil prices have dropped over the past several months, extraction from the Alberta oil sands has continued. And even if $50-a-barrel oil causes some producers to slow production, oil prices will inevitably rise again, making oil-sands extraction economically viable. This crude will get to market via rail and ship -- as it has been -- and possibly via pipelines that are in the works to Canada's east and west coasts.

Keystone will not create many jobs for the U.S., and its delivery of 830,000 barrels a day won't keep the price of gasoline low. But the U.S. still needs to import oil -- and better to get it from Canada than, say, Venezuela. Obama has no good reason not to say yes.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.