Keystone Cops

Author Ben Winkley

If the secret of comedy is timing, then events on Capitol Hill yesterday should have them rolling in the aisles.

If the secret of comedy is timing, then events on Capitol Hill yesterday should have them rolling in the aisles.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a bill to authorise the Keystone XL pipeline project without further regulatory scrutiny, more than six years after Canadian midstream company TransCanada first submitted its application.

In the six years between Keystone’s original application and the clearing of its latest hurdle, the price of US benchmark crude has run at historically high levels around and above $100/bl, allowing proponents of the 830,000 b/d pipe to extol the benefits of transporting crude from Alberta’s oil sands to the US Gulf coast. It’s finally inched toward the green light as prices have fallen below $50/bl and are heading south, at a time when Saudi Arabia’s heavy crude is vying for market share against the increased amount of Albertan oil sands crude heading for the US Gulf (see Argus Global Markets, 7 November).

The years of delay have also inflated the Keystone XL price tag by nearly 50pc, to $8bn.

But Keystone has become a battle no-one wants to lose. The delay has allowed times for broad movements both opposed to and in favour of a pipeline to emerge and push the view that the pipeline is not merely a piece of infrastructure but, depending on the angle, a potent symbol of environmental damage, job creation and economic growth, big government and people power.

And so the Keystone show rolls on, to a full Senate debate next week. Should it get through that, it will be down to President Barack Obama to deliver the latest punch line, with his threatened veto.

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