The other day I read this headline in Forbes on-line, “Can We Stop Talking About The Keystone Pipeline and Jobs?”
The article itself was full of quotes from other articles, and was in essence a breezy piece written to appease the Forbes crowd. The writer is clearly too lazy to do reporting today.
And if you want to know about Forbes, find a library with a collection of old magazines. Locate the 1930s. If you browse a few old numbers, you’ll see an America that was white, upper middle class or better, and devoted to the finer things. The depression was almost nowhere to be found.
So don’t expect today's Forbes to tell us that energy is not a driver of prosperity. That for the most part, the good jobs are few, and the prosperity nowhere to be found. That even in coal’s heyday, the miners were poor and ruined by their grinding work. So too are the oil drenched slobs who man the rigs. The engineers and a few specialists make decent money, the rest drown their sorrows in booze at the end of their shift. (In the great plains, where gas is being fracked today, they still do!)
The rich nations are places that produce intelligent workers who makes things that are difficult to make. The Germans, Scandinavians and Japanese do this. So do we.
So the energy story that includes prosperity is a myth.
So Keystone? Is it worth it?
I am not saying that we should not do it anyway. But it won’t release us from dependence on the Middle East. Even if the US had all the oil it needed, it would still find prices dictated by overseas supply and demand. And as China, Brazil and India buy more oil, our oil will still become more expensive. So we won’t be rid of the world’s nastier people even with a 13% rise in US and Canadian production (which is what might be produced from Canada’s oil shale).
And then there is the issue of extraction. Oil from oil shale is not pumped out. It is squeezed out with lots of water and chemicals. And after the water is used, it is toxic waste. So if they can produce 830,000 barrels of oil per day, they may be polluting as much as 2.4 million barrels of water each day. (Ok, I am not an engineer, but its still a fucked up process).
Maybe we can’t stop the exploitation of oil shale. But at least we can do a few things in the meantime: 1) place a carbon tax on everything in proportion to its use of fossil fuels (including transportation costs), 2) tax water pollution activities like fracking, 3) tax activities like land development that do not use best practices to conserve energy, 4) work with our peer nations to rationalize and standardize policies, ironing out conflicts where possible.
Oh, what about the WTO? The rules that govern international trade? Let’s scrap ‘em. Remember, the third world largely sells to us, not us to them. Yes, India, Brazil, China et al, have grown, and even developed a middle class, but they still need to sell to our markets. If the US and its developed peers work together, we can impose a reasonable carbon tax and tariff. The the third world will have nowhere else to go to sell their wares.
So Keystone? It is mostly symbolic. A side show. The real issue is what to do about carbon. Let's tax it, which forces conservation, and then watch the real creativity begin.