Three Pinocchios

Over the past months and right after the Senate defeated legislation authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline, President Obama said that the pipeline was just to move Canadian oil through the US to the Gulf Coast for shipment overseas.  He has also said that he is concerned about it environmental impacts, the small number of jobs that would be created.  For all of these statements, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker has awarded the President Three Pinocchios.

The late Daniel Boorstin, former Librarian of the Library of Congress, wrote The Image: A Guide to Pseudo Events in America 50 years ago that went to great length to explain how illusions have replaced reality in our daily lives.  Politicians and special interests use “pseudo events” to confuse the public and advance their own agendas.  The opposition to Keystone XL is a granddaddy of pseudo events.  There is nothing that the President has said or environmental zealots have said about Keystone that can withstand the antiseptic of reality and the cold light of day.

The notion that the US would just be a pass through vehicle—a conveyor belt as the Washington Post wrote, is inconsistent with the configuration of most Gulf Coast refineries.  They were built to process high sulfur oils like those from Canada and also Mexico and Venezuela.  Importing more Canadian oil means that we can import less Venezuelan oil.  Isn’t that in the national interest?  Surely, we should prefer producing economic benefits to a free country than one run by a dictator?

The President has also stated with a straight face that Keystone would only produce 39 full time jobs.  Anyone who has construction on an interstate has observed that many or more Department of Transportation employees and contractors adding lanes to a 10-mile stretch.  Keystone will be 1700 miles long, with about 800 miles remaining to be built and converted from natural gas to oil.  39 employees?  To build the pipeline TransCanada will need steel, earth moving and construction equipment as well as engineering services.  In addition to direct employment, there will also be indirect as a result of work on the pipeline.  Keystone is estimated to cost $8 billion or more which will produce a lot of jobs and economic benefits.  The remaining pipeline construction will take years to build and during that time investment and construction dollars will be spent in the US. Isn’t that a good thing?  After construction is complete, there may only be 39 or some small number of full-time jobs associated with its operation but focusing on that is a true Pinocchio distortion.

The State Department has studied and studied the permit application.  After six years of study, it keeps finding that there are no serious environmental issues and each time the White House says that a do-over is needed.  In other words, keep studying it until you get the answer that the President and his environmental supporters want.

Whether we approve the pipeline or not, Canada will produce its oil sands because they are a significant source of economic well being to Canada.  So, the question is not whether but where does the oil go, how does it get there, and who uses the products that are produced from it.  Presently, the oil is getting to the US by rail that has been shown to be less safe for humans and the environment than by pipeline.  If the Keystone is not built through the US, a pipeline will be built to move oil both east and west in Canada.  From those points it will go by ship to its final destinations—Europe and China.  Ships produce more emissions and are environmentally more risky than pipelines.  If the oil ends up in China, does anyone really believe that Chinese refineries and automobiles meet the same stringent emission standards as US refineries and vehicles?

The President’s slow walking is more than an embarrassment; it is a huge insult to a strong allie and trading partner and another failure to govern.  Economic writer Robert Samuelson in a recent opinion piece wrote, “Our political culture increasingly values symbolism over substance. … Political behavior is shaped by beliefs that are false and goals so impractical as to be unobtainable. But the symbolism has consequences because it inspires feel-good agendas that elected leaders are expected to achieve. When they predictably fail, popular disillusion deepens. … We cannot govern, it seems, because ideological fervor crowds out pragmatic realism”.


This article appeared on the FuelFix website at

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