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Llewellyn King

Llewellyn King

Llewellyn King is the executive producer and host of "White House Chronicle" on PBS. His e-mail address is lking@kingpublishing.com

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Mystery Of The Adviser Who Turned Obama Against Keystone XL

Mystery Of The Adviser Who Turned Obama Against Keystone XL

In medieval courts, the legendary question was, “Who advises the king?”

In Washington we ask this very real question, “Who’s advising him?” Washington believes in advisers, who are often the authors of big decisions made by others.

When George W. Bush was running for president the first time, I raised the question about his lack of knowledge in foreign policy. One of his staunch supporters countered, “He’ll have good advisers.”

Advisers come in all shapes and sizes in politics. A trusted aide may shape a senator’s understanding of an issue, and set the legislator on a path that later might be regretted but cannot be reversed. “Flip-flop” is a deadly accusation in public life.

When President Obama makes a decision, one wonders on whose advice? Who started the locomotive rolling down the track?

This week, one wonders who led Obama to endlessly delay a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, which should have been a rather mundane issue until he was backed into vetoing a congressional effort to move the project forward? Related: How Obama Could Turn The Keystone Debate To His Advantage

There are 2.5 million miles of pipe buried in the ground in the U.S., 190,000 of which carry crude oil. The Keystone XL pipeline would have carried crude for 1,179 miles. It should have been a no-brainer for the State Department, which has jurisdiction because a foreign country, Canada, is involved. It is not hard to make a pipeline safe, and this one would be engineered as no other has.

But a core of dedicated environmentalists saw it as a wedge. Their target was not then and never has been the pipeline, but rather the Alberta oil sands project, where much of the oil would originate. By cutting off deliveries of the oil to the U.S. market, they hoped to wound the project and eventually close it down.

I am no fan of the oil sands – which used to be called “tar sands” – project. I think it is abusive of the earth. It involves massive surface mining and has so scarred the region that the great pit can be seen from space. It is also a contributor to air pollution because the sands have to be retorted with natural gas.

It is not a pretty business wringing the oil from the sands. However, not building the pipeline will not close down the oil sands project as environmentalists have hoped. Only low prices can do that.

The Canadians are angry. They feel betrayed by the White House and stigmatized by outside forces like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has been a relentless antagonist of the pipeline and the oil sands project.

The question is who persuaded Obama? In November 2011, Canada's minister of natural resources, Joe Oliver, told me at an energy meeting in Houston that he had been told privately that the pipeline deal was done, and he was expecting Obama to sign off on a State Department decision in weeks.

But it did not happen. One or more people in the White House – Obama takes advice from a small circle of advisers in the White House rather than his cabinet secretaries -- was able to sow doubt in the president’s mind about the pipeline. Related: North American Energy Integration Could Bring The Planet To Its Knees

The results: More oil moves by rail car which is resulting in accidents in Canada and the United States. An ally is offended, and there is bad blood that will affect other trade issues. Thousands of construction jobs in the Midwest are lost. Obama looks bad: the captive of a very small part of the constituency that elected him.

There is an echo here of the folly of the president in abandoning the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. On the surface, Obama bowed to the wishes of Harry Reid, then Senate majority leader. It has been accepted by the nuclear industry as a cold, hard political gift to a vital ally.


But as time has gone on, the nuclear spent fuel has piled up at the nation's power plants, as the cost of the abandonment has risen – it stands at $18 billion. One has to wonder whether one of Obama’s advisers, with an agenda of his or her own, did not whisper to the president, “Harry Reid is right.”

There are no winners on the pipeline issue, just as there were no winners on Yucca Mountain, except those who are celebrating in places like NRDC. On sparkling, organically grown apple juice, perchance?

By Llewellyn King for Oilprice.com

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  • Tina on March 03 2015 said:
    Really?? No winners?? How about all the people who get their water from The Ogallala Aquifer?? TransCanada can only be trusted to lie and poison this Earth.

    "By the Council of Canadians’ count, this is the third pipeline leak TransCanada has experienced in the past nine months."

    "TransCanada suffered a gas pipeline explosion in Otterburne, Man., in January, and another gas pipeline ruptured in Rocky Mountain House, Alta., in February."

  • Zinsky on March 03 2015 said:
    These tar sands (and it is TAR, not OIL) produce the most toxic, carcinogenic sludge mankind has ever stooped low enough to mine and refine into something resembling oil. The ponds around the mining operation in Alberta containing the tailings from mining this goop are so toxic that birds die almost immediately when they land in it! Rather than being "proud" to be digging up this crap, we should recognize it for what it is - the desperation of a junkie who is cleaning his crack pipe to get just one more hit!!
  • J on March 05 2015 said:
    The Republicans in the House of Representatives haven't helped much. Heavy-handed and short-sighted bills that basically cry out for vetoes. Perhaps direct your ire in that direction?
  • crs52 on March 19 2015 said:
    Given TransCanada's dismal spill history the claim that the pipeline "will have no significant environmental impact" is ludicrous.
  • Andre on March 28 2015 said:
    Picky point Llewellyn regarding your statement "the oil sands – which used to be called “tar sands” – project". It was always known as the oil sands, more specifically, the Athabasca Oil Sands Project when it first started up in 1967. The project had gone unnoticed by environmentalists for almost 40 years. It wasn't until 2004 that the US department of energy considered it a viable project or a proven reserve. It was shortly there after that it got the attention of environmental activists who were the first to use the term 'Tar Sands' to cast the project in a negative light.

    What many people don't know is the oil sands is a natural oil seep at the surface of the earth and has been leaching along a 90 mile stretch into the west bank of the Athabasca River, since at least as far back as the last continental glaciers receded from that area some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago (perhaps even longer). The european explorers who first encountered it some 400 years ago found that natives in the area were using it to waterproof their canoes.

    Note to Tina:

    When I first heard of concerns of the KXL pipeline going over the Ollagala Aquifer, I was curious about it and Googled Concerns over the Ollagala Aquifer. The KXL pipeline didn't even make the list. But the big concern over the aquifer was that the very people who were dependent upon it were the ones who were damaging it from overuse. Demands for water from the aquifer were so great they were no longer deriving water from natural recharge, but were deriving water from deep water over 12,000 years old from glacial melt water - effectively tapping into the natural capital. It would seem that the people dependent upon the aquifer are their own worst enemy.

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