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Keystone Pipeline: 'Just Say No' Could Mean $7 a Gallon at the Pump

Apr. 08, 2011 9:53 AM ETOIL-OLD, WTI, TRP
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Oil & Gas

Seeking Alpha Analyst Since 2008

Bob van der Valk is the Senior Editor for the Bakken Oil Business Journal as well as an Independent Consultant in the petroleum industry. He has over 50 years of experience in the wholesale and retail gasoline and lubricants industry. His expertise is in gasoline price forecasting, dealer tank wagon/ zone pricing issues, commercial fueling network, wholesale, retail branded and unbranded matters, refined products margin questions and retail fuel supply issues. Bob is a fuel products marketer and a thoroughly knowledgeable businessman in the refining and downstream marketing sector of the petroleum industry, with particular concentration on the U.S. western region. He is articulate and precise in his explanations of supply & demand patterns, pricing and logistics related to these markets. As Bob the Gas Guy he has been often quoted by the news media as well as T.V. and radio interviews. His opinions have been solicited by government entities, besides his ongoing daily business of running large scale supply and marketing operations.
Consumer studies by researchers at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs suggested a year ago that in order for the Obama administration to meet their target to cut greenhouse gas emissions, Americans will soon be spending $7 per gallon. That day may now come sooner than most Americans think.

The Opinion page of the Sunday April 3, 2011 edition of the New York Times (NYT) carried an editorial against approving the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, which was scheduled to transport crude oil from the Athabasca Oil Sands in northeastern Alberta, Canada to refineries in Illinois, Oklahoma, and to the lucrative U.S. Gulf Coast by the end of 2012.

The NYT editorial is in line with the Obama Administration agenda, but will ultimately be bad for fuel consumers by hitting them where it hurts; right in their wallets, while benefiting alternative energy producers with better economics.

The following chart obtained from the EIA website shows the top 15 countries of petroleum imports of the U.S. where Canada ranks number one with increasing volume from 2010 into 2011:

This increase in imports shows the importance and U.S. reliance on Canada--the friendly neighbor to the north--to replace the more volatile crude oil supplies from countries in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region.

The Keystone XL pipeline, an expansion project that would raise the line's capacity by 500,000 barrels of crude per day, has already been approved by various state agencies in the U.S. through which it runs. Two major obstacles to receive the necessary rights of way were eventually overcome with, at times, heavy negotiations.

The first obstacle was the local crude oil producers obtaining ramp access into this pipeline for crude oil currently being hauled by rail car and trucks to refineries for processing into gasoline and other fuels. The second one was meeting with constituents in each of the areas being affected with their concerns not only about the interruption of their daily lives, with a massive construction project, but also by ongoing operational problems with the pipeline after it is completed.

The current administration’s Department of Energy now says the pipeline will have a minimal effect on prices since there is already sufficient pipeline capacity to double United States imports from Canada. They are thereby affirming President Obama’s campaign promise of making the U.S. less reliant or needing additional imports of crude oil.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline will cut across the Bakken and Three Forks oil shale fields from Saskatchewan into Eastern Montana, through South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas ending up at the major crude oil terminal hub of Cushing, Oklahoma.

North Dakota, Montana and other state governors became involved early on in the approval process and addressed local environmental and right of way concerns.  TransCanada executives met with various private and public officials and hammered out agreements to have local oil producers gain access to this much needed pipeline to make the shipping of crude oil more economical for US domestic oil producers.

In some cases, due to the lack of takeaway capacity, crude oil is being sold at $10 a barrel discount off the WTI crude oil posting, which is one of the main reasons Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota currently have some of the lowest prices for gasoline and diesel fuel in the US.  The Keystone XL would greatly improve the transportation logistic issues in the Bakken and Three Forks oil shale basins.  None of the states involved have put up additional major objections.

Early this year, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton initially came out, after the State Department report was issued, and said she was “inclined” to support the project. However, after criticism from environmental and alternative energy groups she called for additional environmental impact studies to be reviewed.

President Obama, in his April 2, 2011 Saturday morning radio address, said that even if we used every last drop of all the oil the U.S. has, it wouldn’t be enough to meet the long-term energy needs. So, real energy security can only come from energy efficiency and investing in cleaner fuels and greater efficiency.

The folly involved in President Obama’s approach comes from the fact that only $7 gasoline prices will ultimately justify the cost for those alternative energy projects. Meanwhile, they are supported by the taxpayers in the form of subsidies to the ethanol and wind machinery manufacturers.

The Canadian government has been a staunch supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline project, and perhaps has an even greener approach to their environment and clean air issues than does the US.

The U.S. is now being boxed in from all sides on the energy front. Concerns about the future of nuclear energy, the instability of governments in oil producing countries in MENA, have all contributed to crude oil prices spiking to their highest level since September 28, 2008.

What stands in the way of any major decisions to make the US energy secure are politicians not willing to make tough decisions in an orderly and efficient manner. Meanwhile, the environmental organizations have been trying to block the Keystone XL pipeline at every turn even threatening court actions to stop the start of the construction.

The State Department and the White House will have to make the final decision on Keystone XL, since it crosses the Canada-U.S. border.  But it probably will be the end of 2013 at the earliest to having any of the crude being shipped in the proposed pipeline, even if the approval is received from the Department of State by July 1, 2011. By then, there’s a good possibility that gasoline prices would be reaching a record high and the discontent from consumers will be at a fever’s pitch.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

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