Extreme Temperature Diary- Saturday March 12th, 2022/ Main Topic: The Blame Game…High Gas Prices Put Keystone Back in The News

The main purpose of this ongoing blog will be to track planetary extreme or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials).😉

Main Topic: The Blame Game…High Gas Prices Put Keystone Back in The News

Dear Diary. Even before Putin started his saber rattling against Ukraine, inflation began taking hold of the American economy as the nation opened up, coming out of its long slumber from the COVID19 pandemic. Gas prices jumped up from a low below $2 a gallon at the height of the pandemic to $3 in 2021 as inflation began to rear its ugly head, and now to above $4 during the war on Ukraine. Republicans, who are in the pockets of big oil, began to bark that gas prices would have been much lower if President Biden had kept Trump’s policies of domestic oil production, including giving the green light to the Keystone Pipeline project. So, does their beef contain a lot of truth?

For many years the Keystone Project has been a political football. On one side, environmentalists have insisted that it be stopped because its use would put much more carbon in the atmosphere. On the other, oil energy proponents insist that it would create many jobs and make America more energy independent, despite the dirty sludge it would be transporting would come from Alberta Canada. Obviously, Biden sided with environmentalists. So exactly how would the green light of this project affect gas prices that are really controlled by the world market?

That’s a good question that is fairly easy to answer. Let’s use two great sources to get sone great explanations of why Republicans are dead wrong on using Keystone to bring down the price of gasoline during 2022 (arguments that you won’t see on Fox No News from hosts Sawn Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson):

The Washington Post

The clumsy effort to criticize Biden on Ukraine using Keystone

Philip Bump – Feb 28

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there have been a number of lines of argument aimed at criticizing President Biden for purportedly making the attack possible or inevitable. There have also been arguments that Biden’s decisions made the United States’ position worse, perhaps the foremost of which centers on one of his first moves as president.

On Jan. 21, 2021, Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline project, an expansion of an existing conduit for tar-sands oil from Canada to the central United States. The pipeline had been a focus of activism for years, with Barack Obama first rejecting and Donald Trump later approving its construction. For a variety of reasons, which we’ll get into in a second, Biden placed the final nail, meaning that the proposal aimed at increasing the amount of product brought into the country by pipeline would not become reality.

The argument, then, goes like this: Had Biden not canceled the Keystone XL pipeline, we could have offset the oil that is imported from Russia, giving us more flexibility in imposing sanctions on that country.

This is not a strong argument.

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Before I explain why, it’s important to understand how the American energy industry has changed in the past decade and where American crude oil comes from. Using data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), we can visualize the change in imported and domestically produced oil over time. Most of the crude oil we import these days already comes from Canada; very little comes from Russia.

But notice the big surge in domestic production. That’s largely a function of improvement in hydraulic fracturing — fracking — that allowed oil to be better extracted from shale formations. It led to a surge in new production in places such as Texas, Oklahoma, Montana and North Dakota. And it reduced the need for imported crude oil.

The United States was exporting almost no crude oil about two decades ago. Now, thanks in part to that increase in production, we export one barrel for every two we import.

While we tend to think of oil in terms of big barrels of black sludge, the actual trade of oil and petroleum products is much more diverse than that. The EIA tracks crude production and trade as only part of the broader industry that includes refined products (such as gasoline) and other types of hydrocarbon liquids. If we include all of those products, Russia makes up a bit more of the mix — but still not much. It has increased since 2019.

That background is important for a few reasons.

First, the Keystone XL pipeline was first proposed in 2008, before the big surge in domestic production. It was meant to expand the flow from Alberta to Steele City, Neb., but the full route from Alberta to the Gulf Coast has been completed. The issue was not whether oil from Alberta should come into the United States at all but how much. Even without XL, some of what isn’t transported by the existing pipeline is shipped by rail — undercutting the argument from Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) about what’s being excluded from the marketplace.

Second, imports of crude oil from Canada have doubled since the beginning of 2008 — even without the expanded pipeline. Imports of crude oil and other products have increased by 80 percent.

Third, not all of the oil flowing into the United States was going to be refined and sold here. Much of the oil from Alberta was intended to go to the Gulf Coast, where there’s a lot of refining capacity. But part of the plan was also to then ship refined oil out of the country through the Gulf of Mexico. (About two-thirds of refined products on the Gulf Coast are exported.) In 2017, the Trump State Department stated that approving Keystone XL would have only a “minimal” effect on the price of refined petroleum products — meaning primarily gasoline — since gas prices are largely driven by “global market factors.”

Fourth, what is extracted in Alberta is tar-sands oil, a particularly heavy oil product. That is not what’s being imported from Russia, so it’s not a one-to-one replacement.

Fifth, there are significant environmental concerns about that particular type of oil. Environmentalists opposed the expansion because tar-sands oil is more carbon-intensive to refine and because it meant building new infrastructure that would facilitate the eventual combustion of the oil. Obama’s initial rejection of the pipeline centered on environmental concerns. When Trump approved it, his plan was quickly halted by the courts, which criticized the administration for ignoring the effects on climate change. It’s not simply a question of “build and get more oil”; it’s also a question of “build and get more oil and exacerbate global warming.”

That’s the false choice presented by Crenshaw and others. Instead of replacing the energy-generating capacity that is provided by Russian oil (not all of which goes to energy production, of course), why not replace the equivalent amount with non-fossil-fuel-based sources, instead of just Canadian oil? At his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Biden is expected to advocate once again for reducing U.S. emissions, a plan that could reduce the use of oil for electricity generation or for vehicles. Eliminating reliance on Russian oil would be good, but doing so by relying on oil from some other country is not the best path forward.

An interesting side note to all of this is that Ukraine’s allies, including the United States, decided against imposing sanctions on Russia’s oil industry anyway, worried about the sorts of global market factors that could cause gas prices to spike. There have not been many calls from Biden’s opponents to trigger gas-price increases as a way of inflicting more pain on Russia, largely because the point of the Keystone XL comparison isn’t to hurt Russia in the first place.

The point is to hurt Biden.

And from the New York Times:

FACT CHECK

Republicans Wrongly Blame Biden for Rising Gas Prices

They have pointed to the Biden administration’s policies on the Keystone XL pipeline and certain oil and gas leases, which have had little impact on price

The average gas price at U.S. pumps hit $4.17 on Tuesday.
The average gas price at U.S. pumps hit $4.17 on Tuesday. Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times
Linda Qiu

By Linda Qiu March 9, 2022

WASHINGTON — As gas prices hit a high this week, top Republican lawmakers took to the airwaves and the floors of Congress with misleading claims that pinned the blame on President Biden and his energy policies.

Mr. Biden warned that his ban on imports of Russian oil, gas and coal, announced on Tuesday as a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, would cause gas prices to rise further. High costs are expected to last as long as the confrontation does.

While Republican lawmakers supported the ban, they asserted that the pain at the pump long preceded the war in Ukraine. Gas price hikes, they said, were the result of Mr. Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, the temporary halt on new drilling leases on public lands and the surrendering of “energy independence” — all incorrect assertions.

Here’s a fact check of their claims.

WHAT WAS SAID

“This administration wants to ramp up energy imports from Iran and Venezuela. That is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror and a thuggish South America dictator, respectively. They would rather buy from these people than buy from Texas, Alaska and Pennsylvania.”
— Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, in a speech on Tuesday

“Democrats want to blame surging prices on Russia. But the truth is, their out-of-touch policies are why we are here in the first place. Remember what happened on Day 1 with one-party rule? The president canceled the Keystone pipeline, and then he stopped new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters.”
— Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the minority leader, in a speech on Tuesday

“In the four years of the Trump-Pence administration, we achieved energy independence for the first time in 70 years. We were a net exporter of energy. But from very early on, with killing the Keystone pipeline, taking federal lands off the list for exploration, sidelining leases for oil and natural gas — once again, before Ukraine ever happened, we saw rising gasoline prices.”
— Former Vice President Mike Pence in an interview on Fox Business on Tuesday

These claims are misleading. The primary reason for rising gas prices over the past year is the coronavirus pandemic and its disruptions to global supply and demand.

“Covid changed the game, not President Biden,” said Patrick De Haan, the head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, which tracks gasoline prices. “U.S. oil production fell in the last eight months of President Trump’s tenure. Is that his fault? No.”

“The pandemic brought us to our knees,” Mr. De Haan added.

In the early months of 2020, when the virus took hold, demand for oil dried up and prices plummeted, with the benchmark price for crude oil in the United States falling to negative $37.63 that April. In response, producers in the United States and around the world began decreasing output.

As pandemic restrictions loosened worldwide and economies recovered, demand outpaced supply. That was “mostly attributable” to the decision by OPEC Plus, an alliance of oil-producing countries that controls about half the world’s supply, to limit increases in production, according to the U.S. Energy Information AdministrationDomestic production also remains below prepandemic levels, as capital spending declined and investors remained reluctant to provide financing to the oil industry.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has only compounded the issues.

“When you throw a war on top of this, this is possibly the worst escalation you can have of this,” said Abhiram Rajendran, the head of oil market research at Energy Intelligence, an energy information company. “You’re literally pouring gasoline on general inflationary pressure.”

These factors are largely out of Mr. Biden’s control, experts agreed, though they said he had not exactly sent positive signals to the oil and gas industry and its investors by vowing to reduce emissions and fossil fuel reliance.

Mr. De Haan said the Biden administration was “clearly less friendly” to the industry, which may have indirectly affected investor attitudes. But overall, he said, that stance has played a “very, very small role pushing gas prices up.”

President Biden announced a ban on imports of Russian oil in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
President Biden announced a ban on imports of Russian oil in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Credit…Tom Brenner for The New York Times

Mr. Rajendran said the Biden administration had emphasized climate change issues while paying lip service to energy security.

“There has been a pretty stark miscalculation of the amount of supply we would need to keep energy prices at affordable levels,” he said. “It was taken for granted. There was too much focus on the energy transition.”

But presidents, Mr. Rajendran said, “have very little impact on short-term supply.”

“The key relationship to watch is between companies and investors,” he said.

It is true that the Biden administration is in talks with Venezuela and Iran over their oil supplies. But the administration is also urging American companies to ramp up production — to the dismay of climate change activists and contrary to Republican lawmakers’ suggestions that the White House is intent on handcuffing domestic producers.

Speaking before the National Petroleum Council in December, Jennifer M. Granholm, the energy secretary, told oil companies to “please take advantage of the leases that you have, hire workers, get your rig count up.”


A steady rise. American consumers have seen the cost of gasoline, along with many other goods and services, surge sharply in recent weeks. Last month, gas prices hit their highest level since 2014, and the national average for a gallon of gas is now $3.41, according to AAA.

The role of crude oil production. Gas prices have gone up in part because of fluctuations in supply and demand. Demand for oil fell early in the pandemic, so oil-producing nations cut production. But over the past year, demand for oil recovered far faster than production was restored, driving prices up.

Additional factors at play. The price of crude oil is only one element driving up gas prices. Compliance with renewable-fuel standards can contribute to the cost, the price of ethanol has increased, and labor shortages in the trucking industry have made it more expensive to deliver gas.

A global energy crunch. Other types of fuels, including natural gas and coal, are also growing more expensive. Natural gas prices have shot up more than 150 percent in recent months, threatening to raise prices of food, chemicals, plastic goods and heat this winter.

The U.S. response. To combat soaring prices and their effects on inflation, President Biden ordered the release of oil from the nation’s emergency stockpile. He also asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate possible “illegal conduct” by oil and gas companies.

The notion that the United States gained “energy independence” under Mr. Trump, and reversed course under Mr. Biden, is also misleading.

Even before Mr. Trump took office, the United States had been projected to become a net energy exporter in the 2020s “because favorable geology and technological developments result in the production of oil and natural gas at lower costs,” according to the Energy Information Administration.

The country became a net exporter of petroleum in 2020, the first time since at least 1949. That remained the case in 2021. It became a net exporter of natural gas in 2018 and remains so today, with exports reaching record levels in 2021.

The term “energy independence” can also suggest that the United States did not rely at all on imports. That, too, is untrue. In 2020, the United States still imported 7.9 million barrels of crude oil and other petroleum products a day.

Moreover, the specific policies cited by Republican lawmakers as evidence of Mr. Biden’s supposed “war on American energy” have had little impact on rising gas prices.

The Keystone XL pipeline, which would have expanded an existing system transporting oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, has been a political and environmental battleground since its conception in 2008. The Obama administration denied the company behind it, TransCanada, a construction permit in 2015. The Trump administration approved the permit in 2017, but the project stalled in the face of litigation. By the time Mr. Biden rescinded its permit on his first day in office, just 8 percent of it had been built.

Even if Mr. Biden had greenlighted the project and TransCanada, now known as TC Energy, had won its court battles, it is unlikely that the pipeline would have been operational today given that the company estimated in March 2020 that it would have entered into service in 2023. And “even if it were completed overnight, there’s no capacity for oil to be put into this pipeline,” Mr. De Haan said, pointing to supply chain issues and labor shortages that continue to affect American and Canadian oil and gas producers.

Absent the Keystone XL pipeline, crude oil imports from Canada have nonetheless increased by 70 percent since 2008, transported by other pipelines and rail. The Trump administration itself told PolitiFact in 2017 that the pipeline’s impact on prices at the pump “would be minimal.”

The claims about oil and gas leases are even more incorrect.

Though Mr. Biden temporarily halted new drilling leases on federal lands in January 2021, a federal judge blocked that move last June. In its first year, the Biden administration actually approved 34 percent more of these permits than the Trump administration did in its first year, according to federal data compiled by the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group.

“None of these permits are relevant to production right now,” Mr. Rajendran said. “These permits are for production three, four years down the line. If they had approved 10 times as many permits, we would have the same production issues.”

The Ban on Russian Oil Imports:

Loss of Russian Oil Leaves a Void Not Easily Filled, Straining Market March 9, 2022

Ban on Russian Oil Could Hit the U.S. Economy as Gas Prices Rise March 8, 2022

Biden Bans Oil Imports From Russia, Calling It a ‘Blow to Putin’s War Machine’ March 8, 2022

Linda Qiu is a fact-check reporter, based in Washington. She came to The Times in 2017 from the fact-checking service PolitiFact. @ylindaqiu

Related:

Here are some “ET’s” and extreme precipitation events recorded over the last couple of days:

Here is some more February 2022 climatology:

Here is more climate and weather news from Saturday:

(As usual, this will be a fluid post in which more information gets added during the day as it crosses my radar, crediting all who have put it on-line. Items will be archived on this site for posterity. In most instances click on the pictures of each tweet to see each article. The most noteworthy items will be listed first.)

Now here are some of today’s articles and notes on the horrid war on Ukraine:

(If you like these posts and my work please contribute via the PayPal widget, which has recently been added to this site. Thanks in advance for any support.) 

Guy Walton “The Climate Guy”

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