Opinion Pieces

America's response to Iraq should begin with approving Keystone XL

Washington, July 2, 2014

Washington Examiner

by Rep. Devin Nunes

With the lightning advance of ISIS' jihadist army to the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq is falling into chaos.

The country's Shiites are mobilizing militias to fight the Sunni terrorists, while the nation faces a good possibility of some sort of Iranian intervention.

Regardless of who ultimately wins this conflict, Iraq looks destined for a prolonged period of instability.

This once again jeopardizes a crucial source of the world's oil - crude prices spiked to $107 a barrel after ISIS attacked Iraq's biggest oil refinery, and prices will rise further if fighting spreads to the south, home to most of Iraq's oil production.

These days we cannot assume that dependable energy suppliers will remain stable. America's second-biggest oil supplier is Saudi Arabia - if that kingdom were undermined by one of the region's many conflicts, the effect on our oil supply would contaminate the whole U.S. economy.

Even outside the Middle East, the repressive communist policies of the regime in Venezuela - our fourth-largest oil supplier - have sparked economic and political crises, as such policies tend to do.

Meanwhile Nigeria, which is our eighth-biggest oil supplier, is prone to oil production disruptions and destabilizing attacks by the al Qaeda-affiliated Boko Haram terror group.

These events affect us because the U.S. relies on the OPEC cartel for around 40 percent of our oil imports. But that need not be the case much longer.

Thanks to fracking and horizontal drilling, domestic energy production is surging, with crude oil production jumping 50 percent since 2008 and natural gas production rising one-third since 2005.

Moreover, our output will continue accelerating, with shale production booming in North Dakota, large-scale shale projects expected to begin in Texas and Oklahoma, and potential shale windfalls awaiting in CaliforniaColorado and elsewhere.

Amid these riches, the United States could very well become a net energy exporter – but our government needs to end the restrictions that for decades have kept us at the mercy of foreign suppliers.

By boosting our energy production, the U.S. could restore its diminishing influence in the world without expending blood and treasure – in fact, we would reap major economic benefits.

For example, Japan has scrambled to find reliable oil, coal, and natural gas suppliers since it shut down its nuclear power plants following the Fukushima incident.

While it has committed to some U.S. natural gas exports, imagine the economic benefits we would reap if Japan could turn to the U.S. instead of its traditional Middle Eastern suppliers to meet all its new energy needs.

Likewise, imagine the geo-strategic impact if Europe - where green regulations have strangled energy production - could rely on the U.S. for more energy and break its debilitating dependence on Russia, which has shown in GeorgiaUkraine, and Syria its unwillingness to reset its aggressive policies.

And imagine the self-confidence that would infuse our foreign policy if we were no longer beholden for our energy supply to countries that will probably remain unstable for at least a generation.

Thus, as Iraq collapses before our eyes, it's more urgent than ever to approve the Keystone XLPipeline, which would transport an estimated 800,000 barrels of oil per day - more oil than currently flows through the Alaska pipeline.

Though President Obama's own State Department has verified Keystone's environmental sustainability, opposition to the pipeline has become a touchstone issue for environmental extremists.

Paralyzed, the president has refused to decide this question, afraid to either approve the pipeline and upset a key part of his support base, or reject the pipeline, forego the jobs and dependable energy it would supply, and anger the overwhelming majority of Americans who are not part of the environmental fringe.

Time, however, may be running out, as the increasingly impatient Canadian government recently approved a potential alternative pipeline that would move oil to the Pacific for likely transport to China.

Of course, the government also has to repeal self-defeating regulations that hamper nuclear power, coal production, liquefied natural gas exports, and energy exploration off our coasts and on federal lands.

It’s especially crucial that we open up the Green River Formation which, according to a Rand Corporation estimate, conceivably has as much recoverable oil as the entire world’s proven reserves combined.

But instead, the Obama administration is moving in the opposite direction, mandating draconian new emission standards that will devastate coal production.

Despite the enormous cost, Obama is wedded to his all-encompassing program to force into existence a utopian “green economy” - a textbook case of central planning whose main features, as with most such efforts, are waste, manipulation, favoritism, cronyism, and fraud.

The U.S. will likely have to deploy a wide array of counterterrorism assets for years to keep Iraq from becoming safe haven for terrorists bent on attacking us.

But there is one tactic we can employ now to begin revitalizing our international influence: We should engage in an all-out push for domestic energy production.

Not only would our economy benefit, but we’d be giving energy-poor nations an alternative supplier to the corrupt kleptocracies and fanatical sectarians who, by controlling so much of the world’s energy, control the fates of so many people.