Jan 20, 2016 - 5:45pm

The Obama Administration’s Oil Pipeline Hypocrisy

Senior Editor, Digital Content


Pipelines run toward oil storage tanks in Cushing, Okla.

A few months after President Barack Obama rejects an oil pipeline from Canada, the U.S. government endorses an oil pipeline in Africa.

Can you say, “Hypocrisy?”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board recently hit on a story about the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec allegedly pledging that the United States would help finance a pipeline connecting oilfields in northwest Kenya to the Indian Ocean coast.

“Kenya and Northeast Africa could certainly use the investment and jobs that would come from the oil project,” writes The WSJ Editorial Board. “Then again, so could the United States.”

The editorial hit a nerve, causing the U.S. embassy in Nairobi to declare that the story was inaccurate: Ambassador Godec didn’t pledge and taxpayer dollars. However, the statement included this interesting nugget [emphasis mine]:

He also expressed support for a proposal by a consortium of American companies to participate in the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor Project, which conceptually includes an oil pipeline component.

LAPSSET is a broad infrastructure project that includes an ocean port, highways, airport improvements, rail lines, and as the embassy notes, an oil pipeline.

Kenyan oil ministry officials estimate it has one billion barrels of oil reserves, and neighboring Uganda is “home to sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth-largest supply of crude oil, with as much as 6.5 billion barrels discovered a decade ago,” Quartz reports. This oil wealth offers plenty of economic opportunities for the region, if they can transport it.

This brings us to the hypocrisy charge.

While the U.S. government won’t pay for an African oil pipeline, it came out in support of one only a few months after President Obama said, “No,” to the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport Canadian and U.S. oil to Gulf Coast refineries. This after seven years of review and numerous environmental studies that found it wouldn’t harm the environment.

The administration’s logic is African oil pipelines: good; North American oil pipelines: bad.

In rejecting the Keystone XL permit application, the State Department claimed, “The extent to which the United States takes action and is understood to be a leader is directly correlated to the Unites States effectiveness in encouraging other countries to step up and take strong action on climate change.”

Apparently U.S. leadership on climate change is endorsing an oil pipeline on another continent.

I’m not complaining about the administration supporting the LAPSSET project. “Between now and 2050, over half of the global population growth will take place in Africa,” Lily Kuo writes at Quartz. Africa will need energy infrastructure to support its growing economies. What Ambassador Godec said simply echoed Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in 2015 when he said he was “very excited about  LAPSSET” and wanted American companies to help build it.

What I have a problem with is the administration’s duplicity.

“What’s with the double standard on pipelines?” asks the WSJ Editorial Board.

The answer: Politics.

Unlike the Keystone XL pipeline, anti-fossil fuel activists haven’t chained themselves to the White House fence to oppose this African pipeline. People like Bill McKibbon haven’t gone hysterical over it. Celebrities haven’t gotten arrested. And to put on my cynical hat, activists haven’t found a way to use LAPSSET to pump up donations like they have with Keystone XL. There hasn’t been a groundswell of ideological activism putting pressure on the Obama administration to oppose the African project. Which is great for Africa’s future, but bad news for the U.S.

Matt Koch at the Institute for 21st Century Energy sums it up well:

One cannot arrive at any conclusion other than that the Obama Administration has a double standard when it comes to crude oil pipeline projects. In the real world where jobs and energy security matter – and not just “perceptions” – supporting an oil pipeline in Kenya only reinforces the fact that the President’s decision to deny Keystone XL was purely political and wrong for America.

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About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.