Daniel Gross

A Northern Pipeline President Obama Should Love

Contrary Indicator

President Obama is visiting Cushing, Oklahoma -- the U.S. energy hub -- and touting his administration's efforts to fast-track a new pipeline that would run from there to the Texas Gulf Coast. That's the southern leg of the Keystone Pipeline, which was proposed to carry oil from Alberta's tar sands through Cushing to refineries and export markets on the Gulf Coast. The administration earlier this year said it would not permit construction of the full pipeline, citing environmental objections.

But that's not the biggest pipeline news today. In the Financial Times, Ed Crooks reports ($ required) that three large energy companies — BP, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhilips — are considering a $40 billion pipeline project that would enable them to export liquefied natural gas from Alaska to Asia.

This is a pipeline the president should love. And he'd be smart to get behind it for several reasons.

It would represent a huge infrastructure project, and act as a form of stimulus. Translation: lots of construction jobs over a period of several years.

The proposed Alaska pipeline also contrasts with the Keystone Pipeline in several important ways. Keystone is essentially a conduit for a foreign-produced product (Canadian tar sands oil), and a dirty, polluting one at that, to reach end users outside the country.

By contrast, the Alaska pipeline would liberate a stranded, more environmentally friendly American asset. There are vast reserves of natural gas in Alaska. But they aren't being put to any use and won't be any time soon. As Crooks notes, "Alaska's North Slope has proven reserves of 356 trillion cubic feet of gas — about one-eighth of total US reserves — and undiscovered resource estimated at 236 trillion cubic feet. Without a pipeline, however, the gas is worthless."

The idea being discussed is to construct a pipeline from the North Slope to areas on Alaska's coast, where the natural gas could be liquefied and then loaded on tanker ships bound for Asia — an area that is close to Alaska and that has huge energy needs. So let's review: This pipeline would add meaningfully to the world's supply of a cleaner-burning fuel. It would create jobs and stimulate investment in processing in U.S. territory. And the sales would result in a large and recurring set of exports for the U.S., thus helping to reduce the trade deficit.

Supporting this pipeline won't help President Obama win Alaska in November's election. But it would still be a smart move — politically and economically.

Daniel Gross is economics editor at Yahoo! Finance.

Follow him on Twitter @grossdm; email him at grossdaniel11@yahoo.com.

His next book, Better, Stronger, Faster: The Myth of American Decline and the Rise of a New Economy, will be published in May and is available for pre-order.

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