Mitt Romney alone can no longer be saddled with the label of most obvious flip-flopper among this year’s presidential candidates. That honor instead belongs to Barack Obama, whose 180 on the Keystone XL pipeline construction last week was sufficient to induce whiplash among oil industry executives and green advocates alike.
In an effort to actually make good on his “all of the above” energy policy, promoting both fossil fuel and renewable energy, President Obama had no choice but to pull off a neck-twisting reversal. Five months ago he postponed a decision on whether to build a controversial $7 billion pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands fuel down to Texas refineries. But it turns out that was only a temporary sop to the activists who see the structure as both an environmental threat as well as the embodiment of reckless Big Oil greed.
Now, with his opponents falsely equating current high oil prices with Obama’s perceived inaction on domestic energy development, Obama is acting differently. He’s scrambling to counter them by not only reconsidering the earlier postponement but actually accelerating the pipeline’s build as a national priority.
As recently as Mar. 8, Senate Democrats echoed Obama’s early wariness on the pipeline by defeating a Republican bill to fast-track Keystone’s construction. The bill fell short by four votes, no doubt due to Obama’s personal outreach to several senators for their “no” vote, prompting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to remark: “At a moment when millions are out of work, gas prices are sky-rocketing and the Middle East is in turmoil, we’ve got a president who’s up making phone calls trying to block a pipeline here at home. It’s unbelievable.” After two weeks of damaging poll results, Obama hurried to a photo-op in Cushing, Oklahoma to announce his embrace of the pipeline project.
It would be easy to dismiss such quick U-turns as election year politics-as-usual, but perhaps the truth is that Obama and his advisers finally saw the light on the game-changing potential of North America’s energy opportunities. Within the oil and gas sector, the talk of America becoming energy independent has reached fever pitch since Obama nixed his earlier decision on Keystone. Last week’s Wall Street Journal op-ed by renowned Citigroup energy analyst Ed Morse, “Move Over OPEC – Here We Come,” painted a dramatic picture of a Western hemisphere hydrocarbon revolution based on the current glut of Canadian oil sands crude, American shale gas and Mexican offshore drilling, rendering the Americas as “the new Middle East.”