Thursday, September 04, 2008


While watching Governor Sarah Palin speaking at the Republican National Convention, I began taking notes every time she said something that just didn't seem to be correct. This post is an example of political chicanery at its best, using one of the items from Palin's speech.

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin talked about the big pipeline that will be built from Alaska to the lower 48 states:

That pipeline, when the last section is laid and its valves are opened, will lead America one step farther away from dependence on dangerous foreign powers that do not have our interests at heart.


Here's the real story. The oil companies that have been pumping oil from the North Slope of Alaska are coming to the end of the oil that is easily recovered in those fields. There is a lot more oil there, but it is much more difficult, and expensive, to recover. Those oil fields contain a lot of natural gas; however, there is no way to get the natural gas to the lower 48 United States, where there is a market demand for the gas.

The solution? The big oil companies will build a big pipeline from the Alaska North Slope to the lower 48 in order to deliver that gas to a welcoming market. The profits from the sale of the natural gas will finance the more expensive extraction of oil from the North Slope oil fields. And, of course, the State of Alaska and Alaskan citizens get a big share of the profits.

So what about leading us away from "dependence on dangerous foreign powers?" A few facts:
  • In 2007 the United States imported 4,607,582 million cubic feet (mcf) of natural gas (add six zeros for the number of cubic feet)
  • Of that total, 3,836,770 mcf were imported via pipeline, and 770,812 as liquefied natural gas (LNG) aboard ships
  • of the total gas imported via pipeline, 98.6 percent was from Canada and the remainder from Mexico
  • of the total LNG imported to the U.S., 58.5 percent was from Trinidad, 14.8 percent from Egypt, and 12.3 percent was from Nigeria.
Unless I've missed something in the news lately, I don't think that Canada, Mexico, Trinidad, Egypt and Nigeria are "dangerous foreign powers."

There's another interesting piece to this tale. There are presently exports of natural gas from Alaska; 60,765 mcf in 2006 (the latest year for which numbers are available). All of this natural gas is exported to one country - Japan - and I assume that it is shipped as LNG. So why not ship the natural gas from the North Slope to the lower 48 states as LNG? Because people in the lower 48 states don't want LNG terminals built in their back yards.

So here's the real story:
  1. the Palin Pipeline will have nothing to do with leading "America one step farther away from dependence on dangerous foreign powers that do not have our interests at heart."
  2. the Palin Pipeline has nothing to do with our dependence on foreign oil.
  3. the Palin Pipeline is being built for one reason - profits for the oil companies and the State of Alaska, some of which will be invested into recovering more oil from the North Slope oil fields as the existing easily-produced oil runs out - which might be a zero sum game in terms of the amount of oil shipped to the lower 48 states.
The tale of Palin's Pipeline was a well-written piece of fiction for a cynical speech given by an unknown pit bull with lipstick. I hope the American voters see through this Republican spin and look at the real issues.

Information sources:
- Alaska Business Magazine
- Energy Information Administration (official energy statistics by the U.S. government)

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