Opinion

Beyond the Keystone XL pipeline, what's the next energy fight?

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Canada,Russia,Ted Cruz,China,Ashe Schow,Keystone XL

Building the Keystone XL pipeline my be the topic du jour on the energy front these days, but Congress should start looking beyond it in order to get a head start on the next big fight.

In that vain, Sen. Ted Cruz gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Feb. 10, telling Republicans to “think bigger” than Keystone XL.

"Yes, President Obama should drop his political opposition to the Keystone pipeline," Cruz said. "But we also need to think bigger than Keystone. We need an energy policy that goes beyond Keystone.”

“Here we stand with our toes at the edge of an energy revolution that could sweep the nation, providing an untold number of new opportunities and well-paying jobs," Cruz added.

But what comes after Keystone XL?

According to Canada, China and Russia, the next energy front may be the Arctic.

The decades-long decrease in overall Arctic sea ice (Yes, conservatives, it is on the decline.) is opening up the region’s vast resources – namely oil and minerals.

“A 2008 study by the U.S. Geological Survey estimates the Arctic Circle, north of 66 degrees latitude, contains ‘90 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil, 1,670 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of technically recoverable natural gas liquids,'” wrote a former Pentagon spokesman, J.D. Gordon, in The Hill. “That's approximately 22 percent of the world's untapped petroleum product resources, including 13 percent of oil, 30 percent of natural gas and 20 percent of natural-gas liquids.”

But who gets all those sweet, sweet resources?

You can bet that Russian President Vladimir Putin has staked a claim to the Arctic - half of it, actually.

“Russia, a member of the eight-nation Arctic Council, along with the U.S., Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark, which represents Greenland, has claimed that its 200-mile Economic Exclusion Zone ought to extend hundreds more to the North Pole,” Gordon said. “Insisting the undersea Lomonosov Ridge is really just part of Russia’s continental shelf, Putin launched a scientific expedition to plant a rust-proof titanium Russian flag on the North Pole’s sea floor.”

Forget planting a flag on the moon, Putin’s thinking in the opposite direction – the depths of the ocean.

But claiming that much of the Arctic didn’t sit well with Canada, prompting Justice minister Peter MacKay, to tell the BBC back in 2007: “This isn’t the 15th century. You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say ‘We’re claiming this territory.’”

Well said.

In December 2013, Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper instructed his government to draft an international claim to the Arctic and include the North Pole. Boom.

Think China is going to sit this one out? Think again. After throwing around some money, China was admitted to the Arctic Council as a “permanent observer,” allowing it limited participation in Council activity but not the ability to vote.

How is the U.S. getting involved? Well, the State Department wants to appoint an Arctic ambassador to the region. Which Obama bundler do you think would get that job?

But not everyone believes the Arctic is the next frontier – mainly because it’s so cold and breaking through all the ice to the resources takes some very expensive equipment.

Mark Mills, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who focuses on energy issues, is one such detractor, and believes the battle for the Arctic has more to do with geopolitical forces than accessible resources.

“The reality is that despite vast oil and gas resources, the Arctic remains far too expensive compared to accessing the greater and easier hydrocarbons on land (shale’s everywhere) and in deep water around the world,” Mills told the Washington Examiner. “The idea that the Arctic is somewhat more accessible now is true, but only marginally relevant from a practical and economic perspective.”

“Nonetheless, nation-states need to and will lay down markers on geopolitical and geographic issues – as they should,” Mills added. “But not for any oil or gas that anyone will spend serious money on any time soon.”

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