Will Vladimir Putin inadvertantly save the Keystone XL pipeline? It is possible.
Mr. Putin's major leverage in Europe today is its dependence on Russian oil and gas. Diminishing that dependence will take time but it should be a major policy goal of both European governments and the United States.
Building the Keystone XL pipeline would be a small but symbolic step in that direction. It would bring Canadian oil extracted from oil sands to the United States for refinement and possible export.
Another near-term measure that could help to change the global energy security picture would be repeal of a 1970s law requiring a federal license to export petroleum and natural gas. The Council on Foreign Relations calls the existing licensing process slow and opaque, a constraint that is no longer in the national interest as North American production increases.
In the near future, U.S. businesses should be encouraged to develop liquid natural gas export facilities. And European governments should move quickly to license fracking for the large natural gas deposits that have been identified in, for example, Poland and Britain.
Most of these measures will be anathema to many environmentalists, who will be faced in coming months with a real dilemma. Do they continue adamant opposition to all projects to expand production of fossil fuels at the cost of being accused of weakening Western democracy? Given the conviction that only renewable fuels can save the planet, that will be a tough call, because environmentally friendly energy sources are not yet ready to take up the slack if there is a fossil fuel crisis.
It is the threat that he can impose just such a crisis on Europe that gives Mr. Putin the confidence to dismiss Western protests against his latest land grab in Crimea. To combat this arm-lock on Europe will take a concerted Western effort to find alternative fuel supples for Europe, not just solar, wind, biomass and geothermal, but more urgently, fossil. Europe may also be forced to reconsider its retreat from nuclear power.
So far there is no sign of abatement in the head-to-head battle between environmentalists and the fossil fuel industry over Keystone XL pipeline. But that could change as the perception grows that U.S. and Western efforts to deter future Russian power plays will be largely futile as long as Mr. Putin controls Europe's energy supply. A strong majority of Americans already support the Keystone project.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry could pay a large political price if they ignore this sentiment and fail to take the steps needed to redress the global balance of energy power.
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