PolitiFact: Pro-GOP ad in Arizona Senate race falsely links Keystone pipeline to gasoline prices

In the Arizona Senate race, a $1.5 million ad buy accuses Democrat Mark Kelly of worsening pain at the pump.
Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 4:31 PM MST
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WASHINGTON (Politifact) - In the Arizona Senate race, a $1.5 million ad buy accuses Democrat Mark Kelly of worsening pain at the pump.

“Mark Kelly voted against the Keystone pipeline, which caused higher gas prices,” the ad from the political action committee Saving Arizona said. It also said the Republican candidate Blake Masters, whom Saving Arizona backs, supports the pipeline and “energy independence.”

The pipeline project, which was terminated in 2021, would have transported crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Nebraska, where it would then connect with another leg stretching to Gulf Coast refineries. From there, refined petroleum products could be sold either in the U.S. or to foreign buyers.

The ad’s statement is flawed, because the Keystone pipeline had no connection to the 2021 rise — and subsequent fall — in gas prices. Even if the pipeline project had continued, it would not have been constructed in time to have any effect on 2021 or 2022 oil production. And if it had been built, it would not have boosted crude oil supplies enough to impact gas prices.

The Keystone pipeline-gas price disconnect

On his first day in office —Jan. 20, 2021 — President Joe Biden issued an executive order to cancel Keystone XL. No congressional action was involved.

Gasoline prices started edging up for consumers before Biden took office, and climbed afterward. But Keystone XL was far from finished — as of January 2021, there were over 1,000 miles of 2,687 total miles of pipeline remaining to be built. Experts said that any impact from the pipeline would have been years away.

“The pipeline shutdown has absolutely nothing to do with gas prices,” Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, a fuel pricing information and data provider, told PolitiFact in December 2021. “Prices are higher because production has lagged behind, not because there isn’t enough pipeline capacity — there is.”

Another point: Pipelines such as Keystone XL that facilitate the transport of oil don’t necessarily correlate to an increase in oil production.

At capacity, Keystone XL could have carried as many as 830,000 barrels of oil a day. But just because the pipeline could have transported that much oil “does not mean that production in Canada would have been 800,000 barrels a day higher than today,” Jason Bordoff, founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University told us in August 2021.

The pipeline might have simply supplanted other types of transportation, such as tanker trucks, that move oil out of Alberta.

Plus, there was no guarantee that the resulting refined petroleum products would have been sold to American gasoline providers, which would be necessary to lower per-gallon prices domestically.

The recent downward trend in gas prices further undermines the idea that there’s a link between the Keystone XL pipeline and gas prices. According to Gas Buddy, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline has fallen from about $5 in July to about $3.70 in mid-September.

During that period, the Keystone XL pipeline remained unbuilt.

Kelly’s votes

The ad says Kelly voted against the pipeline. He did. In 2021, on Feb. 4, Feb. 5, and March 6, Kelly voted against amendments or motions that expressed support for the Keystone XL pipeline.

But context matters.

The first two of those votes came as Democrats were passing a budget resolution in advance of the American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion spending bill for pandemic relief. Republicans proposed hundreds of amendments, two of which conveyed acceptance of Keystone XL.

Those two nay votes by Kelly were “purely symbolic,” said congressional scholar Sarah Binder, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy group, and professor at George Washington University.

“Budget resolutions don’t go to the president for a signature and thus never have the force of law,” Binder said.

In fact, one of the amendments passed, but had no impact on the pipeline’s fate.

In contrast, a March proposal could have changed the American Rescue Plan Act to fund approval of the Keystone pipeline. But that motion failed on a 49-50 straight party-line vote, with one Republican not voting.

Binder said Republicans went into these votes knowing they would lose. But winning wasn’t the point.

“Sending messages back to supporters and voters back home is often the name of the game when you’re in the Senate minority,” Binder said.

And, she added, if the votes make opposing-party lawmakers squirm and take a clear position on a controversial matter, that’s viewed as a plus, too.

Our ruling

In a campaign ad, Saving Arizona said Kelly “voted against the Keystone pipeline, which caused higher gas prices.”

Biden stopped additional construction of the pipeline in early 2021, and that did not require congressional action.

Kelly later voted against two amendments and one motion that could have restarted construction. But two of those measures lacked the force of law.

Even if construction had continued, the project was years from completion and its status had no connection to the rise or fall in gasoline prices.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

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