Jim West/ZUMA Press/Newscom

As the U.S. commemorates the 40th anniversary of passage of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline Authorization Act of 1973, it is worth remembering the challenges the project overcame and how they mirror the challenges facing the Keystone XL Pipeline today.

An 800-mile engineering marvel, the Alaska Pipeline was completed in two years and two months—but only after Congress acted to end interminable delays forced on the builders long after they completed the required environmental impact statements. Contrary to the dire predictions from many opponents, the Alaska Pipeline has had an excellent environmental record and has delivered 16 billion barrels of petroleum along with royalty revenue and thousands of jobs.

The Keystone XL, which would transport oil from Alberta (and some U.S. locations) to the Gulf Coast, has been even more extensively studied than the Alaska Pipeline was when Congress approved it in 1973. Yet it is still being stalled by environmental groups seeking to prevent any possibility of the pipeline being built in the United States—even after a series of favorable environmental impact statements (EIS) and a supplemental EIS recently issued by the State Department.

Of course, if environmentalists are successful in blocking the pipeline, that doesn’t mean the Canadian oil will not be produced. It simply means that it would be routed to China. When President Obama denied a permitting request for the Keystone XL in early 2012, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Canadian Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver suggested that they’d be looking to the Chinese as an alternative investor.

In fact, the Chinese-government-owned Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation last month completed a $15.1 billion transaction to acquire Canadian oil and gas company Nexen, Inc. The deal included rights to drill for oil next to America in the Gulf of Mexico. There is little doubt China would be interested in additional petroleum from the Canadian oil sands.

In 1973, turmoil in the Middle East led to rising oil prices and, ultimately, congressional action to end the delays blocking the Alaska Pipeline. With the past in mind, Congress should consider action to expedite the Keystone XL Pipeline so that we can secure more North American energy production without delay.