By Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson
1 March 2013
(Washington Post) – The State Department released a draft environmental impact assessment of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline Friday afternoon, suggesting that blocking the project would not have a significant impact on either the future development of Canada’s oil sands region or U.S. oil consumption.
The analysis, which will inform the decision President Obama must make later this year on whether to grant TransCanada the permit to construct the pipeline connecting Alberta’s oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries, does not give environmentalists the answer they had hoped for in the debate over the project’s climate impact. Opponents say a presidential veto of the project would send a powerful message to the world about the importance of moving away from fossil fuels and make it more difficult for Canada to export its energy-intensive oil.
But the detailed environmental report — which runs close to 2,000 pages long — also questions one of the strongest arguments for the pipeline, by suggesting America can meet its energy needs over the next decade without it. The growth in rail transport of oil from western Canada and the Bakken Formation on the Great Plains and other pipelines, the analysis says, could meet the country’s energy needs for the next decade, even if Keystone XL never gets built.
The president is not likely to make a final decision on TransCanada’s permit application until mid-summer at the earliest. The analysis will be subject to at least 45 days of public comment once it is published next Friday in the Federal Register, and the State Department will have to respond to hundreds of thousands of comments before finalizing its environmental impact statement. The State Department will also have to conduct a separate analysis of whether the project is in the national interest, a question on which eight other agencies will offer input over 90 days.
Jim Murphy, senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, said there is no way for Obama to reconcile his commitment to addressing climate change with approval of the pipeline.
“As a practical matter, without access to major U.S. ports from KXL and other routes, tar sands production will be substantially slowed,” Murphy said. “With each major artery to a market that is clogged, the chances of stifling tar sands production greatly increases and investors will only stand behind this fuel for so long and withstand so much market uncertainty and pressure to keep this resource in the ground.”
Supporters of the project say it will ensure a secure supply of oil from Canada, one of the nation’s closest allies, and will generate high-paying U.S. jobs over the project’s two-year construction.
“This is one step closer to unleashing thousands of jobs that will benefit labor workers who have some of the highest unemployment in the country,” said Sabrina Fang, a spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute. ”This project is also going to help reduce our dependence on oil from less stable parts of the world.”
The Keystone XL has sparked widespread opposition along the pipeline route, where it crossed rivers, ranches and farms, and across the country, where critics said it would facilitate the exploitation of Canada’s oil sands, or tar sands. Because the extraction of bitumen from those sands is an energy-intensive process, it emits more greenhouse gases than the extraction of oil from conventional reservoirs. [more]