House subcommittee passes bill to expedite Keystone XL decision

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, June 16 -- A US House Energy and Commerce subcommittee passed a bill aimed at expediting a final Department of State decision on a cross-border permit for a proposed crude oil pipeline from Canada. HR 1938, which the Energy and Power Subcommittee approved in a bipartisan voice vote on June 15, moved to the full committee for consideration.

The bill, which committee member Lee Terry (R-Neb.) introduced on May 23, would require a decision on whether the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast within 30 days of the necessary environmental impact statement’s completion, but no later than Nov. 1.

The US Environmental Protection Agency said in comments submitted on June 6 to DOS that the supplemental draft EIS for the proposed project does not contain enough information about possible consequences or available alternatives.

“Our concerns include the potential impacts to groundwater resources from spills, as well as effects on emission levels at refineries in the Gulf Coast,” said Cynthia Giles, EPA’s assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance. The agency also is concerned about potential associated greenhouse gas emissions, and felt that the supplemental draft EIS did not contain sufficient information to fully assess environmental consequences, including potential impacts to groundwater and communities that could be affected by possibly higher refinery emissions, she said.

Supporters argued that the project would bring nearly 1.3 million b/d of oil from Alberta and North Dakota to refineries from the US Midcontinent to the Gulf Coast while creating 20,000 jobs during its construction. Opponents contended that the heavy crude from Alberta oil sands that would be in it would have adverse climate impacts and that TransCanada Inc., its sponsor, is having trouble safely operating the Canadian-US system it already has.

“If we let this opportunity slip by because of delaying this decision, this North American energy supply will go to other countries and be returned to us at a premium,” Terry said following the vote. “Not only that, we will lose jobs that could have been created both in construction and refining. We cannot afford to continue to delay.”

National Petrochemical & Refiners Association Pres. Charles T. Drevna applauded the bill’s passage. “Today’s bipartisan vote is an important step to end the delays…. This pipeline would strengthen America’s economic and national security and provide jobs for American workers,” he said in a June 15 statement.

The subcommittee approved the bill a day before it was scheduled to hold a hearing on pipeline safety oversight. Scheduled witnesses include US Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration Administrator Cynthia L. Quarterman, Association of Oil Pipe Lines President Andrew J. Black, and Pipeline Safety Trust Executive Director Carl Weimer.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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