No major environmental impact from Keystone XL, DOS says

The proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline’s construction and operation would not have significant environmental impacts, the US Department of State said in its long-awaited final supplemental environmental impact statement for the 1,700-mile project.

Approval or denial of any single cross-border crude oil transportation project is unlikely to affect production rates in Alberta’s oil sands or demand from US refineries, DOS said. It prepared the final supplemental EIS after TransCanada Corp., the project’s sponsor, filed an amended application for a cross-border permit in May 2012 after changing its route across Nebraska.

Release of Keystone XL’s final supplemental EIS simply moved the process into a phase to determine whether the project is in the US national interest, supporters and opponents agreed. “My understanding of the executive order this process is operating under is that the determination would require up to 90 days, with another 30 days for a record of decision and the presidential determination,” TransCanada Chief Executive Officer Russ Girling said.

“The case for the project, both before and after this report, is as strong as ever,” he told reporters in a Jan. 31 teleconference. “Our customers still want it. One hundred percent of the capacity has been sold. The players on the system are Canadian and US producers and refiners. There are no Asian shippers. The customers need and want this system, even though some have started to move their product by rail in the interim.”

Keystone XL’s supporters called for quick action by US Sec. of State John F. Kerry and President Barack Obama. “This is the fifth federal study on the environmental impact of the Keystone XL pipeline,” Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said. “Each previous one has stated that building Keystone XL would not adversely affect the environment. Today’s report confirms once again this result, including no appreciable impact on greenhouse gases.”

Puts concerns to rest

“This final review puts to rest any credible concerns about the pipeline’s potential negative impact on the environment,” American Petroleum Institute Pres. Jack N. Gerard said. “This long-awaited project should now be swiftly approved. It’s time to put thousands of Americans to work.”

“The State Department has once again found nothing in its environmental analysis that would prevent the Keystone XL pipeline from moving forward,” US Chamber of Commerce Pres. Thomas J. Donohue declared. “It’s time for the administration to stop playing politics with a project that will create good-paying American jobs, improve our energy security, and strengthen relations with our closest ally, Canada.”

Obama vowed to approve Keystone XL if it was proven to be environmentally safe, according to American Fuel & Petrochemicals Manufacturers Pres. Charles T. Drevna. “Today’s release of the pipeline’s supplemental EIS provides the irrefutable evidence sought by the president, and he should waste no further time in delivering on his promise,” he said.

Meanwhile, National Association of Manufacturers Pres. Jay Timmons said, “Today the president has the opportunity to adhere to his State of the Union promise to cut the red tape that is slowing down job-creating infrastructure projects. The Keystone XL pipeline is Exhibit A of red tape, and there is no better opportunity to eliminate unnecessary obstacles while growing our economy than approving the pipeline.”

Association of Oil Pipe Lines Pres. Andrew J. Black welcomed the project’s final supplemental EIS. “Pipelines are the safest way to transport crude oil and the DOS review for Keystone XL confirms that,” he said. It also found that number of barrels of crude released into the environment would be higher if Keystone XL was not constructed because the oil would find its way to markets by other transportation modes that aren’t as safe, Black said.

In nation’s interest

“We have our answer. Keystone XL will have minimal impact on the environment,” said Michael Whatley, executive vice-president of the Consumer Energy Alliance. “The next step of the process will allow the public to register its approval of the project, and then for the administration to make a decision regarding the permit on the merits. Confidently, we can now say Keystone XL is in the nation's interest.”

Environmental organizations and other opponents immediately dismissed the supplemental EIS’s findings as corrupted by oil industry influence and seriously flawed.

“[DOS’s] environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline is a farce,” declared Friends of the Earth Pres. Erich Pica. “Since the beginning of the assessment, the oil industry has had a direct pipeline into the agency. Perhaps most frustrating is the apparent collusion between [DOS], the oil industry, and the Canadian government.”

“Even though [DOS] continues to downplay clear evidence that the Keystone XL pipeline would lead to tar sands expansion and significantly worsen carbon pollution, it has, for the first time, acknowledged that the proposed project could accelerate climate change,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, international program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “President Obama now has all the information he needs to reject the pipeline. This is absolutely not in our national interest.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, meanwhile, said, “The president has two choices before him: fighting climate disruption, or promoting an energy policy that includes the expansion of dirty fossil fuels like tar sands. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline fails the basic climate test, and it’s not in the interest of the American people. The president should reject the tar sands pipeline once and for all.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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