Keystone XL national interest comments deadline approaches

Groups on both sides said support has grown for their positions as the US Department of State’s Mar. 7 deadline approached for comments on whether the proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline is in the nation’s best interest.

“This time, we hope we’re finally set for approval,” said Cindy Schild, the American Petroleum Institute’s downstream senior operations manager for refining and oil sands.

“After five reviews, we hope to finally see public support make an impact in addition to the science that’s already on hand,” she told reporters during a Mar. 6 teleconference. “Just the 500,000 comments our organization was able to mobilize with its grassroots partners shows how strong the support is.”

Opponents announced they plan to deliver twice that amount—1 million—of public comments against a national interest finding to DOS on Mar. 7 following a rally at and march from a nearby park.

They said that US Sec. of State John F. Kerry “has stated that only now is he getting involved with the process, and [they] want to make sure he has full information about grassroots opposition, climate impacts, environmental and health concerns, and the lack of a route in Nebraska.”

Other pipelines planned

Schild said US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and other government experts have said Alberta’s oil sands will be developed no matter what the outcome is for TransCanada Corp.’s latest cross-border permit application for Keystone XL. Five other pipelines to move crude oil from the region have been announced, she noted.

“Certainly, Enbridge [Inc.] is looking at plans to bring oil sands oil to market as well,” Schild said. The Calgary company announced on Mar. 3 that it has received $7 billion of support from shippers to replace and increase the capacity of its Line 3 system from Hardisty, Alta., to Superior, Wis., by second-half 2017.

Environmental organizations were not pleased. “Will this new pipeline ‘significantly exacerbate’ carbon pollution? Of course it will,” Doug Hayes, a Sierra Club staff attorney, said on Mar. 4. “Doubling the size of a pipeline that carries toxic, corrosive tar sands crude will require a full environmental review and will meet the same level of scrutiny and opposition as the other proposed tar sands pipeline projects.”

“We’re clearly seeing the need for more Canadian oil,” Schild said. “It’s replacing what we import from Venezuela. I think it shows that Keystone is more a political symbol than a reflection of the market as a whole.”

Congress shows patience

Asked about possible political ramifications, she said there has been some talk about how US President Barack Obama’s final decision and its timing could affect mid-term elections later this year.

“Certainly, we’ve seen efforts in Congress to take this decision out of the president’s hands, although there’s been more patience shown recently,” Schild said. “Several members are still pushing for approval.”

More than three quarters of likely voters polled in four key states—Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, and North Carolina—said they will consider a candidate’s position on energy issues, such as Keystone XL, before deciding whom they will support, the Houston-based Consumer Energy Alliance said on Mar. 5.

It said surveys conducted by Hickman Analytics Inc. of about 400 likely voters in each state found Democrats running for reelection to the US Senate would lose 42-46% of the respondents’ support in November if the president rejects the Keystone XL application despite three of the lawmakers supporting the project.

Schild said she thinks DOS has handled its latest deliberations process well. “There were over a million comments just on the last EIS alone,” she said during the teleconference. “Several hearings were held. The time probably lagged on a bit, but the process certainly seems to have been transparent.

“At this point, all that’s left is for the president to determine this project is in our nation’s interest,” Schild said. “For the next 60 days or so, that’s what the conversation will be about.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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