State Dept. releases environmental analysis of Keystone XL pipeline impact

By Daniel Wheaton on March 4th, 2013

The release of a new environmental analysis of the Keystone XL Pipeline Friday afternoon has moved the project closer to completion and dealt a blow to its opponents.

The U.S. Department of State analyzed the environmental impact of the pipeline and reported the pipeline, and subsequent use of oil, would create the same amount of global warming pollution as an estimated 626,000 passenger vehicles. Additionally, it found without the pipeline, more crude oil would be transported by rail, which would drive up costs.

The news gives President Barack Obama a political shield if he chooses to approve the pipeline in the coming months.

During the media briefing, Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones, said the state department will hold a public meeting in Nebraska in the next 45 days.

Department officials haven’t decided a time and place have yet.

“We’ll try to announce it as soon as possible because we know there’s a lot of planning involved, and we look forward to working with our friends in Nebraska,” Jones said.

The Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is simply a review of the impacts of the pipeline and not an endorsement for or against it. The report suggests two alternatives, including the original route that crosses the Sandhills and another alternative that would flow east from Interstate 90 in South Dakota and join the pipeline – running parallel to the Keystone XL route that was recently approved by the governor.

Keystone XL pipeline opponents said the documents were not enough to remedy their concerns. Worries about spills, how it could impact tribal lands and possible harms to the water system were not adequately answered, opponents have said, echoing the response when Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality released their report in January.

“You know the news is bad when a report is dropped at 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon,” said Michael Brune of the environmentalist group the Sierra Club.

Bold Nebraska,, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council – all opponents of the pipeline – held a joint press conference where they warned about the possible economic harms. Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, said the report did not address what an oil spill could do to the Ogallala Aquifer and other bodies of water across the state.

“We do not have a single study conducted by our government on what a worst-case-scenario spill, of at least 150,000 barrels, would look like on the aquifer or our rivers or on private farm and ranch land,” Kleeb said during a press conference.

In a statement about the report, TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard noted the success of their existing pipelines and the possible economic impacts of construction. Howard estimates the pipeline will create 20,000 construction and manufacturing jobs in the short-term.

The southern portion of the pipeline, from Cushing, Okla., to the Texas coast, is about half-way complete.

“Completing the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Keystone XL is an important step towards receiving a Presidential Permit for this critical energy infrastructure project,” said Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer, in a statement. “No one has a stronger interest than TransCanada does in making sure that Keystone XL operates safely, and more than four years of exhaustive study and environmental review show the care and attention we have placed on ensuring this is the safest oil pipeline built to date in the United States.”

This report is the latest in a series of events that has brought the completion of TransCanada’s pipeline to fruition. On Jan. 22, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman approved a new route of the pipeline, which moved it farther to the east. He sent a letter to Obama and the state department stating his intentions.

The president and Secretary of State John Kerry have the final say in the project because it crosses international borders.


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