President Barack Obama has released an environmental-impact report that divorces the Keystone XL pipeline from the notion of increasing the rate of Alberta oil sands extraction, therefore potentially removing one of his stated objections to the project.
The Department of State’s official environmental impact report, under review for months by the Obama administration, concludes that the addition of the pipeline “is unlikely to prompt oil companies to change the rate of their extraction of carbon-heavy tar sands oil,” reported The New York Times, adding that according to the report, “Either way, the tar sands oil, which produces significantly more planet-warming carbon pollution than standard methods of drilling, is coming out of the ground.”
As the State Department put it in the report’s Executive Summary, “approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs, and supply-demand scenarios.”
Last year Obama stated that he would not approve the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline—which would carry 830,000 barrels of oil daily for a total of 1,700 miles from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico Coast of Texas—if it would contribute significantly to the levels of carbon in the atmosphere. Oil sands extraction leaves one of the biggest carbon footprints of any human activity, more than conventional drilling does.
Many more steps lie between this report and final approval, The New York Times noted. That includes determining whether the project is in the national interest by evaluating such considerations as the economic impact and the effect that the decision could have on U.S.–Canada relations.
Also still pending are the results of an investigation into some of the consultants who compiled the environmental report after it surfaced that some of them had worked previously for TransCanada, Keystone XL’s would-be builder. That matter is still being investigated by the Office of Inspector General, The New York Times said.
“If investigators determine a conflict of interest in the preparation of that draft, the State Department may have to conduct a fresh environmental review,” the newspaper said.
Obama last summer appeared to snigger at the paltry number of actual jobs that the project would provide, especially permanent ones.
Canada’s patience appears to be wearing thin. On a mid-January visit to Washington, D.C., Foreign Minister Joel Baird told Obama point blank to stop waffling.
“If there’s one message I’m going to be promoting on this trip, it’s time for Keystone right now,” Baird told The Star. “It’ll go further—the time for a decision on Keystone is now, even if it’s not the right one. We can’t continue in this state of limbo.”
The draft version of the environmental impact statement, released last March 1, concluded that Keystone XL’s effect on both the environment and jobs would be negligible.
Tribal leaders and others alleged the report to be full of holes, inaccuracies and misguided assumptions.
In the final report, environmental groups are taking heart from the document's admission that continued production in the Alberta oil sands could contribute to climate change, although it stopped short of saying that the rate of climate change would be influenced by the pipeline’s construction and operation alone.
“Even though the State Department 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 of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement. “President Obama now has all the information he needs to reject the pipeline.”
The full 11-volume report is online under the name Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).