State Department’s Keystone XL Project Review Upsets Environmentalists

By: Obert Madondo | The Canadian Progressive | March 2, 2013:

Aerial view of a tar sands mine in Alberta.

An aerial view of a tar sands mine in Alberta

Environmentalists have soundly condemned the U.S. State Department’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) report on TransCanada Corp’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The report, released Friday, concluded that the proposed 875-mile long pipeline, which would ship up to 830,000 barrels of Canada‘s dirty tar sands oil per day from Alberta to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, was environmentally sound.

In a statement, the Sierra Club said it was “mystified” and “outraged” by the Department’s “deeply flawed analysis”. The organization said the report “remains woefully inadequate in its consideration of the effects the proposed pipeline would have on Americans’ climate, water, air and health.”

Michael Brune, Sierra Club’s executive director, accused the Department of giving “lip service to one of the greatest threats to our children’s future: climate disruption.”

“We’re mystified as to how the State Department can acknowledge the negative effects of the Earth’s dirtiest oil on our climate, but at the same time claim that the proposed pipeline will ‘not likely result in significant adverse environmental effects’,” he said. “Whether this failure was willful or accidental, this report is nothing short of malpractice.”

The Sierra Club has urged President Barack Obama to ignore the report and stick to the progressive commitments he made in his second inaugural address.

“President Obama said that he’s committed to fighting the climate crisis. If that is true, he should throw the State Department’s report away and reject the dirty and dangerous Keystone XL pipeline,” said Brune.

Canada’s vast tar sands, which are 71% foreign-owned, are the 5th largest climate threat in the world. said the Keystone XL pipeline “would be a disaster for our climate, producing tar sands crude that kicks out two or three times as much carbon pollution as producing conventional crude oil.” Experts have also argued that Canada’s tar sands seriously threaten the U.S. new energy economy.

A recent study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and the Polaris Institute concluded that the Alberta tar sands are creating a double threat that could hurt the Canadian economy.   The study argued that the tar sands’s “staples trap” would result when Canada relies too heavily on the exports its bitumen, and becomes the less diversified, productive and resilient. The “carbon trap” would lock Canada into an carbon dependent development path, making the costs of future climate adaptation much more difficult.

In the last couple of years, the Keystone XL project has galvanized opposition from environmentalists and climate activists in the U.S. and Canada, forcing the project to the centre of the U.S. debate on climate and energy policy.

In early February, the Sierra Club and sixty leading environmental, conservation, development, faith-based, and social justice organizations wrote to the new Secretary of State, John Kerry, and urged him to advance American climate leadership, and reject the pipeline. On February 17, the organizations organized the “Forward on Climate” rally in Washington, D.C. The historic protest brought over 40 000 people to the U.S. capital to protest the pipeline and demand that Obama act on the climate crisis.

In his second inaugural speech, Obama urged Congress to “pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change”. He vowed: “But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

Last year, public opposition to the project forced the president deny TransCanada‘s original application. In a Congressionally mandated report, the Department concluded that the pipeline had “little to do with energy security or the economy”. It said that Keystone XL pipeline would not alter the U.S. oil dependence:

Regarding economic, energy security, and trade factors, the economic analysis in the final EIS indicates that, over the remainder of this decade, even if no new cross-border pipelines were constructed, there is likely to be little difference in the amount of crude oil refined at U.S. refineries, the amount of crude oil and refined products such as gasoline imported to (or exported from) the United States, the cost of crude oil or refined products in the United States, or the amount of crude oil imported from Canada. . . .

The analysis from the final EIS, noted above, indicates that denying the permit at this time is unlikely to have a substantial impact on U.S. employment, economic activity, trade, energy security, or foreign policy over the longer term.

(Download the complete State Department document).

After the rejection, TransCanada submitted a new application.

While the State Department’s new report more or less repeats the above conclusion, it also downplays the project’s environmental impacts:

Based on information and analysis about the North American crude transport infrastructure (particularly the proven ability of rail to transport substantial quantities of crude oil profitably under current market conditions, and to add capacity relatively rapidly) and the global crude oil market, the draft Supplemental EIS concludes that approval or denial of the proposed Project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast area. […] Spills associated with the proposed Project that enter the environment are expected to be rare and relatively small.

Stephen Kretzmann, the executive director of Oil Change International disagreed with the Department’s conclusion that the project is “is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands”.

“If this were true, why would the Canadian government and the oil industry be hell bent on building it?  They know its key to their expansion, and so do we,” he said in this statement. “By absurdly concluding that the pipeline will not impact additional tar sands production, the State Department is overlooking the fact that the pipeline is likely to trigger at least 450,000 barrels per day of additional tar sands production capacity.”

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Obert Madondo

Publisher and editor
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based independent journalist and progressive political blogger. He's the publisher and editor of The Canadian Progressive.