US finds limited environmental harm from Keystone XL pipeline
Washington (Platts)--26Aug2011/303 pm EDT/1903 GMT
Advancing the Keystone XL pipeline closer to approval, the US Department
of State said Friday that TransCanada's proposal beats not only 14 major
route alternatives but also the prospect of no pipeline at all.
TransCanada and other supporters applauded the final environmental
impact statement issued Friday, while environmental groups called the
findings woefully incomplete.
Despite the favorable findings, the State Department dismissed the
notion that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made up her mind to
approve the $7 billion project. "This is not a final decision, this is not
the final stamp, this is not a lean in any way toward one particular decision
or another," Assistant Secretary Kerri-Ann Jones told reporters in a briefing.
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With the final environmental review out, TransCanada now waits for the
State Department to rule on its application for a presidential permit. That
phase looks at whether the pipeline carrying crude from Alberta's oil sands
to the Texas Gulf Coast serves the US national interest.
Jones said many other considerations beyond environmental impact would
go into that decision, including energy security, economics and foreign
policy. "We are at a point of neutrality," she said.
The 1,700-mile pipeline would originate in Alberta, cross the US-Canada
border in Montana, continue through Cushing, Oklahoma, and extend to
refineries on the Gulf Coast.
The report dismissed alternative pipeline routes -- proposed to avoid
the Ogallala Aquifer and Nebraska's Sand Hills region -- after finding them
"financially impracticable" and not technically feasible. Several would have
cost about $1.7 billion more and disturbed more land and crossed more rivers
than the original route, the State Department said.
The review also concluded that demand for heavy crude in the Gulf Coast
would continue to grow over the next decade with or without Keystone XL.
Refineries would, therefore, look for heavy crude elsewhere and
transport it by other US pipelines, railroads, trucks or barges. If they
turned to crude produced outside North America, the report reminded, the
imports would exacerbate reliance on oil from unstable regimes.
"As a result of these considerations, DOS does not regard the 'no action
alternative' to be preferable to the proposed project," the report said.
"Whether or not the proposed project is implemented, Canadian producers would
seek alternative transportation systems to move oil to markets other than the
DENYING PIPELINE WOULD NOT SLOW OIL SANDS MINING
The report sided with pipeline supporters on another major point of
contention regarding greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands production.
TransCanada CEO Russ Girling, for example, said in an interview with
Platts this month that opponents were misguided in thinking that blocking
Keystone XL would slow oil sands development.
"The proposed project is not likely to impact the amount of crude oil
produced from the oil sands," the State Department said.
However, the report conceded that life-cycle emissions for oil sands
crude were higher than other types of crude. For the annual volumes
TransCanada would ship on the pipeline, the difference amounted to between 3
million and 21 million mt of carbon dioxide, or emissions equivalent to the
combustion of fuels in 588,000 to 4.1 million passenger vehicles.
To improve pipeline safety, TransCanada has agreed to 57 conditions not
required by federal code. Nevertheless, the report calculated that the system
could spring 1.18 to 1.83 leaks greater than 50 gallons each year, with the
frequency estimated to be 1.78 spills/year to 2.51 spills/year.
The State Department also announced the final round of public hearings
along the six-state route. In late September, it will hold meetings in
Glendive, Montana; Pierre, South Dakota; Atkinson, Nebraska; Lincoln,
Nebraska; Topeka, Kansas; Midwest City, Oklahoma; Austin, Texas; and Port
Arthur, Texas. It scheduled the last meeting for October 7 in Washington, DC.
The final EIS starts a 90-day clock for other federal agencies to offer
their last comments on the environmental review. The Environmental Protection
Agency is expected to be the toughest critic of the finding, after lodging
objections last year and this year as preliminary reviews emerged.
The environmental statement comes halfway through a two-week
demonstration outside the White House, where hundreds of protesters have been
arrested. The opponents frame the pipeline decision as President Barack
Obama's best chance to fulfill a campaign promise to fight climate change.
Clinton has promised to act on the application by the end of the year.
The decision would head to the White House, where any agencies that oppose it
would have 15 days to persuade Obama to override State's decision.
CEO SEES GROWING US SUPPORT FOR PROJECT
TransCanada welcomed the final environmental review and said it confirms
earlier findings that the benefits of the project outweigh potential harms.
"Support for Keystone XL continues to grow because the public, opinion
leaders and elected officials can see the clear benefits that this pipeline
will deliver to Americans," Girling said in a statement. "The fundamental
issue is energy security."
The American Petroleum Institute and the National Petrochemical and
Refiners Association cheered the report's conclusions. "After a long and
careful review, the State Department has found that there are no
environmental reasons to block construction of the Keystone XL pipeline,
which would bring American consumers a sure and steady supply of oil from our
close friend and neighbor Canada," NPRA President Charles Drevna said.
On the other side, the Natural Resources Defense Council called the
findings flawed and said the report lacked information on pipeline safety,
refinery emissions and pollution from oil sands mining.
"It is utterly beyond me how the administration can claim the pipeline
will have no significant impacts if they haven't bothered to do in-depth
studies around the issues of contention," said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, NRDC's
international program director. "The public has made their concerns clear and
the administration seems to have ignored them."
US Senator Mike Johanns, Republican-Nebraska, also panned the report.
"I am tremendously disappointed that running the pipeline through the
Sand Hills continues to be the State Department's preferred route," he said
in a statement. "The State Department is now one step away from giving the
green light to a project that could have grave consequences for our state."
--Meghan Gordon, firstname.lastname@example.org