By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, March 1 The Keystone XL oil pipeline
got a boost on Friday when the U.S. State Department said the
project would not likely change the rate at which Canada's oil
sands are developed, discounting fears it would be responsible
for additional greenhouse gas emissions.
The report is far from the last word on Keystone. The
environmental assessment must be finalized after the public
comment. Then federal agencies will have 90 days to work with
the State Department to determine whether the pipeline is in the
TransCanada Corp's proposed project is "unlikely to
have a substantial impact" on development of Alberta's oil
sands, the world's third-richest oil deposit, the Department
said in a long-awaited report of more than 2,000 pages. It said
the pipeline would result in "no substantial change in global
greenhouse gas emissions."
The more than 800,000 barrel per day pipeline would have
little environmental impact on most resources along its proposed
route, provided the company takes certain measures to make it
safer, the review added.
Supporters of the project, which would bring oil to Texas
refineries, have dismissed concerns it would lead to additional
greenhouse gas emissions, saying the oil would reach markets
regardless of whether the pipeline is built.
President Barack Obama rejected the line in 2011 on concerns
about its route through ecologically sensitive regions of
Nebraska and after several high-profile spills on lines carrying
Subsequently TransCanada issued a new route for the
pipeline, which Friday's assessment took into consideration.
PUBLIC TO SHAPE DEBATE
The State Department stressed that the report did not judge
the project. The public will have 45 days to comment during a
review starting next Friday. A final decision by the Obama
administration on the project that has been pending for more
than 4-1/2 years is not expected until July or August.
TransCanada Corp Chief Executive Russ Girling said that
construction of the pipeline could be complete by late 2014 or
early 2105 if a final decision by the Obama administration comes
State Department Assistant Secretary Kerri-Ann Jones
repeatedly refused to address whether the report offered support
for building the pipeline, instead telling reporters on a press
call that it would be premature to draw conclusions from the
"We're really looking for the public debate at this point,"
Jones said. "We're looking for the feedback from the public to
help us shape this going forward."
Many environmentalists oppose the project because, from
wells to wheels, oil sands are more carbon-intensive than
average crudes refined in the United States. They had been
cheered by recent strong speeches by President Obama and
Secretary of State John Kerry on the need to take action on
But one of Keystone's top critics said Friday's review was
little different from a U.S. assessment in 2011.
"We're hearing the same rehashed arguments from the State
Department about why a great threat to the climate is not a
threat at all," said Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, an
"Mother Nature filed her comments last year - the hottest
year in American history; the top climate scientists in the U.S.
have already chimed in. The rest of us have 45 days to make our
voices heard, and we will," said McKibben, who has led protests
at the White House.
Supporters of Keystone say it would provide thousands of
jobs, drain a glut of domestic crude oil from the North Dakota
oil boom and strengthen North American energy security.
"The Keystone XL pipeline will make more Canadian and U.S.
oil available to us - oil that will not need to be imported from
unfriendly places," said Karen Harbert, president of the U.S.
Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy.
Construction of the pipeline would support 42,100 jobs
across the United States, directly and indirectly, the review
said. The operation of the pipeline would result in 35 to 50
permanent jobs, it added.
Canadian politicians and industry have ratcheted up lobbying
in support of Keystone. The stakes have risen for the Canadian
pipeline supporters as prices for oil sands crude have slumped,
partly due to limited capacity to export the oil.
Ottawa has warned that the oil price discount is taking a
toll on the national economy. Unidentified members of Prime
Minister Stephen Harper's government told the Globe and Mail
newspaper this week that a rejection of Keystone XL by Obama
would seriously damage Canada-United States relations.
TransCanada's Girling has said the lengthy review process
has helped ensure that the pipeline will be the safest pipeline
ever built in the United States.
The southern half of the pipeline, from Texas to Oklahoma,
is more than halfway built. It did not need approval from the
State Department because it does not cross the national border.