WASHINGTON May 24 The U.S. State Department
says it is taking the unusual step of releasing publicly the
feedback it has received about a controversial pipeline project
after an "unprecedented" response to its draft environmental
The department said it had received more than 1.2 million
comments on TransCanada Corp's proposed Keystone XL
pipeline that would run from oil sands in Alberta, Canada to
refineries and ports along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The State Department posted about 100,000 comments late on
Thursday and plans to release sets of a similar number each
week, a process that will take about three months. The comments
can be viewed at
"This marks the first time the Department has made all
individual comments on a Presidential permit application
available to the public," a State Department release said.
The northern leg of the pipeline running from Alberta to
Nebraska needs the approval of President Barack Obama because it
crosses a national border. Work is well under way on the
southern leg, from Texas to Oklahoma.
The State Department said the decision to release the
comments was part of an effort to be as transparent as possible
about the elements that will go into the decision on whether to
approve the project.
The first batch of comments reflected a variety of
interests, from lawmakers to local citizens.
Echoing a fractious public hearing held by the State
Department in Grand Island, Nebraska last month,
they reflected the polarizing nature of the project. Respondents
differed widely over the environmental and economic assessments.
The State Department released its 2,000-page environmental
impact report on Keystone in March, more than four years after
the project was first floated. On balance, the report seemed to
lean toward approving the proposed 830,000 barrel per day
However, in April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
rated the draft review "insufficient," signaling that unless the
State Department addressed those concerns there could be new
roadblocks to the project, which has an estimated cost of at
least $5.3 billion.
A U.S. official said this month that a decision on whether
to give the go-ahead to the pipeline may not be made until
November, December or even early 2014, given the need to
painstakingly weigh the impact on the environment against the
benefits to energy security.
Among the first batch of comments on the State Department
site, two senators - one a Democrat and one a Republican - from
states through which the pipeline will pass called for
"expeditious approval" of the project, saying it would help the
economies of their states and have minimal environmental impact.
"The draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement
(SEIS) affirmed what states along the pipeline route determined
in their own environmental reviews - this project is
environmentally sound and should move forward," wrote Senators
Deb Fischer, a Nebraska Republican, and Heidi Heidkamp, a
Democrat from North Dakota.