* Greens want to extend comment period to 120 days from 45
* State Department comment period to end April 22
By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, April 8 Environmental groups on
Monday asked the Obama administration to extend the approval
process of the Keystone XL pipeline, using last month's spill of
heavy Canadian crude oil in Arkansas as their latest reason to
delay the project.
The Obama administration is deciding whether to approve the
Canada-to-Nebraska leg of TransCanada Corp's proposed
pipeline, which would link Canada's oil sands, the world's third
richest crude oil deposit, to refineries in Texas.
The State Department, which issued a draft environmental
assessment of the $5.3 billion project on March 1, indicated
then that a final decision could come by July or August.
The assessment is now in a 45-day public comment period that
runs through April 22. Then the administration has 90 days to
decide whether the project is in the national interest.
Leading green groups, including the Sierra Club, the Natural
Resources Defense Council, and 350.org, asked the agency to
prolong the comment period to 120 days after a pipeline spilled
thousands of barrels of Canadian crude in a suburban
neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas in late March.
The State Department did not immediately respond to the
request for comment about the letter.
Exxon Mobil Corp's Pegasus pipeline, which runs from
Illinois to Texas and can transport more than 90,000 barrels per
day, remains shut after 22 homes were evacuated as a result of
"A 45-day comment period ... is entirely inappropriate in
light of so many unanswered questions surrounding the Mayflower
disaster," the letter said. The 800,000 barrel per day Keystone
pipeline would be far larger than Pegasus.
President Barack Obama is expected to be the final arbiter
on the Keystone decision, which splits important parts of his
base: environmentalists, who are mostly opposed, and organized
labor, which has backed the pipeline and the construction jobs
it is likely to create.
Environmentalists say that oil sands petroleum and diluted
bitumen from Canada is corrosive to pipelines. Pegasus was
carrying diluted bitumen at the time of the leak, but it was not
from the oil sands.
The State Department assessment on Keystone said Canadian
crude is no worse than other heavy crudes transported by
pipeline, but added more study is forthcoming.
The National Academies of Sciences is expected to release a
study in July on whether oil sands crude causes more pipeline
leaks than conventional crudes.
The southern half of the Keystone project, which did not
require a State Department permit because it does not cross the
national border, is more than half built.
As the administration decides whether the northern half
should move forward, U.S. lawmakers are trying to take the
decision out of the hands of the administration.
In the House of Representatives, backers of the pipeline
hope a bill that would allow Congress to decide the fate of the
line would be voted on before the end of May. The House Energy
Committee will hold a hearing on the merits of the line on
Supporters of the pipeline have a similar bill in the
Senate, but it is unclear when it would come to a vote.
Lawmakers would likely try to attach the measure to must-past
legislation that Obama would find hard to oppose.