Senators raise concerns on oil sands pipeline

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nearly a dozen U.S. Senators on Friday raised questions about the need for a proposed $7 billion pipeline that they said will bring “dirty oil” from Canadian oil sands to U.S. refineries and significantly increase the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.

The lawmakers, 10 Democrats and one independent, said the State Department needs to answer several key questions before deciding whether to approve TransCanada’s application to build the 2,000-mile Keystone XL pipeline.

“Approval of this pipeline will significantly increase our dependence on this oil for decades,” the senators said in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“We believe the Department of State should not pre-judge the outcome of what should be a thorough, transparent analysis of the need for this oil and its impacts on our climate and clean energy goals,” the letter said.

Led by Democrats Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, and Jeff Merkley, of Oregon, the letter said the department should examine whether greater use of fuel-efficient technologies and advanced biofuels could offset the need for the pipeline.

The department should also consider whether expanded use of oil sands crude will harm U.S. attempts to reduce oil consumption, the lawmakers said.

This is the latest in a series of critiques that various lawmakers have lobbed at State as the department considers whether to greenlight the Keystone project, which is expected transport 510,000 barrels per day of crude from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf coast.

Clinton angered some lawmakers and environmental groups this month when she said her department was “inclined” to approve the pipeline because of energy security issues.

A senior State Department official told Reuters this week that no final decision had been made and that input from the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies would be fully weighed.

Critics of the pipeline say it threatens the environment and will boost U.S. dependence on a dirty fossil fuel instead of moving toward renewable energy sources. Canada’s oil sands, the largest source of crude outside the Middle East, use open pit mines and processing plants that emit carbon dioxide.

Crude produced from oil sands emits more carbon over its life cycle than other oil burned in the United States, but experts disagree on how much more.

“The Keystone XL pipeline is an environmental disaster in the making,” said Alex Moore, of green group Friends of the Earth. “The threat of spills...and the additional air and water pollution it would unquestionably make this pipeline dangerous for people all along its path.”

Supporters say the project will ensure a stable source of oil and lessen dependence on oil from the Middle East and Venezuela.

Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns and other Nebraska officials have raised concerns about the pipeline’s proposed route through the Ogallala aquifer.

The group of Senators led by Leahy and Merkley also asked whether the department had considered what impact the pipeline would have on the water reservoir, which spans eight states and yields nearly a third of water for U.S. irrigation.

Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by David Gregorio