State Dept. says Keystone pipeline would have minimal environmental impact

Sean Cockerham | Tribune Media Services

The State Department minimized the climate change impact of building the Keystone XL pipeline in its final environmental review issued on Friday, a key finding as President Obama decides whether to approve the controversial project.

The Keystone XL Pipeline would bring crude from the Canadian oil sands to American refineries on the gulf coast. It’s so controversial because tapping the Canadian oil sands would result in the production of more planet-warming gases than conventional sources of oil.

The State Department acknowledges that the oil sands crude produces 17 percent more carbon emissions than average crude and up to 10 percent more than other heavy oil coming from Venezuela and Mexico.

But the agency decided that, even without the Keystone pipeline, the oil sands would still be exploited and transported to market by rail or other pipelines.

“Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands,” the State Department concluded in its analysis.

Friday’s release of the report triggers a 90-day review of whether the pipeline is in the national interest. Secretary of State John Kerry will then weigh in and President Obama will ultimately decide whether to allow construction of the Keystone pipeline.

Environmental groups disputed the State Department’s conclusion and said Obama must veto the pipeline.

“Piping the dirtiest oil on the planet through the heart of America would endanger our farms, our communities, our fresh water and our climate,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That is absolutely not in our national interest.”

Other environmental groups said oil industry influence skewed the report. The inspector general is investigating complaints that the State Department’s main contractor on the Keystone report, ERM Group Inc., has a conflict of interest because of its business ties to TransCanada Corp., the pipeline company that is seeking to build Keystone.

A State Department official Friday denied the conflict of interest.

“There were very rigorous conflict of interest screening guidelines and we feel very confident there are no issues with this contractor,” said Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Kerri Ann Jones.

By Sean Cockerham
McClatchy Washington Bureau