President Barack Obama reads a document in the Oval Office, Jan. 7, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

US State Department Identifies Oil Spills as Keystone XL’s Principal Threat to Environment

By Roy L Hales

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 3.43.47 PMThe US State Department environmental assessment identified an oil spill as the most likely threat the Keystone XL Pipeline presents to the environment. The report relies upon a  Canadian Government study for its analysis of environmental impacts North of the border. The US segment of the pipeline is expected to have CO2 emissions – from “fuel use in construction vehicles and equipment, as well as, land clearing activities including open burning, and indirectly from electricity usage” – that will be the equivalent of 300,000 cars. “Climate changes are anticipated to occur regardless of any potential effects from the proposed Project,”  the report states, but it also showed there is a substantial risk of a major oil spill. There were 1,692 pipeline “incidents” in the US during the six month period they studied. (1,027 of these were from the equipment used on pipelines and 321 were directly connected to pipelines.) There have been mixed reactions to this report.

According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, more than half of the nation’s crude (1.8 million barrels a day) came out of the oil sands in 2012. Production is expected to increase to 5.8 b/d by 2030. 99% of this oil is currently shipped across the border and refined in the US.

Operational and proposed route of the Keystone Pipeline System. (Data source:TransCanada) - Meclee, Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Operational and proposed route of the Keystone Pipeline System. (Data source:TransCanada) – Meclee, Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Clare Demerse, federal policy director at the Pembina Institute, said,  “Today’s final assessment is a clear improvement over the State Department’s March 2013 draft, which argued there was virtually no connection between pipelines and the growth in oilsands production. The final assessment is updated with stronger analysis that better reflects the environmental and market realities. The assessment now acknowledges that under some circumstances, constraints on new pipeline capacity could have ‘a substantial impact on oilsands production levels.’ In other words, building the Keystone XL pipeline could help spur increased oilsands production and the carbon pollution that goes with it.”

“It is clear that current capacity to move raw, unprocessed bitumen out of Canada is hampered by relying solely on rail,”   said Elizabeth May, the Leader of Canada’s Green Party and MP for Saanich–Gulf Islands. “Any new pipeline will create expanded oil sands operations, and with them increased greenhouse gas emissions.”

Keystone is the largest of several pipeline projects currently under consideration and would carry oil 1,179 miles, from Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska. The US is expected to gain 42,100 jobs (most of which are indirect offshoots from the project) and a $3.4 billion injection into the economy.

Russ Girling CEO of TransCanada (which would build the pipeline) pointed out that the US will continue to need millions of barrels of oil to be imported every day and, “It just makes sense for more of that supply to come from right here in North America.”

Canada’s Natural Resources Minister, Joe Oliver, pointed out this the the fifth environmental impact in five years and “The benefits to the U.S. and Canada are clear. We await a timely decision on this project.”

“This report from the Obama administration once again confirms that there is no reason for the White House to continue stalling construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline,” said Senate Republican Mitch Connell in a press release, “So, Mr. President, no more stalling– no more excuses. Please pick up that pen you’ve been talking so much about and make this happen. Americans need these jobs.”

“With KXL, our crude oil imports from Canada could reach 4 million barrels a day by 2030, about twice what we currently import from the Persian Gulf,” said American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard. “In just 10 years, we could meet all our liquid fuel needs solely from stable North American sources; an achievement with significant national security benefits. In short, the Keystone XL pipeline is a huge step toward making that a reality.”

Truck hauling 36-inch Pipe to build Keystone-Cushing Pipeline SE of Peabody, Kansas - Steve Meirowsky, Flickr and Wikipedia

Truck hauling 36-inch Pipe to build Keystone-Cushing Pipeline SE of Peabody, Kansas – Steve Meirowsky, Flickr and Wikipedia

The Pembina Institute has identified “pollution from the oilsands as the single largest barrier to achieving Canada’s national 2020 climate target.”

Elizabeth May believes it is possible to refine the “sludge-like, pre crude mess” in an environmentally responsible manner. She wants to see this happen in Canada, rather than shipping it to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico where “the Koch brothers stand to make $100-billion.” She is urging President Obama to say no to Keystone.

The next step, in the State Department’s process, is a 90-day “national interest determination” by the State Department, during which relevant federal agencies will provide their input. Then the State Department will give their recommendation to President Obama for final approval.

The  US environmental community is asking Americans to voice their opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Friends of the Earth is partnering with CREDO, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club and 350 to hold vigils around the nation this Monday evening including at the White House and the State Department.  Click to find a vigil near you.

Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, issued a statement saying, “The State Department just released its final environmental impact report on the project — and despite the spin from the oil industry, it shows our voices have made a difference. Don’t believe the media hype: with your help, we can defeat Keystone XL once and for all.”

“President Obama vowed to reject the pipeline if the project would ‘significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.’ The verdict is in: Keystone XL fails President Obama’s climate test. Evidence from the scientific community, industry analysts, and the EPA had already shown that Keystone XL would increase carbon pollution from the tar sands, and today the State Department backed away from its previous claim that the pipeline won’t have a significant impact.”

The Sierra Club has started an online petition, which you can sign here.  

Friends of the Earth have another petition and also a Facebook page (Click here)

(Photo at top of page: President Barack Obama reads a document in the Oval Office, Jan. 7, 2014. – Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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