State Dept. Admits Keystone XL Pipeline Climate Impact

piipeline crew
TransCanada crew lays a pipeline (Framegrab from video courtesy TransCanada)


WASHINGTON, DC, January 31, 2014 (ENS) – In its final environmental review of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. State Department today acknowledges for the first time that the pipeline could “significantly impact” climate change.

Unlike its previous reviews of the pipeline, the State Department’s new Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement does not claim that the environmental impacts of the pipeline would be minimal.

Instead, the State Department FEIS says, “The total direct and indirect emissions associated with the proposed Project would contribute to cumulative global GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions.”

piipeline crew
TransCanada crew lays a pipeline (Framegrab from video courtesy TransCanada)

The Final Supplemental EIS is not a decision document on whether to approve or deny the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Instead it is a technical assessment of the potential environmental impacts related to the proposed project. It responds to over 1.9 million public comments received since June 2012.

The proposed Keystone XL project consists of a 1,639 mile (2,639 km) long pipeline to transport up to 830,000 barrels per day of heavy, tarry crude oil called bitumen, diluted with chemicals to make it flow, from the Canadian oil sands at Hardisty, Alberta. The pipeline would also carry crude oil from the Bakken Shale Formation in Montana.

The U.S. portion of the route covers 875 miles from the Canada-U.S. border crossing near Morgan, Montana across three states to connect to existing pipeline facilities near Steele City, Nebraska for onward delivery to Cushing, Oklahoma and refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

In earlier versions, the environmental review included the southern leg of the pipeline from Cushing to the Texas Gulf Coast. But since it does not cross an international border and so does not need a special permit from the U.S. President, TransCanada already has constructed that section and oil started flowing through it earlier this month.

Because the pipeline crosses an international border, TransCanada needs a Presidential Permit before it can begin construction. The Presidential Permit review process focuses on whether the proposed project serves the national interest.

In a speech on June 25, 2013, President Obama gave an indication of his thinking on this issue, “I do want to be clear,” he said. “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”

In the FEIS, the State Department explains that greenhouse gas emissions from the entire lifecycle of the tar sands oil, from extraction through combustion, would be greater than the reference crudes by an estimated range of between 1.3 to 27.4 millions of metric tons of CO2 equivalent annually.

The FEIS says this is equivalent to annual greenhouse gas emissions from burning fuels in 270,833 passenger vehicles, 64,935 homes or 0.4 coal-fired power plants at the low end of the range – to 5.7 million passenger vehicles, 1.36 million homes or 7.8 coal-fired power plants at the high end.

Environmentalists who have been fighting the Keystone XL pipeline since TransCanada first proposed it in 2008 say these figures prove the validity of their opposition.

“The new review represents an important shift from prior analyses because it no longer tries to claim that Keystone’s impacts will be negligible,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The environmental consequences are clear as day: oil spills, polluted rivers, and wildlife directly in harm’s way.”

oil sands mine
Syncrude Aurora Oil Sands Mine, north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada (Photo by Elias Schewel)

“This is a very risky project with no reward for the American people,” Kenny Bruno, U.S. coordinator with the Tar Sands Campaign, told reporters on a conference call. co-founder Bill McKibben, said, “The intrusion of reality into this process is really important. The report concluded that in a scenario where we take climate change seriously and regulate climate pollution, this pipeline will indeed have a ‘significant impact’ on climate change.

“So now we’ll find out if that’s the world Barack Obama and John Kerry want. This report gives President Obama everything he needs in order to block this project. This is the first environmental issue in years to bring Americans into the streets in big numbers, and now they’ll be there in ever greater numbers to make sure the President makes the right call,” said McKibben.

Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer, was pleased with the FEIS. “The environmental analysis of Keystone XL released today once again supports the science that this pipeline would have minimal impact on the environment,” he said.

“The next step is making a decision on a Presidential Permit for Keystone XL,” said Girling. “I believe that this project continues to be in the national interest of the United States for two main reasons: supporting U.S. energy security and the thousands of jobs our multi-billion dollar project will create.”

American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard welcomed the outcome of the FEIS and disagreed with the environmentalists, saying, “Five years, five federal reviews, dozens of public meetings, over a million comments and one conclusion – the Keystone XL pipeline is safe for the environment,” said Gerard. “This final review puts to rest any credible concerns about the pipeline’s potential negative impact on the environment. This long awaited project should now be swiftly approved. It’s time to put thousands of Americans to work.”

But those “thousands” of jobs are temporary construction jobs. If the pipeline is approved and built, only 35 permanent jobs would be created, earlier studies have shown.

“With KXL, our crude oil imports from Canada could reach four million barrels a day by 2030, about twice what we currently import from the Persian Gulf,” said 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.”

But Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director, disagrees. “Reports of an industry victory on the Keystone XL pipeline are vastly over-stated,” he said. “The final environmental review that the State Department released today sets the stage for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. The State Department wisely walked away from its earlier contention that Keystone XL would have ‘no significant impact’ on climate disruption.”

“Now the report concludes that Keystone XL will create the equivalent climate pollution of the exhaust of nearly six million cars each year, which the President cannot fail to recognize as significant and not in the nation’s best interest,” Brune said.

“The report also establishes that tar sands crude is more toxic, more corrosive, more difficult to clean up, and more carbon intensive than conventional oil,” Brune pointed out. “It’s the dirtiest form of crude oil in the world, and we just don’t need it. We should not spend billions on a pipeline that will deepen our dependence on dirty oil when advanced batteries and clean energy are affordable and already meeting our energy needs in record amounts.”

TransCanada pipeline is laid along another section of the north-south route. (Framegrab from video courtesy TransCanada)

While environmentalists try to make the case that approval is the linchpin for further development of the Canadian oil sands, the State Department FEIS disagrees, saying, “…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 or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs, and supply-demand scenarios.”

But there are other reasons for opposing Keystone XL. The nation’s largest organization of nurses today criticized the FEIS for paying inadequate attention to the serious consequences on public health.

“There is broad concern about the harmful health effects linked to both the extraction and transport of tar sands, as well as how the pipeline will accelerate the steadily worsening erosion of health we see every day as a result of climate change,” said Jean Ross, RN, co-president of National Nurses United.

“Nurses will continue to oppose construction of this project, and call on President Obama to stand with our patients and our communities, not the big oil interests, to reject KXL,” Ross said.

“Nurses care for patients every day who struggle with health crises aggravated by environmental pollution in its many forms,” said National Nurses United Co-President Deborah Burger, RN. “As a society we need to reduce the effects of environmental factors, including climate change, that are making people sick, and endangering the future for our children. That’s why we oppose the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Duncan Meisel of, which takes its name from the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that most scientists agree is safe, said the release of the FEIS is the starting point for the next crucial phase of this fight.

“Together, I believe we can once more stop the pipeline,” said Meisel. “We won’t do it by relying on the State Department, whose process has been riddled with conflicts of interest and big oil’s money. Nor by relying on the President’s good intentions. His lofty rhetoric about climate change has been betrayed too many times by weak action and backtracking. As we showed in 2011, the only time you can count on the President is when you have him completely surrounded. And so it’s up to us to mobilize again, and put the pressure on from all sides.”

“Step one is to show our resolve and disappointment in this broken process,” said Meisel. “On Monday night, all across the country, people will be gathering to mark this moment together at protest vigils, where we will light the night with our resolve to keep fighting. We need to show the media, big oil and the President that this movement is mobilized and unafraid.”

On the official level, a 30-day public comment period will begin with the publication of a Federal Register notice on February 5 and will close on March 7. During this period, the public and interested parties are encouraged to submit comments on the national interest to Comments are not private and will be made public.

During this time, the State Department will consult with at least, the eight agencies: the Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Final Supplemental EIS and additional documents are available on the State Department’s website:

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