Skip to content

NEWS: Decision on Keystone XL pipeline expected later this year

While the National Energy Board has already approved the Canadian section of the Keystone tar sands pipeline, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been urging President Barack Obama to approve Keystone XL in the United States, a major battle is brewing there against the pipeline, including divisions within the Obama administration between the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department, and possibly the Department of Energy. All of this is expected to intensify in the coming months as a decision on the pipeline is expected by year-end.

THE KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE: The CBC has reported, “The Keystone XL expansion would expand (tar sands export) capacity by 500,000 barrels a day and extend the line to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast, a very lucrative market. The expansion would run directly from Alberta, connect with existing pipelines in Kansas and Oklahoma and extend to (Texas and) the Gulf (of Mexico).” Today, the Globe and Mail reports, “TransCanada’s Keystone XL project would connect Alberta’s oil sands with the world’s largest refining hub, located along the U.S. Gulf Coast. The pipeline is crucial to oil sands producers’ expansion plans, because the Gulf Coast refineries are configured to handle the bitumen, said IHS CERA, a Cambridge, Mass., consultancy.”

CURRENT STATUS: “The State Department…has announced (another) set of hearings along the pipeline route this summer…. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is putting up new roadblocks to TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, arguing the $7-billion (U.S.) project poses serious environmental risks. …In a letter to the State Department, the EPA outlined a lengthy list of concerns about the pipeline project, and argued the State Department’s draft environmental impact statement was seriously flawed and required far more work. …The EPA’s intervention signals a looming battle within the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, who may ultimately be forced to choose between the project’s promised jobs and security of crude oil supply, and the environmental risks posed by greater production in Alberta’s oil sands.”

CONCERNS: “Among other things, the (Environmental Protection Agency) wants a detailed description of efforts by producers and the government of Alberta to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil sands which, as the industry booms, represent the fastest growing source of emissions in Canada. …(An EPA spokesperson) said the concerns include potential impacts to groundwater and the Ogallala Aquifer in the event of a pipeline spill, and higher pollution from refineries along the Gulf Coast that will be refining the oil sands bitumen.”

DECISION BY OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: “The State Department, for its part, concluded that if the Keystone XL line is not built, the oil sands production will simply be diverted to other markets (presumably including China through the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline), while the Texas refineries will process heavy crudes from offshore. …The Department of Energy – which had its own concerns about the State Department’s initial environmental assessment – has yet to publish its views of the current effort, but may also raise problems. …Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is charged with determining whether the cross-border pipeline is in the U.S. national interest, but the EPA can appeal that decision to President Barack Obama if the State Department does not address its concerns. …The State Department…remains committed to reaching a decision before the end of the year, though some analysts suggest the interdepartmental disagreement could delay a final decision until 2012.”

CANADIAN APPROVAL: On September 21, 2007, the National Energy Board of Canada approved the construction of the Canadian section of the pipeline. The Calgary Herald reported earlier this year that, “Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a personal pitch (on February 4) for President Barack Obama to support a controversial $7-billion pipeline that could double the amount of Alberta oilsands crude exported to the United States (at the time they met to announce plans for a new security perimeter). Harper confirmed he pressed Obama on Calgary-based TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline during the two leaders’ hour-long meeting at the White House.”

To read past campaign blogs on the Keystone pipeline, please go to http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?s=keystone. To read a statement of opposition to the pipeline by US-based Food & Water Watch (an organization chaired by Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow), please go to http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=6783.

More soon.