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NEWS: US State Dept. report on Keystone XL widely criticized

The Globe and Mail reports that yesterday, “The State Department concluded TransCanada Corp.’s $7-billion Keystone XL pipeline will not have an undue environmental impact on air and water along the pipeline route, nor lead to greater greenhouse gas emissions.”

1- EMISSIONS: “The report concluded that the intensity of the oil sands’ emissions is only moderately worse than oil now being consumed in the United States. And it noted that U.S. refiners are increasingly turning to heavier, dirtier sources of imported crude from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Colombia, while Canadian producers try to reduce the emissions intensity of the oil sands.” (The fact is though that the tar sands are already the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. Environment Canada estimates that emissions from the tar sands will triple over the next ten years. By 2020, tar sands operations could account for twelve percent of our national emissions.)

2- EXPANSION OF THE TAR SANDS: “The State Department said that the Keystone XL pipeline is not critical to expansion of oil sands production – a conclusion that buttressed its assertion the pipeline would not lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions.” (In June, the Globe and Mail reported this contradictory statement, “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.”)

3- WATER: Notably though, “The State Department said TransCanada needs to conduct more study – and possibly add more spill protection – around the Ogalla aquifer in Nebraska.” Postmedia News adds that, “The state department said TransCanada should commission an independent study of risks to water supplies, focusing on valves and external leak detection systems. The existing Keystone pipeline, launched 14 months ago, has reported 14 leaks, all associated with valves at pumping stations.” (A New York Times editorial in April stated, “The Keystone XL project poses a major threat to water supplies on both sides of the border.” The editorial notes the water consumption and tailings ponds in Canada, the risk of pipeline spills, then highlights, “The Keystone XL would cut diagonally across Montana and the Nebraska Sand Hills — a delicate region of porous, sandy soils — to northern Kansas before heading south to the Gulf. It would also cross the Ogallala Aquifer, a shallow underground reservoir of enormous importance for agriculture that also provides drinking water for two million people. A pipeline leaking diluted bitumen into groundwater could have disastrous consequences.”)

U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY CRITICAL OF STATE DEPARTMENT: The Globe and Mail notes, “Opponents are hoping the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which had significant criticisms of the draft environmental impact statement, will withhold support for the final one.” The newspaper had reported in early-June that, “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… Among other things, the (EPA) 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.”

FRIENDS OF THE EARTH: Many organizations have condemned the State Department’s report. In a media release, “Friends of the Earth’s initial analysis is that the State Department’s updated environmental impact review failed to acknowledge the true extent of the project’s threats to the climate, to drinking water and to the health of people who would breathe polluted air from refineries processing the dirty tar sands oil, among other glaring oversights.”

CONCERNS ABOUT U.S. BUREAU OF OCEANS REPORT: Additionally, Postmedia reports, “(A) 1,000-page report (from the U.S. Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs released on Friday) noted that while emissions from bitumen-sourced gasoline was about 17 per cent higher than average U.S. crude, emissions from production were only two per cent higher than those of other heavy oils, such as from Venezuela.” But 350.org founder Bill McKibben, a key organizer of the protests in Washington this past week, responded to this report by saying, “It is an environmental obfuscation statement. The reason the whole world is worried is because of the amount of carbon up in those tarsands. Clearly (the pipeline) is a big step toward opening them more fully. If we take that step, a lot more of that carbon is going to flow into the atmosphere.”

NEXT STEPS/ TIMELINE: “Armed with the positive environment report, the State Department now has 90 days to make a ‘national interest’ determination, that examines questions of environment, national security and the broader impact on the U.S. economy. It will also hold hearings in the states along the route of the pipeline. …Representatives from eight U.S. agencies, including Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency, will mull over the details over the next three months while deciding if Keystone is in the national interest…” A final decision on Keystone XL is expected from President Obama by the end of November.

THE COUNCIL OF CANADIANS: Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow and energy/ climate justice campaigner Andrea Harden-Donahue will be in Washington, DC next week to support the protests against Keystone XL taking place outside the White House and to call on the Canadian embassy to stop lobbying for the pipeline. More on that soon. To respond to our action alert directed to Ambassador Gary Doer, please go to http://canadians.org/action/2011/ambassador-doer.html.