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State Department report on the Keystone XL pipeline

Photo: Maude Barlow speaks against the Keystone XL pipeline, November 6, 2011, Washington, DC.
Photo: Maude Barlow speaks against the Keystone XL pipeline, November 6, 2011, Washington, DC.

The Washington Post reports, “The State Department concluded in its final environmental assessment issued Friday that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would not significantly alter global greenhouse gas emissions, but officials cautioned that they were still weighing whether or not the project would meet the test of the president’s broader climate strategy. …The release of the long-awaited Final Environmental Impact Statement will trigger an avalanche of lobbying efforts aimed at Secretary of State John Kerry, who has made climate change a central focus of his career and will now begin deliberating on the pipeline decision.”

“The State Department’s report includes 11 volumes of analysis on how the proposed pipeline would affect heavy crude extraction in Canada’s oil sands, and reaches the same conclusion as its draft report did in March: no single infrastructure project will alter the course of oil development in Alberta. …(It says), ‘approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed project, remains 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.’”

But the Post also reports that a senior State Department official says, “(The study) is only one factor that comes into the consideration (of the decision on the pipeline). It does not answer the broader question about how a decision on this potential pipeline fits in with broader national and international efforts to address climate change and climate priorities or other questions of foreign policy or energy security.”

That could be significant in that the newspaper adds, “The final environmental impact statement notes that bitumen, the substance that is extracted in Canada and diluted in order to be transported to U.S. refineries, is more difficult to clean up than lighter crude when it spills. The report also concludes that crude from the oil sands is 17 percent higher in greenhouse gas emissions than the average crude oil used in the U.S., but between 2 and 10 percent higher than the heavy crude it would be replacing at Gulf Coast refineries.”

“(With today’s report), the high-profile decision is just entering a new phase, in which Kerry and his deputies will field both public comments and internal feedback from eight agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency and Defense and Energy Departments. The State Department will open a 30-day comment period on Feb. 5, and the agencies will have 90 days to weigh in. After a decision is issued other agencies have 15 days to object, and if one does, the president must decide whether or not to issue the permit. …The administration has significant flexibility in when it would issue a final national interest determination on the project: the State Department could issue a decision either before the end of the 105-day agency comment period, or long afterwards.”

There has been speculation that the decision will not be made until  after the November mid-term elections in the United States, and perhaps even later than that.

The Council of Canadians opposes the Keystone XL pipeline.

Among our many actions, in August 2011, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow joined with allies to present a letter addressed to Ambassador Gary Doer at the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C. demanding an end to their lobbying in favour of the Keystone XL pipeline. In September 2011, Barlow was arrested in a major civil disobedience protest against Keystone XL and other pipelines on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. In November 2011, Barlow and 12,000 people gathered in Lafayette Square to #Surround the White House and demand that US President Barack Obama not issue the permit needed for the Keystone XL pipeline to proceed. Barlow also gave a major speech that day near the White House to those gathered for this protest. And in February 2013, the Council of Canadians joined more than 35,000 people in Washington in the #Forward on Climate march against the Keystone XL pipeline.