State Department Releases Keystone Environmental-Impact Report

by Katherine Connell

The State Department this afternoon released its long-awaited Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the Keystone Pipeline. The AP reports:

The long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada moved a significant step toward completion Friday as the State Department raised no major environmental objections to its construction. The finding is likely to be welcomed by Republicans and some oil- and gas-producing states but is sure to further rankle environmentalists already at odds with President Barack Obama over his energy policy.

The department report stops short of recommending approval of the $7 billion pipeline, which has become a major symbol of the political debate over climate change. But the review gives Obama political cover if he chooses to endorse the pipeline in spite of opposition from many Democrats and environmental groups. Foes say the pipeline would carry “dirty oil” that contributes to global warming. They also worry about a spill.

The report, which can be read in its entirety here, includes an analysis of the risks of a crude-oil spill from the proposed pipeline compared with several alternative scenarios. It concludes that the amount of oil spilled per year would actually be higher in the event that the pipeline is not built, largely because some of the oil that would be transported by the pipeline would go by rail, which is associated with a higher risk of spills.

It also finds that greenhouse-gas emissions would be greater if the project were rejected: “The total annual GHG emissions (direct and indirect) attributed to the No Action scenarios range from 28 to 42 percent greater than for the proposed Project.” In other words, on important measures, the outcome for the environment would appear to be worse if the pipeline is not constructed.

The next step is another report from the State Department analyzing whether the project is in the national interest, followed by a long-delayed decision by the president.