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November 11, 2011
Administration Punts on Controversial Oil Pipeline
    by Robert Kropp

The State Department's decision to review planned route through Nebraska is likely to put off a final decision until 2013.

The US State Department announced this week that it has withdrawn its support for the construction of a controversial pipeline, saying that a review of the route through Nebraska of the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline will delay a final decision until after next year's elections.

Officials in Nebraska have objected to the proposed route of the pipeline, which would encroach upon the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region of the state.

The proposal by TransCanada to build the pipeline, bringing heavy crude oil from Canadian oil sands to refineries in Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast, has rallied environmental activists. Demonstrations over the past several months have resulted in over 1,000 arrests; on November 6, 12,000 demonstrators surrounded the White House, according to Tar Sands Action.

Described in a 2008 report as "the most destructive project on Earth," oil sands extraction in Alberta, Canada leaks approximately three million gallons of contaminated water into surrounding rivers and groundwater each day, in addition to emitting unusually high levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Writing to the State Department last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated, "We estimate that GHG emissions from Canadian oil sands crude would be approximately 82% greater than the average crude refining in the US, on a well-to-time basis."

In a statement, President Obama indicated his support for the State Department's decision.

"Because this permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment, and because a number of concerns have been raised through a public process, we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood," he said.

The concerns that have been raised include the actions of the State Department itself, which had hired a company with close financial ties to TransCanada to conduct an environmental impact study of the $7 billion project. This week, the Department's inspector general announced it would conduct an investigation into possible conflicts of interest. The State Department had allowed TransCanada to choose the company for the study.

In response to the State Department's announcement, Bill McKibben of Tar Sands Action wrote on the organization's web site, "The American people spoke loudly about climate change and the president responded. There have been few even partial victories about global warming in recent years so that makes this an important day."

"There's no way, with an honest review, that a pipeline that helps speed the tapping of the world's second-largest pool of carbon can pass environmental muster," McKibben continued.


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