May 03, 2013
State Department Assessment of Keystone Pipeline Insufficient, EPA states
by Robert Kropp
Commenting on a State Department review of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, the
Environmental Protection Agency criticizes its findings on greenhouse gas emissions and pipeline
By the time the 45-day public comment period ended in late April for the US State Department's
controversial environmental impact statement
on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, more than one million people had submitted comments calling
on the Obama administration to reject the pipeline's construction.
Advocates for a
meaningful climate policy had reason to cheer after President Obama announced in his second
inaugural address that failure to respond to the threat of climate change "would betray our
children and future generations." But then came the State Department's assessment, which somehow
concluded that construction of the pipeline would "not likely result in significant adverse
Evidently the State Department chose to ignore such studies as
those produced by Oil Change
International and the Pembina
Institute, both of which used science instead of politics to conclude that building the
pipeline would lead to expansion of the tar sands in Canada, once described as "the most
destructive project on Earth."
"Filling Keystone XL with oil sands will cause a 36 per
cent increase from current oil sands production, for which the higher upstream emissions alone will
be equivalent to the annual emissions from 6.3 coal-fired power plants or over 4.6 million cars,"
During hearings conducted by the State Department before the public
comment period closed, Frances Beinecke of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) described Keystone as "a
profit scheme for big oil. It would feed our addiction to fossil fuels, accelerate climate change
and put our heartland farmers, ranchers and communities at risk. It needs to be denied."
On the final day of the public comment period, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
weighed in on the matter with a highly publicized break with the State Department's position. In
letter, EPA described as "insufficient" the State Department's conclusions on greenhouse gas
(GHG) emissions, potential oil spills, and alternate routes for the proposed pipeline.
State Department "concludes that regardless of whether the Project permit is approved, projected
oil sands production will remain substantially unchanged," EPA stated in its letter. That
conclusion was arrived at by considering rail transport as an effective alternative should
construction of the pipeline be denied by Obama. "The market analysis and the conclusion that oil
sands crude will find a way to market with or without the Project is the central finding that
supports" the conclusion, EPA wrote.
On the issue of pipeline leaks—the most recent of
which occurred last month in Arkansas, when more than 200,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil
spilled in a residential neighborhood—EPA observed, "These spills can also have different impacts
than spills of conventional oil."
Referring to a 2010 spill of tar sands crude in
Michigan, EPA stated, "Oil sands crude sank to the bottom of the Kalamazoo River, mixing with the
river bottom's sediment and organic matter, making the oil difficult to find and recover. After
almost three years of recovery efforts, EPA recently determined that dredging of bottom sediments
will be required to protect public health and welfare and the environment."
is this difference in GHG intensity—between oil sands and other crudes—that is a major focus of the
public debate about the climate impacts of oil sands crude," EPA stated.
A coalition of
49 institutional investors, coordinated by Ceres and representing some $2 trillion in assets under
management, wrote to a trade group of 12 major oil sands producers in October, recommending the
reduction of GHG emissions from oil sands extraction "to at least that of conventional oil
production." But the investors also expressed skepticism that "these concerns can be adequately
resolved while oil sands development continues on its present trajectory."
still awaits the President's final determination on whether the pipeline will be built. May Boeve,
Executive Director of 350.org, stated, "This
decision is now firmly on President Obama's desk. Approving Keystone XL would make a mockery of the
commitment he made at the inauguration to take action on climate change."
In March, 62
Senators voted in favor of a meaningless amendment supporting its construction. And the
Republican-led House of Representatives in scheduled to vote this month on a measure approving
construction. The Northern Route Approval Act would "ensure that the Keystone XL pipeline is built
without any further delay," according to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.