The U.S. State Department released a draft environmental-impact report on March 1 saying that the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline would have little effect not only on the environment but also on U.S. oil supply and Alberta oil sands development.
The State Department studied several environmental aspects both in the U.S. and Canada, including geology, wetlands, fisheries, recreation, climate change, water resources, land use, pipeline releases, soils, terrestrial vegetation, threatened and endangered species, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, noise and wildlife, as well as effects on socioeconomic and cultural resources, according to an executive summary. It found both that the effect on climate change would be negligible and that the oil sands would continue to thrive with or without Keystone XL.
“Approval or denial of the proposed project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast area,” the summary said, adding that even if Keystone XL and all the other currently proposed pipelines were rejected, it would only decrease production in the Alberta oil sands by 2 to 4 percent by 2030.
During its construction phase, about 240,423 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) would be emitted, the report said, while during operation it would release about 3.19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-related products annually, almost all of it from the generation of electricity to power the pump stations.
“The annual CO2e emissions from the proposed project is equivalent to CO2e emissions from approximately 626,000 passenger vehicles operating for one year or 398,000 homes using electricity for one year,” the report said.
The bulk of economic impact, meanwhile, would come during the one to two years it took to build the pipeline, the report said. The construction would generate revenue from local employment, taxes, worker spending and ancillary goods and services and create 42,100 jobs annually, on average, for those couple of years. Further, just 3,900 of those jobs would be directly related to construction.
“Once in place, the labor requirements for pipeline operations are relatively minor,” the report stated. “Operation of the proposed project would generate 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs, primarily for routine inspections, maintenance, and repairs. Based on this estimate, routine operation of the proposed Pipeline would have negligible socioeconomic impacts.
The report left those on both sides of the debate declaring victory of sorts, with environmentalists calling it proof that the benefits do not outweigh the risks, and supporters talking up the jobs it would create.
“The facts remain absolutely clear: the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest,” said Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Canada Project Director Danielle Droitsch Mining in a statement. “Mining the tar sands would be a disaster for our climate. Piping it through the heartland would put our ranchers and farmers at risk. And sending it to the Gulf only makes our country a dirty oil gateway to overseas markets. It’s not in our national interest. It’s a bad idea. It needs to be denied.”
Pipeline supporters invoked the looming specter of sequestration to say that the report makes their case.
“With unemployment in construction still over 16 percent and cuts to public construction funding beginning today with sequestration, private projects like Keystone XL create jobs that operating engineers are waiting to perform as they seek to put food on the table and pay the mortgage,” International Union of Operating Engineers General President James T. Callahan told the Washington Post.
At least one politician, Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman and Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, called for more analysis, saying the report had not made the case for construction.
“While I appreciate the hard work that has gone into the State Department’s draft assessment, it falls short on a fundamental question: What is the impact on American consumers?” Wyden said in a statement. “The State Department needs to explain how it is in America’s national and economic interests to facilitate Keystone XL’s completion, especially if the pipeline is simply a conduit for oil and refined products to go elsewhere that makes the United States less energy secure and drives domestic gas prices higher.”
The project, proposed by TransCanada, would bring as much as 830,000 barrels per day of crude oil from Alberta, Canada, and the Bakken Shale Formation in Montana, to the Gulf of Mexico coast for refining. To do so it would cross the U.S. border with Canada near Morgan, Montana, continuing through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska. There, it would connect to pipeline facilities near Steele City, Nebraska, and from there be delivered to Cushing, Oklahoma, and the Texas Gulf Coast region, as the State Department outlined the project.
The pipeline had initially been held up by tribes’ and environmentalists’ concerns about its Nebraska route, which would have brought it through the delicate Sand Hills Aquifer. But TransCanada changed the proposed route to avoid that, and Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman signed off on it on January 22. The administration of President Barack Obama will not make a final decision on that section until mid-summer, the Washington Post estimated, though construction on the southern portion that goes through Texas is already under way.
Grassroots tribal members met on February 19 with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs and said that even the new route poses dangers, especially to sacred sites. At least 100 tribal members were also part of a national rally in Washington DC on February 17 demanding climate change action and the rejection of the pipeline. And others spoke up at an Idle No More anti-Keystone XL rally in Denver on the same day.
The State Department also looked at the potential risk that climate change posed to the project, both before and after construction, and concluded that those wouldn’t amount to much either.
“Assuming construction of the proposed project begins as planned in 2015, climate conditions during the 1- to 2-year construction period would not differ substantially from current conditions,” the department said in its 30-page executive summary of the 2,000-page report, and when it was finished, “the pipeline would be buried deep enough to avoid surface impacts of climate changes (freeze-thaw cycles, fires, and temperature extremes).”