By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
Updated 6:35 p.m. Friday
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. State Department released a draft Friday of its environmental review of the Keystone XL oil pipeline — dealing a blow to environmentalists by concluding the pipeline wouldn’t have a big impact on the rate of extraction of tar sands oil in Canada or demand for heavy crude oil at U.S. refineries.
The report said limitations on pipeline transport would force more crude oil to be transported through other means, such as rail, which would probably be more expensive. Environmentalists were disappointed in the report, but hopeful that President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry could still reject the pipeline’s federal permit.
“You know the news is bad when it’s buried at 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told reporters in a conference call.
Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Kerri-Ann Jones said a public meeting will be held in Nebraska sometime during the ensuing 45-day public comment period.
Jones said the pipeline’s impact on greenhouse gases is a “very important topic” that was looked at in a number of ways.
“The report said the increase in U.S. crude oil is unlikely to dampen the demand for heavy crude oil at Gulf Coast refineries, and even if the Keystone XL isn’t built, the industry will still find a way to get the Canadian oil to markets – perhaps by rail to Oklahoma, where it could enter a pipeline.
Bill McKibben, founder of the environmentalist group 350.org, said the report is at odds with what most leading climate scientists say.
“Everyone knows that without Keystone, they won’t be able to expand the tar sands,” he said in a conference call with reporters Friday. “It’s actually pretty astonishing.”
McKibben said more people have to gone to jail over the pipeline than any movement in the past 30 years – including several Nebraskans who were involved in a White House protest last month – and it is a “travesty” to have their concerns dismissed.
The Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, or SEIS, is a technical review of the potential environmental impact of the pipeline, not a decision on whether to approve the project.
The report looked at alternatives to the pipeline, including not building the Keystone XL (and instead using rail, barges and other pipelines to get the oil to the Gulf Coast), other pipeline routes to get the oil to Steele City, Neb., and minor route changes or pipeline designs.
The Keystone XL project would move tar sands oil from Canada to Texas, including 195 miles through nine Nebraska counties.
The report mentions two possible alternative routes to the route now under consideration (which was revised due to Nebraska opposition):
• The original pipeline route proposed in 2011 but rejected by Nebraskans because it crossed the ecologically fragile Sandhills.
• An I-90 Alternative that would follow the original path until it intersects with Interstate 90 in South Dakota – where instead of continuing south to Nebraska, it would head east to Emery, S.D., where it would intersection the Keystone One pipeline right-of-way and be built parallel to that pipeline for 254 miles to Steele City, Neb.
When pressed by reporters to give a verdict on environmental concerns about the project, Jones said, “We’re really looking for the public debate at this point.”
“We’re not going to sort of come out and make those conclusions at this point until we engage with the public,” she said. The report shows potential environmental impacts and potential mitigation if the project goes forward.
Danielle Droitsch, Canada project director for the NRDC, said the pipeline would carry “dirty, polluting tar sands” for 50 years or more.
After the public comment period ends, the State Department will produce a final environmental impact report and determine whether the project is in the national interest because the pipe would cross a national border en route from Alberta, Canada, to Texas.
President Obama’s administration must decide whether to live up to his promises to combat climate change even though labor unions have generally supported the pipeline and jobs it would bring.
Editor’s note: to subscribe to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog at no cost, click here.