A United States State Department report was released last Friday, detailing the potential environmental effects of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The report largely downplayed the effects of the pipeline on the environment. The Keystone XL pipeline is a 1897 km long pipeline originating in Hardisty, Alta. and travelling south to Steele City, Nebraska. It would bring 830,000 barrels of crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries in America. This $5.4 billion USD project is proposed by TransCanada Corp, a large energy infrastructure company.
The report, which spans eleven volumes, stated that if the pipeline were to be constructed, it would not significantly elevate greenhouse gas emissions. It noted that whether or not the Keystone pipeline would be built, carbon emissions from the tar sands would continue, with the crude oil simply being shipped elsewhere, or through a different mode of transportation. Greenhouse gas emissions derived from bitumen production are seventeen per cent higher than the average barrel of crude oil used in the United States.
United States President Barack Obama said last summer that he would not approve the pipeline if it heightened carbon pollution from the oil sands. The pipeline has become largely symbolic of Obama’s approach to climate change issues. He has avoided making concrete decisions about the pipeline’s approval since the project was proposed five years ago.
The long, drawn-out approval process associated with pipeline development are the result of intense pressure from environmental groups to reduce the United States’ dependence on environmentally unfriendly tar sands oil. Pressure to approve the pipeline is rising as oil-by-rail has gone beyond its own capacity, with an increasing number of train derailments and harmful spills of petroleum products from damaged train cars. Republicans, lobbyists from the tar sands industry, and the Canadian government, are also all pressuring for approval.
There is another three-month-long review process and no firm deadline for the project to be approved. United States Secretary of State John Kerry said he has to consult with a number of government agencies over the next three months to assess the broader economic, environmental, and national security impacts of the proposed pipeline before approving or rejecting it. The report released this week still leaves many questions unanswered and is far from providing a green light toward the pipeline’s approval.