- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2013

The State Department released preliminary findings of a new environmental impact study surrounding the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on Friday, but made no clear recommendation as to whether the the pipeline should be held up for environmental or economic reasons.

Reporters trying to make sense of the nearly 2,000 pages of findings were flummoxed by one senior State Department official who stressed that the document “does not come out one way or the other and make a decision” about whether the U.S. should or should not go forward with the project.

Years of heated debate have surrounded the proposed 1,700 mile pipeline that would transport oil sands from Canada through the U.S. to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico coastline. But Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Kerri-Ann Jones told reporters that it remains “somewhat premature” to get into questions of whether Keystone would result in a seriously negative impact on the environment.

Pro-pipeline groups applauded the findings Friday evening, while Environmental groups responded with immediate frustration — claiming the State Department had only confused an already complicated fight over the project, permits for which were previously blocked by the Obama administration amid environmental concerns.

One the one hand, the findings suggest that big-picture environmental concerns — such as those related to green house gases and global warming — are irrelevant on grounds that western Canada’s oil sands will eventually end being developed and made into burnable fuel whether the White House continues to block the Keystone pipeline or not.

One the other hand, the findings make a clear case that if the Obama administration allows the Keystone to go forward, the long-term impact of the project may result in a significant increase the amount of so-called “green house gasses” being pumped into the atmosphere by U.S. consumers.

Green House Gas (GHG) emissions from the gasoline that ultimately gets produced from oils sands that would be pumped through the Keystone pipeline are “as much as 17 percent higher than gasoline from the average mix of crudes consumed in the United States in 2005,” the State Department’s findings state.

In general, the findings state, gasoline created from the Canadian sands emits between 13 and 19 percent “more life-cycle GHG emissions than Middle Eastern Sour, Mexican Heavy (i.e., Mexican Maya), and Venezuelan Bachaquero crudes, respectively.”

Damon Moglen, who heads the climate and energy program at Friends of the Earth, which has long fought against Keystone, said State Department officials were “really contradicting themselves.”

“What they are saying is that regardless of what they do, they tar sands are going to be developed anyway, so they’re saying the no action alternative will have no impact, which is ludicrous,” said Mr. Moglen, who also voiced frustration about the “incredibly unwieldy and difficult to read” nature of the State Department document.

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, the international programs director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that the “facts remains absolutely clear: the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest.”

“Mining the tar sands would be a disaster for our climate,” Mrs. Casey-Lefkowitz said. “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.”

But several Republican lawmakers and pro-U.S. energy independence groups such as the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) had a very different reaction on Friday.

“The document clearly shows the project will have minimal environmental impacts,” said Michael Whatley, executive vice president of the CEA, which issued a statement calling the State Department’s study “one of the most thorough and pragmatic project reviews in our nations history.”

“For months project opponents have tried to convince the public that moving forward with the pipeline would sacrifice our environment to the benefit of our economy,” said Mr. Whatley, adding that the State Department findings “clearly refutes this false choice.”

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