While far from a full-throated endorsement, the State Department’s assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline may have paved the way for President Obama to approve the controversial project.
The lengthy environmental impact study released Friday makes no recommendation on whether the pipeline should be built, but makes clear that big-picture environmental concerns — such as those related to greenhouse gases and global warming — are irrelevant on grounds that western Canada’s oil sands will eventually be developed and made into burnable fuel.
Furthermore, the State Department says Keystone would have little, if any, impact on American demand for oil.
“We find in this draft that the approval or denial or any one crude oil transport project, including this proposed project, really remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of development of the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil in the U.S.,” said Kerri-Ann Jones, the State Department’s assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs.
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. Many in Congress, including a growing number of Democrats, have pushed the White House to approve the project not only because of its energy potential, but also the thousands of jobs it would create.
But approval of the pipeline would be a landmark defeat for the environmental movement, which just two weeks ago held a massive rally on the Mall and urged Mr. Obama to reject the project.
They had hoped the State Department would take a much tougher stance against Keystone with newly minted Secretary of State John F. Kerry, for years a loud voice on environmental issues, at the helm.
As Republicans and the oil and gas industry touted the draft report, green groups trashed it and vowed to redouble their efforts to stop Keystone.
The Sierra Club called the study “outrageous malpractice.” Oil Change International, a key player in the fight against the pipeline, said the State Department had “absurdly” concluded that the project would have little impact on overall oil sands production.
The National Wildlife Federation said the analysis is “fatally flawed” and rejected its ultimate conclusion.
“If Keystone XL wouldn’t speed tar sands development, why are oil companies pouring millions into lobbying and political contributions to build it?” said Jim Lyon, NWF’s vice president for conservation policy. “By rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, President Obama can keep billions of tons of climate-disrupting carbon pollution locked safely in the ground.”
But environmental groups also are clinging to the flip side of the review and hoping it will convince Mr. Obama to kill the project.
The State Department’s findings make a clear case that if the administration allows the project to go forward, the long-term impact of the project may result in a significant increase in the amount of greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere by U.S. consumers.
Emissions from the gasoline that is ultimately produced from Keystone’s oil sands are “as much as 17 percent higher than gasoline from average mix of crudes consumed in the United States in 2005,” the State Department stated.
Some see the two sides of the report as a clear contradiction.