The Keystone XL Pipeline Passes The President’s Red-Line On Climate

Avoiding a favorable decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline got a bit harder for the Obama Administration as the US State Department issued a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Pipeline in January. Overall, the Final Supplemental EIS supports the issuance of the necessary permits mainly because it establishes that the Pipeline meets and exceeds President Obama’s stated test for approval.

The Pipeline will stretch 875 miles and carry up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day originating in Western Canada to Steele City, Nebraska, where it will proceed through existing pipelines to refineries on the Gulf Coast. TransCanada first filed for the presidential permit (required because of the international aspect of the Pipeline) in 2008. The latest permit request includes a pipeline route that avoids the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills Region in Nebraska, which was a source of criticism of the previous application.

Because the Pipeline constitutes a major federal action under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), an EIS is required. Over time, multiple EISs have been issued. The most recent Final Supplemental EIS should, but has not, silence the Pipeline’s critics.

Followers of the Pipeline saga know that President Obama weighed in on the decision in June of last year stating: “Our national interest would be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” The Final Supplemental EIS proves that the pipeline will not ‘exacerbate the problem.’

The Final Supplemental EIS acknowledged that the Canadian oil will be moved by truck or rail if the pipeline is not built.  In fact, transportation by rail was found to be occurring in substantial volumes, with approximately 180,000 barrels per day (bpd) currently moving by rail. Additionally, significant increases in rail transport capacity have been made, with additional investments planned to further increase that capacity. Approval or denial of the pipeline will not significantly impact the rate of extraction in Canada or the demand for heavier crude at refineries in the U.S.  In short, the oil is coming and will continue to come.

The construction and operation of the actual pipeline will add about 1.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (tons) per year.  When refined, the heavier Canadian oil would emit about 17% more greenhouse gases than the average barrel of oil refined in the US in 2005. Emissions associated with production, refining, and combustion of 830,000 bpd of the Canadian oil transported through the pipeline are between 147 -168 million tons per year, opposed to 124 – 159 million tons per year from the reference crude oil. Overall, various climate related situations, such as warmer winter temperatures, are anticipated to occur regardless of any potential effects from the Pipeline.

Nevertheless, critics of the Pipeline are undaunted and continue to argue against it. Some have said this Final Supplemental EIS is flawed, an argument similar to one raised against every past EIS. Others suggest that the Final Supplemental EIS actually proves the president’s ‘significantly exacerbate’ test is met, saying that the carbon emission numbers in and of themselves establish harm to the environment. Finally, others point to the possibility of spills or corrosion. It seems that no matter what any EIS states, critics will find an argument against the pipeline.

The Obama Administration has signaled that a decision awaits additional review by other federal agencies, which they anticipate will last until well into the summer. Some cynics suggest that the ongoing ‘review’ will last at least until the 2104 congressional mid-term elections. Regardless, the facts establish that the Pipeline is not inherently more dangerous than any other pipeline, that the Canadian oil will be developed and refined, and that the Pipeline’s construction and operation will not ‘significantly exacerbate’ the climate situation. After more than five years of review and debate, it is time to decide in favor of the Pipeline.

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