On Friday, March 1, the State Department released a controversial report regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline project. In its Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, the State Department’s outlook was positive for the Pipeline’s creation, noting that there were likely to be “no significant impacts” to natural resources along the Pipeline’s projected path. The State Department’s release has environmentalist organizations up in arms.
In the lengthy report, the State Department notes that Canada is likely to develop the tar sands regardless of whether the cross-border Pipeline is approved. The report provides for No Action Alternatives, or those that would result if the Presidential Permit is not issued or the Pipeline was otherwise not constructed. The State Department lays out several explanations for why Canada’s tar sands development would still go forward, including Canada’s stated commitment to the development and the global nature of the crude oil market, which would support the continued development of the tar sands regardless of its destination. If the Pipeline is not completed, the State Department contends, the crude oil will still be transported out of Canada to refineries in other countries – which could include the United States.
With the State Department aligning itself with the oil industry, it seems inevitable that the Pipeline construction will soon move forward. Canada’s oil is landlocked, and although the State Department does not believe the Pipeline would increase domestic consumption of Canadian oil, the Pipeline would make it much easier for Canada to export its oil to other consumers worldwide. Despite the report’s findings that the Pipeline would not negatively impact climate change, environmental groups including the Sierra Club are resolved to keep fighting; these groups are concerned about the impact the notoriously costly process of extracting oil from tar sands would have on climate change, period.
Even in the aftermath of President Obama’s State of the Union address, where he went so far as to threaten executive action should Congress fail to address climate change, the State Department’s report appears to signal the Pipeline’s ultimate approval by removing climate change from the equation. Following the report’s publication in the Federal Register, the public has 45 days to comment, and the President’s decision is not expected until summer at the earliest.
Pipeline supporters have argued that building the Pipeline will result in domestic job growth in America. This may prove to be another justification for the Pipeline’s approval. With this major setback to environmental organizations, it remains to be seen what steps these organizations will take to combat the Pipeline. If the President does approve the Pipeline, the State Department’s report will provide justification for why he is not abandoning the environmental agenda laid out in his State of the Union address. While environmental organizations are unlikely to agree, the public’s reaction remains to be seen.
Written by Casey O’Brien, GIELR staff