State Department Ignores the Environmental Impacts of Keystone XL

by Sofia Plagakis, 3/4/2013

On Friday, the U.S. Department of State published a revised draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the Keystone XL pipeline, which essentially ignores the substantial environmental impacts associated with building the pipeline. If approved, the pipeline would transport tar sands (which are more corrosive than crude oil) from Canada through America's heartland to Texas and create air, water, and public health problems.

Particularly troubling is the State Department's conclusion that the pipeline would "not likely result in significant adverse environmental effects." Such an assessment is at odds with government and expert studies, which show that tar sands oil produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than crude oil. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that Keystone XL would increase annual carbon emissions by the equivalent of seven coal-fired power plants operating continuously.

Even more puzzling is the State Department's claim that the pipeline would be "unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development of the oil sands." This conclusion directly conflicts with statements made by the oil and gas industry. For instance, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers stated that Keystone XL is necessary to increase the expansion of tar sands. Also, Standard & Poor's reported that future growth of tar sands is at risk due to delays in approving new pipelines.

The State Department did correctly debunk the job creation myth long associated with building the pipeline. The pipeline company, TransCanada, has claimed the project could create 20,000 "direct" jobs, most of them temporary, an estimate which is inconsistent with government and academic studies. The State Department estimated that the project would directly create only 3,900 temporary construction jobs and only 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs after construction is complete.

Climate change is the most significant environmental concern of our lifetimes. Consistent and comprehensive action is essential to addressing such a significant problem. EPA data on greenhouse gas emissions (released in January) shows that the oil and gas sector emit considerably more greenhouse gas pollution than previously believed. Though the State Department's draft acknowledges climate change impacts from the proposed pipeline, it dangerously underestimates the scope of the impact. President Obama must consider the full scope of data on the pipelines and show leadership by continuing to block Keystone XL. Starting this week, the public will have 45 days to make their voices heard. We'll update this post as soon as the comment period opens, so you'll have a chance to weigh in and let the State Department know what you think of its draft environmental assessment.

Image in teaser by flickr user Travis S., used under a Creative Commons license.

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