U.S. State Department releases its environmental assessment of Keystone XL

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

The U.S. State Department has issued a favourable environmental impact report, on Friday afternoon, about the Keystone XL pipeline.

While the report doesn't offer a clear recommendation on whether President Obama should approve the controversial project, it does mitigate climate concerns about the proposed pipeline that could transport up 830,000 barrels of oil per day from northern Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.

According to Washington Post, the State department acknowledges that Alberta's oil sands are carbon-intensive but suggests blocking the project would not have a significant impact on either the future development of Alberta's oil sands or on U.S. oil consumption.

Moreover, the Wall Street Journal notes that there wasn't much criticism about the pipeline route in the 2,000 page report:

The report said that it was "very unlikely" any releases from the pipeline would affect groundwater quality, except in the shallow groundwater and water wells in Nebraska. It didn't expect much climate impact and also found only 1 of 13 federally protected species would be potentially adversely affected by the project.

The release of the so-called 'Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) initiates a 45 day public comment period on the pipeline.

Obama still has the final say on whether the pipeline is a go; he is expected to make that decision later this year. The positive environmental analysis, however, is a significant hurdle to pass for Alberta's oil industry.

[ Related: What will happen to Canada-US relations if Obama rejects the Keystone XL pipeline? ]

The Harper government — who have been touting Keystone as a significant driver for Canada's future economic performance — reacted cautiously to the State Department's report.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver issued this statement on Friday.

"Canada and the United States are more than neighbours. Our two nations’ shared commitment to democracy, free markets and rule of law underpin why Canada and the United States have the world’s most successful relationship. The integration of our two economies and energy systems contributes to our shared prosperity, energy security and environmental stewardship.

Today, the US State Department released the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL project. We have received the Statement and we are reviewing it. The United States has a process for reviewing the project and we respect their process.

The Keystone XL pipeline will create tens of thousands of jobs on both sides of the border. Canada has aligned its goals on greenhouse gas emissions with the United States, committing to a 17% reduction below 2005 levels by 2020. We are already half way towards meeting our target. This project will replace oil from Venezuela and the Middle East with a stable continental supply, including from the oil sands and improve the energy security of North America.

Canada’s continued prosperity will be determined by our ability to diversify markets for our energy products. As today’s economic numbers demonstrate, we must continue to work hard and make the right decisions to ensure we improve our overall quality of life."

(Photo courtesy of Canadian Press)

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