Final environmental review for Keystone XL tar sands pipeline acknowledges significant climate impact and sets stage for rejection

The State Department has released its final environmental review acknowledging for the first time Keystone XL could accelerate climate change, adding the equivalent of 5.7 million new cars to the road.  There is already compelling evidence that approval of Keystone XL would expand the tar sands industry and cause unacceptable climate impacts.  This is a significant change to previous State Department analyses which have failed to acknowledge the role of the pipeline to facilitate tar sands expansion.  When considering these climate impacts with the overwhelming evidence that the pipeline would create few jobs, bring tar sands to the Gulf for refining and export, and put communities and fresh water at risk, there is no other choice than to reject the pipeline.  This dirty energy project fails the national interest test. In his recent State of the Union address this week, President Obama noted the enormous opportunity the country has to develop clean energy.  Serving our national interest means embracing clean and renewable energy, reducing oil demand, and facilitating cleaner transportation.  This means rejecting Keystone XL.

The pipeline will have a significant climate impact

In this final environmental review, the State Department concedes the pipeline will enable the expansion of tar sands production in a scenario assuming lower oil prices and little or no growth in pipelines.  In this scenario, the State Department has now conceded that the possible climate impact of the pipeline could be upwards of 27.4 MMTCO2e annually which is equivalent to the tailpipe emissions from 5.7 million passenger vehicles.  While the State Department downplays the likelihood of this scenario, they clearly acknowledge the project could pose a significant climate impact.  The International Energy Agency (IEA), futures markets, and the World Bank are all projecting lower global oil prices over the coming years.  According to the environmental review, “[t]he total direct and indirect emissions associated with the proposed Project would contribute to cumulative global GHG emissions.”

Already, there is plenty of recent evidence from the investors, the Canadian government, and the tar sands industry acknowledging that the pipeline is critical to expansion. The International Energy Agency has confirmed the close connection between large pipelines including Keystone XL, and the tar sands industry’s expansion plans.  Investment banks like the Royal Bank of Canada and Goldman Sachs have acknowledged the role of Keystone XL in driving tar sands expansion.  In fact, we know that rail is not a feasible alternative to replace the capacity of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. In short, Goldman Sachs finds that without Keystone XL, lower tar sands prices and higher transport costs will result in the cancelation or deferment of tar sands expansion projects.   We know that rail won’t be a replacement for moving tar sands oil.

The State Department acknowledges tar sands poses a greater risk to water resources

The State Department concludes that a spill of tar sands presents difficult challenges because it sinks.  So-called “submerged oil” also causes problems for spill responders. According to the review, the State Department has admitted there is the possibility of a large spill from the pipeline that could soak soil and flow into water, contaminating miles of river and shoreline.  And the State Department is now publicly acknowledging the problem of “sinking oil” which can be a continual source of oil over time.

There is widespread public concern about a tar sands spill contaminating the Ogallala Aquifer.   Additionally, the pipeline route still traverses the sensitive groundwater resources of the Sandhills.  According to Jane Kleeb at Bold Nebraska, “The State Department acknowledges the current route still crosses the Sandhills, the Aquifer and that chemicals could reach surface water with a spill.”

Keystone XL would cross more than 1000 water bodies, including 50 perennial rivers or streams, and several aquifers, including the Ogallala. It also comes within a mile of approximately 2500 water wells.  Approving a tar sands pipeline that would cross America’s heartland would pose major and unacceptable risks to water resources.

The majority of the tar sands oil piped through Keystone XL is for export

The environmental review has also confirmed Keystone XL is mostly for export.  This is not a pipeline for US economic or energy security but will raise oil prices and helps boost the oil industry.  The review acknowledges a trend of increased exports from the Gulf Coast where the Keystone XL tar sands oil will eventually flow. President Obama has said it himself:

“So what we also know is, is that that oil is going to be piped down to the Gulf to be sold on the world oil markets, so it does not bring down gas prices here in the United States. In fact, it might actually cause some gas prices in the Midwest to go up where currently they can’t ship some of that oil to world markets.”  --President Obama, in an Interview with the New York Times, July 24, 2013

It is no secret that the destination for the toxic and corrosive tar sands oil from Keystone XL is the Gulf Coast.  From here, Gulf Coast refineries will send most of the refined products they make from Keystone XL oil to export markets.  According to Oil Change International, since 2008 when the application for the permit was first submitted to the Department of States, exports of petroleum products have soared. Gulf coast exports have increased 172% since 2008.

Keystone XL is not a job plan for America

The State Department's analysis again confirms the pipeline is not a major job creator – far from it.  According to the FSEIS, the project will require a total of 50 long term employees.  During construction, the proposed Project would only generate 1,950 construction jobs per year.  President Obama himself has rejected the pipeline as a job creator, rejecting claims by proponents of the pipeline.  The failure of this pipeline project to create significant jobs should play a major role in the case against the pipeline.  President Obama himself said:

And my hope would be that any reporter who is looking at the facts would take the time to confirm that the most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline -- which might take a year or two -- and then after that we’re talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 [chuckles] jobs in a economy of 150 million working people. — President Obama, July 24, 2013

The process is far from over

The stage has been set for the next phase of the debate over this pipeline to evaluate whether the pipeline is in the national interest.  The Executive Order under which decisions are made on transboundary energy projects such as Keystone XL requires a national interest determination which starts after the environmental review is completed.

This information will inform a national debate involviong a 30-day public comment period and possibly public meetings.  This process will again clarify that arguments against this pipeline far outweigh any of its purported benefits.

In short, the document released by the State Department is not a decisional document.  This document informs and adds to the mounting evidence that this pipeline isn’t in America’s best interest.  President Obama has already outlined a climate test and the evidence in the FSEIS shows the pipeline fails the climate test.  The President has all of the information he need to reject the pipeline.  The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a project that brings risk with no reward.