Obama Draft EIS on Keystone XL Leans Toward Project Approval

April 2013, Vol. 68 No. 4

The Obama administration's positive draft environmental impact statement on the final, four-state leg of the Keystone XL pipeline appears to set approval by the State Department on an exorable path.

The draft EIS cleared away the major roadblock: concerns that greenhouse gas emissions from extraction of tar sands in Alberta would be unacceptable. It also found no problem with a new route TransCanada developed to avoid passing through a vulnerable aquifer in the Sand Hills of Nebraska.

“Completing the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Keystone XL is an important step towards receiving a Presidential Permit for this critical energy infrastructure project,” said Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer.

“We’re looking for feedback now from the public to help us shape this going forward,” Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, told reporters after the draft EIS was released. The agency is conducting the review because the pipeline would cross an international border.

John Stoody, director, Government & Public Relations, Association of Oil Pipe Lines (AOPL), says the draft EIS "gives the Obama administration every reason it needs to approve the project."

But environmentalists hope the State Department will discard upon closer inspection assumptions it made about railroads stepping in to carry oil sands crude to the U.S. if the pipeline is not approved, according to Anthony Swift, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a major environmental group opposing Keystone.

The proposed Keystone XL project consists of an 875-mile long pipeline and related facilities to transport up to 830,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil from Alberta, Canada and the Bakken Shale Formation in Montana. The pipeline would cross the U.S. border near Morgan, MT, and continue through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska where it would connect to existing pipeline facilities near Steele City, NE, for onward delivery to Cushing, OK, and the Texas Gulf Coast region. The administration previously approved the pipeline’s southern leg called the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project from Oklahoma to Texas. That $2.3-billion project is more than half complete.