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Keystone pipeline won’t hurt environment much, US govt report says

The US State Department raised few objections to the environmental impact of the Keystone XL pipeline in a report released Friday, saying that the project won’t impact the pace of Canadian oil sands development and its contribution to climate change.

While the State Department took no position on the project and  stopped short of recommending if the line should be built, it did  claim the pipeline is more environmentally sound than other  options.

“The approval or denial of any single project is unlikely to  significantly affect the rate of extraction of the oil and the  oil sands, or the refining of heavy crude on the US Gulf  Coast,” a State official told reporters ahead of the  release.

The report marks a major step toward the  completion of the US$7 billion oil pipeline that would allow  transport high-carbon tar sands crude from western Canada to the  Gulf of Mexico. President Barack Obama is expected to make a  definitive decision on approval of Keystone XL in a matter of  months. The State Department’s report will give Obama political  cover to endorse the pipeline in the face of much opposition in  the US based on environmental concerns.

The report posited that tar sands from Canada will be developed  regardless of whether the pipeline is approved, and that other  options to transport oil to the Gulf Coast – including rail,  trucks and barges – would be worse in exacerbating climate  change.

The State Department is expected to hold a press conference later  Friday.

The 1,179-mile pipeline would move the tar sands oil through the  heart of the United States, from western Canada to a hub in  Nebraska, where it would connect with other existing pipelines to  deliver 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries in  Texas.

Opponents of Keystone XL say that, in addition to the  carbon-intensive impact that results from the extraction of tar  sands that will only worsen the effects of climate change, the  pipeline will also put communities nearby at risk of oil spills  and subsequent fallout.

Critics have also pointed out that most of the oil that will  travel through Keystone XL will go to growing economies overseas,  like China, that have an increasing demand for more fossil fuels.  The pipeline, detractors say, is unlikely to lower the price of  gasoline in the US.

Proponents have said the project will create tens of thousands of  jobs for the communities near the pipeline in the US. The State  Department predicts the pipeline would create an immediate 5,000  to 6,000 jobs. Others have said long-term job creation, though,  is nowhere near either estimate. President Obama said as much  last March.

“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 jobs in an economy of 150 million  working people,” he said.

The State Department needs to approve the project given it  crosses the US border. Secretary of State John Kerry has not  given any indication about where he stands on Keystone XL, nor  did he during his term in the Senate before being tapped for  State. The Environmental Protection Agency and other departments  will have 90 days to comment before State makes a final  recommendation to Obama.

Despite comments on how few jobs the pipeline would create, Obama  said this week in his State of the Union address that the US must  have an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy that embraces a  variety of sources.

The comments rankled environmentalists who pointed out that Obama  has said attacking global warming was a top priority for his  administration.

“We believe that continued reliance on an ‘all-of-the-above’  energy strategy would be fundamentally at odds with your goal of  cutting carbon pollution,” the environmentalists wrote in a  letter to Obama.

There were several major accidents in 2013 involving crude oil  rail shipments, including a major explosion in North Dakota late  in the year and an accident that killed 47 people in  Lac-Mégantic, Canada.

Obama blocked Keystone XL approval in January 2012, saying he  needed more time for a fair review, pushing the decision to after  his reelection campaign.

The hesitation has not gone over well in Canada, which relies  heavily on energy exports. The northern Alberta region has the  world’s third largest oil reserves, at 170 billion barrels,  according to AP.

In the meantime, the 485-mile southern arm of the pipeline,  operated by TransCanada, began moving oil last week. Given it  does not cross the US border, it did not require presidential  approval. The southern section runs from Cushing, Oklahoma  through Texas on the way to the Gulf Coast. The northern section  awaiting approval runs through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska  and Kansas before heading into Oklahoma.


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