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Report clears way for Obama to approve Keystone oil pipeline

© Photo: AFP

Video by Mariam SAAB

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-01

The long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas cleared a major hurdle towards approval on Friday when the US State Department reported no major environmental objections to the project, in a serious blow to climate change activists.

The proposed $7 billion pipeline, which will run more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) from the oil sands of Alberta in Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast, has become a symbol of the political debate over climate change.

Republicans and some oil and gas-producing states in the US, as well as Canada’s minister of natural resources, cheered the report, but it came as a slap in the face for environmentalists already at odds with Obama’s energy policy.

The report stopped short of recommending approval of the pipeline, but it gives Obama new support if he chooses to endorse the project, in spite of opposition from many Democrats. Critics say the pipeline would carry “dirty oil” that contributes to global warming, and they also express concern about possible spills.

The White House signaled late on Friday that a decision on an application by TransCanada Corp to build the project would be made “only after careful consideration” of the report, along with comments from the public and other government agencies.

“The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement includes a range of estimates of the project’s climate impacts, and that information will now need to be closely evaluated by Secretary (of State John) Kerry and other relevant agency heads in the weeks ahead,” White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said.

The agency said that blocking Keystone XL – or any pipeline – would do little to slow the expansion of Canada’s vast oil sands, maintaining the central finding of a preliminary study issued last year.

Political pressure

Republicans and business and labour groups have urged Obama to approve the pipeline to create thousands of jobs and move toward North American energy independence. The pipeline is also strongly supported by Democrats in oil and gas-producing states, including Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. All face re-election this year and could be politically damaged by rejection of the pipeline. Republican Mitt Romney won in all three states in the 2012 presidential election.

The pipeline would travel through the heart of the US, carrying oil derived from tar sands in western Canada to a hub in Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries in Texas. An existing spur runs through Kansas and Oklahoma to Texas.

Other options to get the oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries – including rail, trucks and barges – would be worse for climate change, the report said.

State Department approval is needed because the pipeline crosses a US border. The Environmental Protection Agency and other departments will have 90 days to comment before the agency makes a recommendation to Obama on whether the project is in the national interest. A final decision is not expected before summer.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said the report “once again confirms that there is no reason for the White House to continue stalling construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.” Addressing Obama, McConnell said: “Mr President, no more stalling, no more excuses. Please pick up that pen you’ve been talking so much about and make this happen. Americans need these jobs.”

‘Endangering farms’

However, a top official at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, said the report gives Obama all the information he needs to reject the pipeline.

“Piping the dirtiest oil on the planet through the heart of America would endanger our farms, our communities, our fresh water and our climate. That is absolutely not in our national interest,” Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, the NRDC’s international programme director, told AP.

In Canada, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver welcomed the report and said officials there “await a timely decision” on the pipeline.

“The choice for the United States is clear: oil supply from a reliable, environmentally responsible friend and neighbor or from unstable sources with similar or higher greenhouse gas emissions and lesser environmental standards,” he told AP.

The new report comes only days after Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he reiterated his support for an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy that embraces a wide range of sources, from oil and natural gas to renewables such as wind and solar power. The remarks were a rebuff to some of his environmental allies who argued that Obama’s support of expanded oil and gas production doesn’t make sense for a president who wants to reduce pollution linked to global warming.

Critical for Canada

Obama blocked the Keystone XL pipeline in January 2012, saying he did not have enough time for a fair review before a deadline forced on him by congressional Republicans. That delayed the choice for him until after his re-election.

Obama’s initial rejection went over badly in Canada, which relies on the US for 97 percent of its energy exports. The pipeline is critical to Canada, which needs infrastructure in place to export its growing oil sands production. The northern Alberta region has the world’s third largest oil reserves, with 170 billion barrels of proven reserves.

In a bid to smooth over relations with Canada and other pipeline supporters, Obama quickly suggested development of an Oklahoma-to-Texas line to alleviate an oil bottleneck at a Cushing, Oklahoma, storage hub. Oil began moving on that segment of the pipeline last week. The 485-mile (780-kilometer) southern section of the pipeline operated by Calgary-based TransCanada did not require presidential approval because it does not cross a US border.

TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling said he was pleased at the latest environmental review, the fifth released on the project since 2010. “The conclusions haven’t varied. They are the same as before,” he said. The report says oil derived from tar sands in Alberta generates about 17 percent more greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming than traditional crude.

But the report makes clear that other methods of transporting the oil – including rail, trucks and barges – would release more greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming than the pipeline.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-02-01

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