The U.S. State Department released its final environmental assessment of the Keystone Pipeline and the media has been in a collective rush to say it gives President Obama the cover he needs to approve it.
Perhaps. The report is huge and its reasoning balky and hard to decipher. This gigantic 11-volume tome is not encumbered with a lot of intelligence or insight on a pipeline that will substantially increase the shipment of Canadian bitumen from the tar sands to U.S. Gulf Coat refineries.
Kate Shepherd at the Huffington Post wrote that the assessment “increases the likelihood” that the pipeline will get the green light after years of delay:
“The report, which is the final version of the department’s environmental impact statement, found that the pipeline will not significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions — the biggest issue for the environmental groups that want to see the pipeline rejected.
The report found that the production, refining and combustion of the projected 830,000 barrels of oil that will flow through the pipeline each day will add between 147 and 168 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Further, the report states that “approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States.”
But the respected Calgary-based Pembina Institute disagreed with this growing consensus voice in the mainstream media.
Clare Demerse, federal policy director at Pembina, said the report was an improvement over the March 2013 draft, “which argued there was virtually no connection between pipelines and the growth in oilsands production. The final assessment is updated with stronger analysis that better reflects the environmental and market realities.”
“The assessment now acknowledges that under some circumstances, constraints on new pipeline capacity could have ‘a substantial impact on oilsands production levels.’ In other words, building the Keystone XL pipeline could help spur increased oilsands production and the carbon pollution that goes with it.”
She continued: “President Obama says he will only approve Keystone XL if it does not significantly worsen carbon pollution. By that standard, Keystone XL is not in the U.S. national interest.”
The report is a tough slog and it’s hard to imagine very many people sitting down to read such nonsense. Just look at this line on the potential damage from a large oil spill:
“The potential impacts from a large spill would be similar to the impacts from the medium-sized spill, but on a much larger scale.” Really. So it’s sort of like a big snow storm is like a small storm, except there is more snow.
But it’s clear momentum is building for Obama to finally approve the pipeline. He faces pressure from Republicans of course but the pressure is also building from within his own party as the mid term elections near. Obama might just hold his nose and approve the project if it means retaining key seats in the Senate.
The go-ahead will be great news for Big Oil but bad news for the climate and for Canada. The tar sands are taking a terrible economic and environmental toll on Canada and it’s clear the tar sands project needs to be constrained, not expanded. But unfortunately, Keystone will likely prove to be the ‘great enabler’ for the tar sands, despite what this mush of a report contends.