In March, the State Department issued a controversial analysis of the Keystone XL Pipeline that stated the project would have no significant impact on the environment. Needless to say, this raised the hackles of many concerned citizens and environmental groups. The US Environmental Protection Agency also took issue with the assessment, and this week released a document criticizing the State Department’s report. In a letter, the agency remarked that there was not enough evidence to give credence to the State Department’s conclusions concerning safety, emissions, and alternative routes. The formal objections could complicate the approval of the $7 billion project.
If the Keystone XL Pipeline is given the go-ahead, it would stretch 1,700 miles from the Alberta tar sands in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, it would cross a number of sensitive ecosystems, including the vital Ogallala aquifer, which is one of the world’s largest sources of fresh groundwater. At full capacity, the Pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day. The EPA calculates that the amount of oil could add 936 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the next fifty years. Tar sands emit 17% more CO2 (although the EPA says that figure could be higher) than regular crude, making the issue of curbing climate change that much more challenging.
The EPA also disagreed with the State Department over their claim that constructing the pipeline would not hasten the development of the tar sands. Proponents of the pipeline say that since the sands are slated to be exploited regardless, the US should reap the economic benefits. Critics point out that not only would the extraction be hampered without the pipeline, but very few permanent jobs would be created by the construction. The EPA also asked the State Department to recalculate the cost of shipping oil by rail or pipeline.
The State Department is the body usually responsible for granting permits for pipelines across international borders. The criticism of their report was issued during the 45-day comment period set by the Department as part of their review process. One the time is over, the State Department is scheduled to make a final assessment and recommendation. Due to the heated nature of the debate, the President is expected to give the final word on the matter sometime this summer. Meanwhile, the EPA is still cleaning up a three-year-old spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan that has so far cost $1 billion. In light of the recent Mayflower disaster in Arkansas, the Keystone XL Pipeline is coming under much more intense scrutiny.