Rumors have been circulating as to whether or not the President would approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. On Friday, the State Department released a study suggesting that the pipeline, which is slated to stretch from Canada to Texas, would have no significant impact on the environment. However, they stopped short of actually recommending it to be completed. The Sierra Club released a statement calling the study “deeply flawed,” and environmentalists have pointed out that building the pipeline would promote further fossil fuel use at a time when climate change desperately needs to be addressed.

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The new report will allow a 45-day period for comment, after which a final decision will be made. The President denied approval for the entire span last year, although the southern half of the route is already finished. TransCanada has submitted a new route that bypasses the Sand Hill Region in Nebraska after a large public outcry. Their new map still crosses the High Plains Aquifer, a subject of concern for many activists who worry about their supply if drinking water.

“It really has no recommendations one way or the other. At this point, we are looking at this very, very objectively.” said assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Scientific Affairs, Kerri-Ann Jones.

Since the tar sands could potentially leak from the pipeline, and that the processing and combustion of the oily fossil fuels could contribute to climate change, many are still angry that the Keystone project is even a viable project.

“Oil spills, environmental damage, wildlife put in harm’s way, a doubling down on the climate crisis; It’s hard to understand why the Obama government is even considering this project.” said Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity.

He cited the fact that one tar sands pipeline has already failed fourteen times sine June 2010, in one instance leaking 24,000 gallons. Supporters insist that the Keystone project would bring thousands of jobs to workers on both sides of the border and replace reliance on oil from South America and the Middle East. Others claim that much of the oil would go for international export, and not be a reliable way to achieve energy independence. The US report gave calculated that 42,100 positions would be created by Keystone, leading to $2.05 billion in revenue. In the long term, that figure would dwindle down to 30-50 permanent jobs.

As for the trajectory of the pipeline, the State Department said that it would not flow over designated floodplains in Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska, and that any changes in topography would be negligible. It did find that 24 threatened species would be negatively affected, including the whooping crane, and greater sage grouse who would face habitat loss and lack of food. The review also acknowledged possible harm due to contaminated water in the event of a spill, but they stressed that “spills associated with the proposed project that enter the environment are expected to be rare and relatively small”.

Now, the administration is gearing up to hear what both sides of the debate have to say, and make their final decision based on the amount of support or opposition they face in the upcoming period for public comment.

+ US Department of State


Images via White House photographer Pete Souza and Wikicommons user Ekabhishek