The proposed Keystone XL pipeline took a step forward this month, as the U.S. State Department released its evaluation of the project's potential environmental impacts. The draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released on March 1, 2013 documents the State Department's analysis of the pipeline's impacts to environmental resources based on the currently proposed route. The EIS is still preliminary, and is now subject to public comment. Moreover, even a final EIS would not reach any conclusion as to whether the pipeline serves the national public interest, and the project would still need a presidential permit to ship oil across the US-Canadian border. Nevertheless the draft EIS does suggest that any environmental impacts from the pipeline would be relatively minor.
The Keystone XL project is a proposed extension of an existing crude oil pipeline. The $7 billion project would run from the Canadian province of Alberta to Texas, delivering Canadian crude to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The oil shipped on the pipeline would likely include so-called synthetic crude derived from Canada's oil sands or "tar sands" resources.
The draft EIS (available from the State Department's website) makes a series of findings about the project's potential environmental impacts, ranging from direct impacts along the pipeline's route to indirect impacts like further development of the Alberta oil sands. As the State Department found in its earlier environmental review, the supplemental EIS found that the pipeline would not have significant impacts to any resources along the proposed project route.
Notably, the draft EIS found that Keystone XL would not be likely to substantially increase the rate of development of the oil sands, nor would it likely increase the volume of crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast. For example, the draft found that denial of the pipeline's presidential permit would not mean a reduction in oil production in Western Canada or from the Bakken formation; rather, oil producers would resort to other transportation modes such as pipelines to British Columbia or even rail shipment of crude. For similar reasons, the draft EIS found that the Keystone XL pipeline would not substantively change global greenhouse gas emissions.
Next steps for the Keystone XL project include a 45-day public comment period, after which the State Department will issue a final EIS. Later this year, the State Department is expected to issue a so-called national interest determination, considering factors including foreign policy, economics, environmental concerns, and national security. This determination will involve consultation with other agencies, including the U.S. Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior,
Commerce, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security and the
Environmental Protection Agency. The final decision whether to allow the pipeline falls to President Obama.