Oil Pipeline Delayed for More Environmental Review

By Beacon Staff

OMAHA, Neb. – A proposed pipeline designed to carry Canadian tar sands oil to refineries along the Gulf Coast will be delayed further while the U.S. government conducts an additional environmental review.

The U.S. State Department announced Tuesday that it planned to conduct the additional review environmental groups had demanded. A presidential permit from the State Department is required because the pipeline would cross the U.S.-Canadian border.

Calgary-based TransCanada first submitted its Keystone XL project for State Department review in late 2008. The project is designed to carry crude oil from tar sands near Hardisty, Alberta, to the Gulf Coast via Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. TransCanada has also proposed connecting the pipeline to the Bakken oil field in Montana and North Dakota.

TransCanada officials had previously predicted that a decision on the project would come by the end of 2010. The State Department’s decision to issue a supplemental environmental report triggers a longer review process, so the Keystone XL project will be delayed further.

TransCanada’s President and Chief Executive Russ Girling said he’s glad the review of the Keystone XL project is moving forward and he predicted that it would ultimately be approved.

“Keystone XL has been under review since 2008 and we are confident we have addressed the major questions raised by regulators and government agencies,” Girling said.

Supporters say the project could be a boon for U.S. jobs and energy production while strengthening a friendly source of oil. Pipeline opponents say the Keystone XL has the potential to be an ecological disaster and could jeopardize the vast stores of groundwater under the Plains.

The State Department will collect additional public comment beginning in mid-April and conduct another public hearing before issuing a decision on the project sometime before the end of 2011. Previously, more than 20 public comment meetings were held along the pipeline’s proposed path.

The proposed path crosses several rivers and the massive underground Ogallala aquifer, which supplies drinking water to about 2 million people in eight states and supports irrigation.

Alex Moore, spokesman for Friends of the Earth, said he worries that the timeline for the extra environmental review may be too short to properly evaluate the risks of the project.

“I hope this is not a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement in name only,” Moore said. “To do this job right, the State Department must analyze the air pollution and oil spills that can be expected from this pipeline, as well as explore alternative routes that avoid the Ogallala Aquifer. If they don’t, they will have a lot of angry ranchers to deal with.”

Environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth, have raised concerns that the pipeline could foul underground and surface water supplies, increase air pollution around refineries and harm wildlife. They also have speculated about what they consider inadequate pipeline safety and emergency spill responses.

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