The State Department on Friday raised no major objections to the Keystone XL oil pipeline and said other options to get the oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries are worse for climate change.
But the latest environmental review stops short of recommending whether the project should be approved. State Department approval of the 1,700-mile pipeline is needed because it crosses a U.S. border.
The lengthy report says Canadian tar sands are likely to be developed, regardless of whether the U.S. approves Keystone XL, which would carry oil from western Canada to refineries in Texas. The pipeline would also travel through Montana, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
The report acknowledges that development of tar sands in Alberta would create greenhouse gases but makes clear that other methods to transport the oil — including rail, trucks and barges — also pose a risk to the environment.
The State Department was required to conduct a new environmental analysis after the pipeline’s operator, Calgary-based TransCanada, changed the project’s route though Nebraska. The Obama administration blocked the project last year because of concerns that the original route would have jeopardized environmentally sensitive land in the Sand Hills region.
The pipeline plan has become a flashpoint in the U.S. debate over climate change. Republicans and business and labor groups have urged the Obama administration to approve the pipeline as a source of much-needed jobs and a step toward North American energy independence.
Environmental groups have been pressuring President Barack Obama to reject the pipeline, saying it would carry “dirty oil” that contributes to global warming. They also worry about a spill.
The draft report begins a 45-day comment period, after which the State Department will issue a final environmental report before Secretary of State John Kerry makes a recommendation about whether the pipeline is in the national interest.
Kerry has promised a “fair and transparent” review of the plan and said he hopes to decide on the project in the “near term.” Most observers do not expect a decision until summer at the earliest.
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