Groundhog Day at the State Department

Similarities between the State Department’s 2013 and 2011 environmental review docs portend early spring for Keystone XL, and long winter for pipeline opponents

Top line points:

  • The Canadian oil sands will be developed regardless of whether Keystone XL is built or not.
  • Keystone XL will have no impact on climate change because Canada’s oil sands will be developed regardless of its construction.
  • The construction of Keystone XL will make a significant contribution to the U.S.’s continuing economic recovery.
  • The risks associated with shipping Canadian oil sands crudes are the same as with shipping conventional crude oils. They do not pose a unique threat to aquifers or pipeline safety.                                                                   

Nineteen months removed from the release of the State Department’s “final” report on the environmental profile and impact of the Keystone XL pipeline, the agency issued an updated “draft” supplemental to that analysis last week that got plenty of attention in the press. Of course, a whole lot has changed on the issue since that Final EIS was issued in 2011 – the actual pipeline route in Nebraska, for starters.  But reading through the draft supplemental document issued last week, one can’t help but be reminded of the one thing throughout this entire process that hasn’t really changed a bit: namely, that the science is squarely on the side of the project’s supporters, and that, try as it might, the State Department is starting to run out of ways to confirm that reality over and over again.  Compare last week’s headlines to those we saw back in Aug. 2011 and you’d be forgiven for assuming that the State Department simply re-issued the same report:

Final Report, Aug. 26, 2011

Draft Supplemental, March 1, 2013

  • “U.S. finds limited environmental harm from Keystone XL pipeline” (Platts)
  • “State Dept reviews Keystone XL project, sees ‘limited adverse environmental impacts’” (Sun-Herald)
  • “U.S. sees no major harm from Keystone XL pipeline” (AFP)
  • “State Dept sees no environmental harm in controversial oil sands pipeline” (McClatchy)
  • “State Department’s environmental analysis gives pipeline an initial green light” (Canadian Press)
  • “State Dept: Minimal environmental impact from Keystone pipeline” (LA Times)
  • “State Department draft report sees little environmental threat from Keystone XL” (Nebraska Radio Network)
  • “State Dept again sees no environmental barriers to Keystone pipeline” (New York Times)
  • “U.S. State Department says Keystone XL won’t impact global warming” (Globe and Mail)
  • “Keystone would have no ‘substantial’ impact on emissions, State Department says” (Roll Call)

Needless to say, anti-oil activists weren’t too pleased to see the State Department confirm once again that the pipeline’s impact on the environment will be minimal – essentially rendering useless the tens of millions of dollars spent by these groups over the past two years aimed at pressuring State Department leaders to pull back, and even reverse course, on its previously positive review.

In fact, reading through the 2013 edition more closely, one can even argue that the State Department’s defense of Keystone XL – and its direct refutation of some of the activists’ most frequently used talking points – is even than it was back in 2011. Below, we take a closer look at the substance of both reports, and compare that meat to the relatively thin soup being offered up by the other side.

 Claim: “If Keystone [XL] doesn’t get built, it’s clear that banks and others will pull financing and the era of [oil] sands expansion will be done.” (’s Bill McKibben, The Nation, 13 Feb 2013)



 “The proposed Project is not likely to impactthe amount of crude oil produced from the oil sands.” (ES-15) “Project unlikely to have a substantial impacton the rate of development in the oil sands” (ES-15)

“[E]ven when considering the incremental cost of non-pipeline transport options, should the proposed Project be denied, a 0.4 to 0.6 percent reduction in WCSB production could occur by 2030” (Appendix W, p. 66)

Claim: “Building this pipeline would be the same as putting 6 million new cars on the road.” (NRDC statement, 1 March 2013)



 “…from a global perspective, the project is not likely to result in incremental GHG emissions” (Appendix B, page 47) “…the incremental life-cycle emissions associated with the proposed Project are estimated in the range of 0.07 to 0.83 MMTCO2e annually” (Appendix W, page 66)*This, according to DOS calculations on page 65 of Appendix W, is equivalent to putting between14 thousand and 163 thousand cars on the road. As noted in 2011, this amount is not considered to be a significant incremental increase.

Claim: “[Proponents’] baseless claims that the project would create 20,000 jobs or more is nothing short of a cruel hoax. In fact, the pipeline will not play any substantial role in putting Americans back to work.” (NRDC fact sheet, Feb 2012)



“During construction, there would be temporary, positive socioeconomic impactsas a result of local employment, taxes on worker income, spending by construction workers, and spending on construction goods and services.” (ES-22)

“Operation of the proposed Project would also result in long-term to permanent beneficial socioeconomic impacts, including employment and income benefits resulting from long-term hires and local operation expenditures, and increased property tax revenues.” (ES-22)

 “Construction of the proposed Project would generate temporary, positive socioeconomic impactsas a result of local employment, taxes, spending by construction workers, and spending on construction goods and services.” (ES-13)

“Including direct, indirect, and induced effects, the proposed Project would potentially support approximately 42,100 average annual jobs across the United States over a 1-to 2-year construction period.” (ES-13)


Claim: “TransCanada is still risking our Aquifer and still risking the fragile sandy soils of our state.” (BOLD Nebraska’s Jane Kleeb, BOLD Nebraska blog, 3 Dec 2012)



No sole-source aquifersserving as the principal source of drinking water for an area are crossed by the proposed pipeline.” (ES-10)“In no spill incident scenario would the entire Northern High Plains Aquifer system be adversely affected.” (ES-10)

“In consultation with PHMSA, DOS determined that incorporation of the Special Conditions would result in a Project that would have a degree of safety greater than any typically constructed domestic oil pipeline system under current regulations.” (ES-6)

 “Overall, it is very unlikelythat the proposed pipeline area would affect water quality in the [Great Plains Aquifer].” (ES-10)“[T]here is an extremely low probability that a petroleum release from the proposed Project would affect water quality in [the Western Interior Plains Aquifer.” (ES-10)


Claim: “To pass through the pipelines, tar sands must be brought to extreme temperatures and pressures. Add sand and powerful chemicals to this equation, and you’ve got a formula for corroding and rupturing steel pipes, leading to breaches that spill toxic goo into aquifers and rivers.” (Sierra Club’s Michael Brune, The Huffington Post, 27 June 2012)


“[B]ased on averages of approximately 5 years, the acids [in diluted bitumen] are too stable to be corrosive under transmission pipeline temperatures.” (3.13-13)“Dilbit viscosity is comparable to those of conventional heavy crude oils and there is no evidence of increased corrosion or other potential pipeline threat due to viscosity.” (3.13-13)

The draft supplemental is now subject to a 45-day public comment period, which will inform what is expected to be the final environmental assessment – one of the factors leading to the national interest determination. This is the one element that has been repeatedly put to rest. It is time to consider some of the other factors that must be taken into account, including energy security, the economy and foreign policy. And with an economy on our hands that can sure use the boost, not to mention public support for the project now approaching 70 percent, the time has come to do right by the American people and get this project started. 

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