US sets further study, year-long delay of Keystone XL pipeline

10 November 2011 23:50  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The US government has decided to conduct an additional review of the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline project, saying that a final decision was not likely before early 2013, the Obama administration said on Thursday.

Although the proposed 2,800-mile pipeline project has been under study by US officials since 2008, the Department of State (DOS) said it has “determined that it needs to undertake an in-depth assessment of potential alternative routes” that the pipeline would take across US territory.

The State Department has final say on the project because it would be an international undertaking.  But the State Department has taken comment and other input from multiple US agencies, interest groups and the general public.

Until Thursday’s announcement of a further study, a final Obama administration ruling on the project had been expected before the end of this year.

The department had earlier issued a final environmental impact statement (EIS) in favour of the project, which would bring crude oil from Canadian tar sands deposits to US refineries in Illinois, Oklahoma and Texas.

But the pipeline project has drawn fierce opposition from US environmental groups. However, the huge undertaking also has strong support among US labour unions because the project would generate tens of thousands of jobs.

A decision by the White House to approve or deny final authorisation for the Keystone XL pipeline would have alienated either the environmentalists or the unions at a time when Obama is facing a tough re-election bid in 2012.

The State Department’s announcement of a year-long review process means that the Obama administration will not make a final decision on the project until after the November 2012 US national elections.

In a statement from the White House, Obama said he supported the department’s decision, saying that “we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood”.

TransCanada noted that it has previously provided extensive information to the department on various routes for the pipeline, including six alternative plans that would have avoided the region in Nebraska that the department said was the focus of its new review concerns.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) was sharply critical of the State Department announcement.

“This decision is deeply disappointing and troubling,” said API president Jack Gerard.

“Whether it will help the president retain his job is unclear,” Gerard said, “but it will cost thousands of shovel-ready opportunities for American workers.”

“There is no real issue about the environment that requires further investigation, as the president’s own State Department has recently concluded after extensive project reviews that go back more than three years,” Gerard said.

“This is about politics and keeping a radical constituency opposed to any and all oil and gas development in the president’s camp in November 2012,” he added.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth (FOE) hailed the State Department decision, saying the new environmental review “will delay and potentially end this dirty and dangerous tar sands pipeline”.

By: Joe Kamalick
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