U.S. State Deparment Issues Study of Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline

Earlier today, the United States Department of State issued its final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) regarding the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.  Because the pipeline would cross the border, the State Department must give its approval for the project.  Issuance of EIS does not constitute approval of the project, but it does put the proposed project one step closer to potential approval bcause an EIS is required by the National Environmental Policy Act before the project can be approved.

The principal purpose of the proposed 1711-mile long, 36-inch diameter pipeline would be to transport oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.  Production of heavy crude from oil sands (also called tar sands) found in Alberta is increasing rapidly at the same time that refineries in parts of the U.S. need alternative supplies of of heavy crude.  Although it is anticipated that the pipeline, if constructed, would mainly transport oil from Alberta, it also could transport oil produced in the northern U.S., included oil from the Bakken Shale in Montana and North Dakota, and oil from near Cushing, Oklahoma.  Oil could be delivered to Cushing, as well as to Nederland, Texas and Moore Junction, Texas.

Critics of the proposal voice concerns about the possibility of spills and about the footprint of the pipeline itself.  Also, many environmentalists oppose expanded production of oil from oil sands, arguing that too much energy is used in producing such oil, that too much water is used in the production process, and that production from oil sands causes too much surface disturbance (usually a process similar to strip mining is used in the production of oil from oil sands, though companies are required to restore the surface).  See the May 2, 2011 post of the Oil & Gas Law Brief for a discussion of oil sands.

Supporters argue that oil sands provide a bountiful supply of petroleum from a nearby, stable, friendly country, and that most "easy" sources of oil already have been developed.

The Summary of Findings section of the full EIS states that "most resources would not experience significant impacts" from the proposed pipeline.  The same section states that there would be "adverse effects to certain cultural resources along the proposed Project corridor," but that "mitigation measures have been developed ... to address these adverse impacts."  The Summary of Findings also states that there would be adverse effect to the American burying beetle, raising Endangered Species Act issues, but that Keystone has offered to provide money to acquire habitat area for the beetle, and that Keystone and various government agencies have discussed conservation measures that could minimize potential impacts to the American burying beetle.

The Department of State issued an announcement of its release of the Environmental Impact Statement, and provided a web page where readers can find a "fact sheet" regarding the EIS, an Executive Summary of the EIS, a listing of upcoming public meetings on the subject, and a copy of the full EIS, as well as other documents relating to the proposed project.  The fact sheet includes a map of the proposed route for the pipeline.

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