The U.S. State department is expected to release as early as Friday a crucial environmental assessment of TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, a move that would start a 90-day clock ticking towards a final decision.
The Canadian government is anticipating a positive report, saying the pipeline would not add significantly to greenhouse gas emissions because the oil sands would be developed with or without the pipeline.
Ottawa and the industry are keen, however, to see the completion of the project that would carry diluted bitumen from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast, where massive refineries are well-suited to process the heavy crude.
With rumours swirling around Washington and Ottawa all week that the release of the report was imminent, a Canadian official said that the Harper government expects it to come Friday.
U.S. officials confirmed to Reuters news service late Thursday that the final environmental impact statement was “in the final stages of preparation” and would be released as early as Friday.
The State Department won’t provide a recommendation to the White House based on its report, but will only the report will only assess whether the project would cause significant environmental damage.
State will then lead a multi-departmental assessment as to whether the project is in the U.S. national interest, considering issues of employment, energy security and environmental impact.
Environmental groups have already challenged the State Department process, claiming bias, and the department’s inspector general is reviewing those complaints. The main consultant used by State had previously done work for oil industry clients, and environmentalist say the consultant failed to reveal its conflict of interest.
The long-delayed Keystone decision has become a point of contention between the Harper government and the Obama administration, as well as a wedge political issue in Washington.
In a visit to Washington this month, Foreign Minister John Baird essentially scolded the U.S. administration for taking so long to make a decision, and urged it to reach a conclusion quickly.
Republicans have been hammering President Barack Obama over the lengthy delays and frequently threatened to pass legislation that would force him to approve it.
TransCanada first filed for approval five years ago, but had to re-apply after President Obama – forced into a decision by Republican-led effort in Congress – turned down the initial route two years ago.
The company rerouted the pipeline to skirt a sensitive sand hills area in Nebraska. And now the decision hinges on the issue of climate change, and the oil sands’ large and rapidly growing emissions of greenhouse gases.
President Barack Obama established the bar for approval of the Keystone XL project last summer when he declared he would not approve it if it added significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.
A draft environmental impact statement released a year ago concluded the pipeline itself would not cause higher emissions, though in releasing the report, a State Department official acknowledged that conclusion was contentious and promised to revisit it in the final version.
But Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said Ottawa expects the same finding in the final report, despite that questions arising about the capacity of rail to pick up the load of the pipeline was turned down. Safety boards in both Canada and the United States are urging governments to remove from service a fleet of older rail cars that they deem to be unsafe for transporting crude in the aftermath of several derailments and explosions, including the fiery crash that killed 47 people in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic.
Environmentalists say the fight won’t end with the State Department report, and many observers still question whether President Obama will issue a final decision before the November mid-term elections or find another way to delay it.
“Given the overwhelming evidence, a national interest determination will show that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will create few jobs, bring tar sands to the Gulf for export, and put farms, houses and fresh water at risk,” Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Friday.
“Add to the fact that the pipeline will drive tar sands expansion, significantly worsening climate pollution, it is clear that there is no justification for allowing the project to go forward.”
Canada expects key Keystone report, possibly today, to be positive - The Globe and Mail