In a move that should surprise absolutely no one, the State Department has issued its Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL pipeline and concluded that the project is environmentally sound. Thus begins the official restart of the inevitable approval of the project.
The State Department, which has approval power over the project because it crosses the Canada/US border, first issued what was titled and intended to be its Final Environmental Impact Statement in August, 2011. Going into an election and under pressure from both sides, President Obama decided to put off that decision until after the election and ordered State to do more digging, saying that more information was needed. But while this new report is larger and more detailed than the previous one, it reaches the same conclusion that the project should be approved.
It’s a massive report that goes into enormous detail. One of its main conclusions is that whether the Keystone XL pipeline is built or not “unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast area.” That first part is almost certainly true; if the Keystone XL pipeline is not built, that will not prevent the full development of the Canadian Tar Sands. Alternate routes will undoubtedly be found, either through Keystone I (which ships Tar Sands crude to the Midwest to be refined) or through the Northern Gateway or some other proposed path that would go west to the Pacific Ocean.
There’s simply too much money at stake here and too many wealthy and powerful interests in using those resources, whatever the cost to the environment. That’s why I laughed in 2011 and the 2012 presidential campaign when Republicans claimed that Obama was stopping this project from being built. He wasn’t, he isn’t and he won’t. There’s not a chance in hell that this project does not get approved. Environmental groups simply can’t match the money and influence of the oil companies and money and influence will determine the outcome here as it almost always does.
I had to laugh, though, at the rosy picture this report paints of the risk of spills. The report say, “Spills associated with the proposed Project that enter the environment are expected to be rare and relatively small.” I suggest they take a look at lower Michigan and the Kalamazoo River, where almost a million gallons of tar sands oil is still harming the environment more than 2 1/2 years after that spill. TransCanada, which owns the project, claims that newer technology will prevent such spills, but they said the same thing three years ago when they opened the Keystone I pipeline and there have been more than 30 leaks and spills since that time, all with brand spanking new technology.
Tar Sand oil is far more difficult to contain and far more damaging to the environment than conventional crude oil. And because it has to be diluted down and has a tar-like consistency, it is very difficult to detect a leak when it’s sent through a pipeline (the thickness cause hundreds of false pressure alarms per day). And the Pipelines and Hazardous Material Safety Administration has documented nearly 1700 such spills since 2002.