Obama Moves Closer to Approving Keystone XL Pipeline

Obama Moves Closer to Approving Keystone XL Pipeline March 5, 2013

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.

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  • Don’t worry, I am sure the EPA will pound them when the first spill happens. Then the EPA will come to my house and mow my lawn.

  • bobbyearle

    They will get to you, theschwa, just as soon as they finish rotating the tires on my Hummer.

  • matty1

    I do some survey for EIA for living, nothing of this scale but I’ll cast a quick look over it for you and see if any problems jump out.

  • erichoug

    OK, I can actually give some insight here as I have worked at least tangentially in the oil and gas business for nearly 12 years now.

    The keystone XL pipeline will go through on time and probably on budget and it doesn’t really matter who is in the White House. And if you want to know why, look in the mirror.

    IN all honesty, I really don’t get this. It is kinda like a heroin addict complaining about the environmental impact of the heroin he is using. Why not sell one of the three cars your family owns, move across the street from your office or demand walking neighborhoods and good public transport from cities and developers, and all the other really hard changes that no-one wants to make.

    Nah, instead just keep separating your paper and plastic and pretending that the one day a year that you carpool is making a difference.

  • frog

    Thank you, erichoug, for our daily dose of self-righteous wankery. Without that, I’m sure we would all own four cars instead of three, and move out to commuting distance that requires a rocket sled.

    Also, I started a new diet recently, where I am only allowed to eat food that comes from at least 1000 miles away and requires lots of pesticides. Guess I’ll have to quit that now.

  • erichoug:

    Obvious non sequitur is obvious.

    If the history of large social changes such as ending slavery, civil rights for racial minorities, women, and now LGBTQ is any indication, it’s institutional changes which are decisive.

    Whinging about how “you people” aren’t willing to make changes in their lives (which is, I note, unsubstantiated – how do you know what kind of lifestyles Dispatches readers live?) is, as far as I can see, pointless. Worse, it’s easily appropriated into an argument for institutional inaction.

  • I can’t wait until the pipeline fails to lower the price of gas by one penny and Fox blames it on Obama for delaying construction.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I think Obama should throw this bone to conservatives, because they have come through for him on so many other issues (roll-eyes)

  • erichoug

    See, this is exactly what I am talking about. Y’all don’t want to hear the truth.

    Hey! You want to make the Keystone pipeline disappear. It’s incredibly simple, cut worldwide demand by 20-30% and there is no need for Keystone XL or the other trillion dollars worth of O&G infrastructure going in.

    So, let’s pass a bunch of laws making it illegal to own more than 1 car per family and requiring all families to live within 5 miles of the primary bread winners workplace in less than 800SqFt, and mandating that everyone takes the bus on Tuesdays. Oh wait, that isn’t going to happen because no-one wants to and no-one wants to enforce it.

    This has NOTHING to do with social change. No, this is all down to market forces. As long as someone makes enough money to live in big houses, driving big vehicles, down long commutes then this is going to be an issue.

    as far as I can see, pointless. Worse, it’s easily appropriated into an argument for institutional inaction.

    Really? it’s funny but I know for a fact that engineering and installation on the keystone XL has not slowed or stopped 1 little bit since the project started, despite what you read . How do I know? because I actually work with a lot of the companies working on the project. So, it doesn’t seem that the institutions pushing the project through are the ones having the problem with inaction.

  • brucecoppola


    On my planet, I do not know from year to year (at most) where or if I will work and how far my commute will be, as I am largely dependent on contract employment. Right now I have a nearly 100 mile round trip to my current gig. Would you suggest I had turned it down in an uncertain job market?. Do you propose I sell my paid-for home (which was convenienly located near my late wife’s workplace, a public school where she taught) and take on the fixed expense of a rent or lease and moving hassles each time I take a new gig? For that matter, in case you haven’t been aware, “permanent” employment in one place in the private sector is a thing of the past. Not to mention that any employment is pretty tough to come by these days.

    So fuck off.

  • jameshanley


    You said you had some insight based on working (at least tangentially) in the oil industry.

    Then you give us a comment that could have come from any conservative source. Hell, it really could have been ripped from a liberal source complaining about our oil addiction.

    What neither of your comments actually contributed was real “in”sight, as in a view from inside that the rest of us are not positioned to see. I, for one, would actually enjoy seeing some real insight that isn’t generally known to us non-oil industry folks. It’s a shame that you couldn’t actually deliver much of that.

  • Brian

    Yeah people! Why don’t you stop using water and eating food and ban all cars and airplanes before you try to impose terrible burdens on poor multinational corporations. Geez, talk about punching down you bullies.

  • Brandon

    I’m unclear on why some environmentalists seem to think stopping Keystone XL will cut down emissions and I’m unclear on why some anti-environmentalists seem to think building Keyston XL will cut down on gas prices. As Ed notes, that oil’s getting refined, the only question is where it gets refined. I’m more or less against building an almost assuredly leaky conduit for incredibly toxic sludge all the way across the country, but let’s all be clear that the oil’s going to get refined either way.

    WTF is this erichoug character prattling on about? I already live in a smallish apartment, take public transportation, and so on – do I get a gold star and the right to bitch that other people aren’t doing enough?

  • erichoug:

    Perhaps you could try reading for comprehension next time.

  • gopiballava

    I think erichoug provided some useful insight as to how people working in the oil industry perceive the impact of their actions. I don’t think he provided any insight into any of the technical aspects of the pipeline.

  • Ichthyic

    I already live in a smallish apartment, take public transportation, and so on – do I get a gold star and the right to bitch that other people aren’t doing enough?

    you just did.


  • StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @13. Brandon :

    I’m unclear on why some environmentalists seem to think stopping Keystone XL will cut down emissions .

    My guess is that the pipeline will mean oil isn’t sent by ship (oil tankers) or truck anymor eand that willthus help just a little?

  • StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Oops I misread that as “I’m unclear on why some environmentalists seem to think not stopping Keystone XL will cut down emissions.” for some reason. (Blushes.)

  • aluchko

    Rule of thumb, the cheaper the oil the cleaner it is, and we’re always trying to develop the cheapest oil we can.

    If the oil doesn’t come from the Athabasca oil sands it will come from additional development in the middle east (probably cleaner, though it might have bad political consequences), or the shale oil deposits in the US (dirtier than the oil sands).

    If you want to cut carbon emissions you need to change the market incentives by adding a carbon tax (or cap), or making cleaner energy available cheaper (nuclear, natural gas, solar, wind, or oil from algae). Fighting a bunch of XL pipelines is just fighting windmills.

  • “This has NOTHING to do with social change. No, this is all down to market forces.”

    I don’t think that those two things are exclusive of one another.

    I listened recently to some “ol bidneth” flack denying (very unpersuasively) that oil (sludge, really) had to be piped to Nawlins or thereabouts, ‘cuz that’s where hte refineries are. Gosh, there’s still a couple of operational refineries between the Athabasca tarsands and some gulf port. The reason, for sending the stuff to a gulf port is so that it can be exported.

  • matty1

    Hey! You want to make the Keystone pipeline disappear. It’s incredibly simple, cut worldwide demand by 20-30%

    This is obviously some new usage of the word simple of which I was not previously aware.

  • gingerbaker

    If you want to cut carbon emissions you need to change the market incentives by adding a carbon tax (or cap), or making cleaner energy available cheaper (nuclear, natural gas, solar, wind, or oil from algae). Fighting a bunch of XL pipelines is just fighting windmills.

    You know, you can’t start using alternative energy sources until they are actually built. It’s kinda like winning the lottery – you have to buy a ticket before the drawing occurs. This is my problem with a carbon tax – it will increase the expenses on the little guy, but won’t do enough to build that renewable energy.

    And the reason it won’t do enough to build new infrastructure is because it relies on the idea that manipulating market forces is how we will solve our energy future. And yet, we have a thirty year record staring us in the face that trying to encourage renewable energy through the use of market incentives has been an enormous failure in the U.S. You know how much of our energy comes from solar? Less than one percent.

    You can’t impose green energy into a corrupt political/economic system that resists it. And I don’t think we should keep trying to do it anymore. Corporations have blown their opportunity to be noble stewards of our environment and our national interests. Our energy future, I believe, should no longer involve efforts to cajole or “take on” the carbon industry. We should, instead, completely ignore it.

    And build our own national renewable energy system as a coordinated Federal project. If we did, we could have the infrastructure in place to replace every calorie of carbon fuels with renewable forms of electricity generation. We could have it done in five to ten years and at a much lower cost than the meager piece meal localized installations we have put in place so far. And since, unlike carbon fuels, we could and should offer this electricity for free. Because that is what sunlight and wind cost – zero.

    It really is quite an amazing feat the oil and coal companies have achieved the last thirty years. Not just their obscene profits, their stranglehold on the political process. No, their most impressive success has been the manipulation of our national conversation about our energy future so that the only paradigm anyone discusses is using market forces – instead of Federal projects – to save our civilization.

  • @22:

    Boy, talk about your goofy, peacecake in the sky, ideas! Why, if it was left up to the federal gummint we’da never won a war against anybody, or put a man on the moon, or FUCKING ELIMINATED SMALLPOX in the U.S.!

    Gingerbaker, you know that gummint cain’t do nuttin rite!

  • kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith


    We have done this to some extent where I live. In the 1960’s, the government bought most of the existing dams in the province in order to nationalize electricity. While it is not free, it is way cheaper than what you can find elsewere. On the day electrical cars become widespread, the greatest part of our dependance on oil will be a thing of the past.

    This has had many other advantages over providing cheap electricity.

    One thing is that as a state business, our electricity company has been able to spend much more on R & D than the typical private one. As a result, we have one of the most reliable and technologically advanced network in the world. We have been pioneers in developping very high tension (735 kV) for long distance transport.

    As a company owned by the state, it is also bound to do what the government, and the people, want as opposed to mindlessly maximizing profits. Therefore, even if building a new thermic plant was an economically sound idea, such a project was stopped a few years ago under public pressure.

    Another thing is that this huge state-owned business is an efficient economic lever. We can use it as a purveyor of useful jobs in difficult times. We can offer very competitive and stable prices to energy-demanding businesses to attract them here.

    Admittedly we are very lucky that we have such readily available, already technologically understood ressource, but it shows the power of such an organization to affect social change.

  • gingerbaker

    Yeah – the Rural Electrification Administration comes to mind as huge failure. They should have offered tax incentives to farmers instead, so they could buy all the materials to install the lines and appliances themselves.

    Not to mention the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System. Now, there was a boondoggle. Think of what a success it could have been, if they used a gas tax and funneled a small percentage of those revenues into a fund that county municipalities could dip into to offer tax rebates to local driveway installers to each pave a two hundred foot long section of an existing dirt road.

    You know another ridiculous idea? The Grand Coulee Dam. Bound to fail. The smarter way to go about creating hydroelectric power in the U.S. would be to use market incentives, so that individual homeowners could pay up front for their own hydro-electric generators, say, on their water feature outflow, and then they could get a small portion of their expenses picked up by the state, after completing a mountain of paperwork.

    Localized, localized, localized – that’s the key to hydroelectric power. Same as solar PV. The key to the cost savings with localized PV are legion:

    1) A million rooftops – a million duplicated electronic systems, a million customized installations, a million sets of paperwork, a million permits to attain

    2) No economy of scale – paying full retail for components, installations is the essence of cost efficiency

    3) Expenses picked up by individuals, not government, to achieve a crucially time-dependent National imperative during a period when three quarters of homeowners are one paycheck away from a default on the mortgage. This is the best way to ensure that folks will be happy to install systems that produce way more than just what they need, because, after all, we don’t need more solar PV than we can handle.

    4) The opportunity to spend (even small amounts of) tax monies to install PV on rooftops in areas of the country where they are not particularly suitable. One million rooftops can supply all the electricity needed for 250,000 homes.

    5) The joy of knowing that our energy future can be addressed without a comprehensive and coordinated plan, or an investment in a smart grid. You can’t put a price on peace of mind.

  • gingerbaker

    @ 24 – great points!

    My electricity comes from a city-owned power company. We have enjoyed the lowest cost and most reliable electricity in the State of Vermont for decades.

    But local or even State government can not afford the cost of installing a total renewable energy system – we need the power of the federal government for that.

    The cost of just mitigating climate change problems, if we stay on our current trajectory, has been estimated to be $1240 trillion (!) by year 2100. We could, as a simple scenario, cover areas of the Southwest with sufficient PV panels to replace every calorie of carbon fuel burned in this country, install a new smart grid, pay to retrofit every home and business to electric only, and install inductive chargers under our highways so we could have a 100% electric fleet – all this – for a very small fraction of that $1240 trillion. I’m guessing under $10 trillion.

    We could accomplish this in 5 to 10 years – in time to avoid a +4C world.

  • “We could accomplish this in 5 to 10 years – in time to avoid a +4C world.”

    Sure, that all soooooooounds great, but we can’t even think about doing that until we finish building the fleet of $20B aircraft carriers and $150M+/- F-35’s so that we might export the products of nuclear technology to those countries still mired in the OME**paradigm of doing what they see fit with OUR FUCKING OIL!!

    * The development of which has been plagued by cost overruns and technological/engineering problems.

    ** Old Middle East

  • Hey erichoug:

    I get my electricity from a solar farm. I would take public transit everywhere if there were a bus stop closer to my house than a ONE EFFING HOUR walk and the buses started and stopped at remotely useful hours. Do I get to complain, or does the fact that I don’t get all my food from a local farmers’ market mean I’m not eco-friendly enough to meet your arbitrary standard of who “really cares”?

    If I’m allowed to talk to you, institutional inaction doesn’t mean that the institutions aren’t doing anything at all. It means that the institutions aren’t changing anything. To use a metaphor, building the pipeline is like solving the problem of not having enough crack by getting more instead of by going into treatment.

  • kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith

    But local or even State government can not afford the cost of installing a total renewable energy system – we need the power of the federal government for that.

    I’m guessing an average state’s budget resembles that of a Canadian province – and the state company I was describing is Hydro-Quebec, property of the government of Quebec. Quebec is by no means the richest province in Canada, and has always had difficulty attracting investors who are scared of the independence movement or of our linguistic demands.

    Despite this it has managed to create this company, starting with buying dams from private companies, often owned by anglophones, and later moving on to massive hydroelectricity projects. This was driven by a few dedicated politicians, under the slogan “Maîtres chez nous” (“Masters of our homeland”).

    We got into huge debt to achieve that, but it has paid off in many, many ways.

    I suspect the average american state could afford it, provided, of course, an adequate management and study of its own resources, and that it lost its irrational fear of debt.

  • If Keystone is not approved, we will likely see a strongly movement for a West-East pipeline in Canada. A majority of Canadians support the West-East pipeline according to an Abacus Data poll released last week. You can find the details here http://abacusdata.ca/2013/03/04/canadians-overwhelmingly-support-an-west-east-oil-pipeline/