The State Department on Friday issued its final environmental impact statement on a proposed oil pipeline that would stretch from Canada to Texas. The impact statement, the result of a two and a half year review, found that the project would have "limited adverse environmental impacts."
The New York Times called the statement a "crucial green light" for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run 1,711 miles from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, and carry crude oil from Canada’s “tar sands” to refineries in the U.S. by means of a 36-inch-diameter pipeline. The project is expected to cost $7 billion, and will increase Canada’s pipeline capacity by 700,000 barrels a day.
According to the Times, critics of the plan say that "extracting the oil would have a devastating impact on the climate and that a leak or rupture in the 36-inch-diameter pipeline could wreak ecological disaster." In the impact statement, the State Department said that the pipeline's owner, TransCanada, had reduced the risks of accidents to acceptable levels.
The State Department now has to conduct a 90-day review of the project, to determine if it is in the "national interest," before deciding whether to approve the pipeline, The Washington Post reports.
“This is not the rubber stamp for this project,” State Assistant Secretary for Oceans, Environment and Science Kerri-Ann Jones said. “It should not be seen as a lean in any direction, either for or against this pipeline.”
The Post reports that activists have been having daily sit-ins for a week at the White House to protest the project.
Jones told reporters that President Barack Obama will ultimately make the final decision on the pipeline, the Times reports, something also pointed out by Michael Brune, president of the Sierra Club, who said the decision would affect the environmental movement's opinion of the president.
“The decision-making authority is solely the president’s,” Brune told the Times. “Keystone XL is a huge issue for our young leaders at the Sierra Club, but they’re also watching the president’s actions on other critically important environmental and public health protections. It will be increasingly difficult to mobilize the environmental base and to mobilize in particular young people to volunteer, to knock on thousands of doors, to put in 16-hour days, to donate money if they don’t think the president is showing the courage to stand up to big polluters.”
Last spring, TransCanada agreed to 57 conditions set by the Department of Transportation, including burying the pipeline four feet underground and having a maximum of 20 miles between shut-off valves.
“We believe we are building the safest pipeline in North America,” Terry Cunha, a TransCanada spokesman, told the Times.
If plans move forward the pipeline is expected to open by as early as 2013.