The most significant entry logged during the just-ended 45-day comment period on the State Department’s second environmental-impact report for the Keystone XL oil pipeline came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA called for more study on the greenhouse-gas emissions involved, the risk of spills, alternative routes for the pipeline and how it would affect communities along the route. More specifically, the EPA asked that the pipeline builder, TransCanada Corp., be required to put in writing its commitment to fully clean up any spills.
That last point is a good idea, and illustrates why it makes sense for a collection of federal agencies to weigh in on big proposals of great public interest. But it seems to us that we have finally reached the “enough already” moment in this debate. The EPA had its say on the first environmental-impact report on Keystone in 2011. This time around, once the process is complete, eight federal agencies will have given input. The technical review has been detailed and thorough.
We would like the State Department to approve it -- but we would also like it to make a decision. For the record, let’s consider the facts of what Keystone would and wouldn’t do.
Contrary to the claims of its supporters, it wouldn’t provide all that many jobs -- only about 20,000, almost all of them seasonal and temporary.
Contrary to the claims of its opponents, it would not pose a disqualifying threat to the environment. Even though extracting and refining bitumen from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, emits much more carbon dioxide than ordinary oil-drilling, total emissions from the tar-sands crude are only about 20 percent greater than from other oil, because most emissions come from burning the fuel.
As Joe Oliver, the Canadian minister of natural resources, told participants in the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit last week, improved extraction methods in the tar sands have lowered emissions there by 26 percent since 1990 and are continuing to clean up the process. Oliver also noted that the new pipe itself would have 57 more safety features than are found in the hundreds of thousands of miles of pipelines already crisscrossing the U.S.
In the end, the most important thing that Keystone would do is carry as many as 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada and from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. This is oil that the U.S. still needs, and will bring in from somewhere -- probably Canada or Venezuela via train and ship -- whether or not Keystone is built.
Rather than encourage more study, President Barack Obama should now prod the State Department to move as fast as possible to approve the pipeline and get this overblown and needlessly divisive controversy off the nation’s agenda.
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