Breaking News: Keystone Pipeline Clears Key Hurdle
A State Department review raises no major environmental objections to Keystone XL project, in a major boost for supporters of the Canada-to-Texas pipeline.
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"This report from the Obama administration once again confirms that there is no reason for the White House to continue stalling construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. "So, Mr. President, no more stalling -- no more excuses."
Despite statements from McConnell and other pro-pipeline advocates, the department report stops short of recommending approval of the $7 billion pipeline. Nevertheless, the review could give President Obama cover if he chooses to endorse the pipeline.
Republicans are largely united behind the project, describing it as a needed jobs creator that would have little environmental impact. But it has divided Democrats. The unions have pressed the administration to approve the project, but environmental groups have adamantly opposed it.
Foes say the pipeline would carry "dirty oil" that contributes to global warming. They also worry about a spill.
The 1,179-mile pipeline would travel through the heart of the United States, carrying oil derived from tar sands in western Canada to a hub in Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries in Texas.
A State Department official said Canadian tar sands are likely to be developed regardless of U.S. action on the pipeline, adding that other options to get the oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries -- including rail, trucks and barges -- would be worse for climate change. A news conference was set for later Friday.
State Department approval is needed because the pipeline crosses a U.S. border. The Environmental Protection Agency and other departments will have 90 days to comment before State makes a recommendation to Obama on whether the project is in the national interest. A final decision by the government is not expected before summer.
The new report comes only days after Obama's State of the Union address, in which he reiterated his support for an "all-of-the-above" energy strategy that embraces a wide range of sources, from oil and natural gas to renewables such as wind and solar power. The remarks were a rebuff to some of his environmental allies who argued that Obama's support of expanded oil and gas production doesn't make sense for a president who wants to reduce pollution linked to global warming.
"We believe that continued reliance on an `all-of-the-above' energy strategy would be fundamentally at odds with your goal of cutting carbon pollution," the environmentalists wrote in a letter to Obama.
Obama blocked the Keystone XL pipeline in January 2012, saying he did not have enough time for a fair review before a looming deadline forced on him by congressional Republicans. That delayed the choice for him until after his re-election.
Obama's initial rejection of the pipeline went over badly in Canada, which relies on the U.S. for 97 percent of its energy exports. The pipeline is critical to Canada, which needs infrastructure in place to export its growing oil sands production. The northern Alberta region has the world's third largest oil reserves, with 170 billion barrels of proven reserves.
In a bid to smooth over relations with Canada and other pipeline supporters, Obama quickly suggested development of an Oklahoma-to-Texas line to alleviate an oil bottleneck at a Cushing, Okla., storage hub. Oil began moving on that segment of the pipeline last week.
The 485-mile southern section of the pipeline operated by Calgary-based TransCanada did not require presidential approval because it does not cross a U.S. border.
The latest environmental review, the fifth released on the project since 2010 -- acknowledges that development of tar sands in Alberta would create greenhouse gases, a State Department official said. But the report makes clear that other methods of transporting the oil -- including rail, trucks and barges -- would release more greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming than the pipeline.
U.S. and Canadian accident investigators warned last week about the dangers of oil trains that transport crude oil from North Dakota and other states to refineries in the U.S. and Canada. The officials urged new safety rules, cautioning that a "major loss of life" could result from an accident involving the increasing use of trains to transport large amounts of crude oil.
Several high-profile accidents involving crude oil shipments -- including a fiery explosion in North Dakota and an explosion that killed 47 people in Canada last year -- have raised alarms.
Keystone XL would travel through Montana and South Dakota before reaching Nebraska. An existing spur runs through Kansas and Oklahoma to Texas.