Canadian Oil Pipeline Clears State Department Hurdle

Published September 26, 2011

The U.S. State Department has determined the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would deliver large quantities of Canadian oil to U.S. refineries, will have only a minimal environmental impact in the United States. The State Department determination eliminates the most significant bureaucratic hurdle holding up construction of the pipeline.

The proposed pipeline would transport North American oil from production facilities in Alberta, Canada to refineries near the Texas Gulf Coast. In finding the 1700-mile pipeline will have only a “minimal environmental impact,” the State Department dealt a severe setback to environmental activists who have waged a long campaign against the project. 

Activist Groups Disappointed

Charging that the oil in the pipeline would increase global emissions of greenhouse gases, activist groups hoped to derail the project by tying it to the issue of human-induced climate change. In the days leading up to the release of the State Department determination, environmental activists demonstrated outside the White House in the hope of getting the administration to kill the pipeline.

Tom Kenworthy, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, summed up environmental activists’ complaints about the pipeline. 

“At a time when the U.S. should be doing anything in its power to reduce carbon dioxide pollution and speed the transition to cleaner fuels, the Keystone XL pipeline would be a step backwards,” said Kenworthy on the Center for American Progress Web site.

Not a Done Deal

Although the State Department’s environmental determination has been viewed as the most significant hurdle to construction of the pipeline, the Obama administration still must sign off on the plan. A public comment period will run until October 9, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is not expected to make a decision before the end of the year. Even then, the Obama White House could overrule whatever decision Clinton makes.  

Plentiful Jobs, Economic Benefits

Pipeline supporters point out construction of the pipeline is projected to create 20,000 U.S. jobs and add $20 billion to the struggling American economy. Proponents of the pipeline also note the oil will be produced and used regardless of whether the United States allows construction of the pipeline. China, which has more lenient environmental standards than the United States, has expressed eagerness to purchase and use any oil not delivered to the United States. 

“The State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL pipeline is a welcome reprieve from the burdensome environmental regulations we have experienced this far from the Obama administration,” said Sandy Liddy Bourne, executive director of the American Energy Freedom Center. “It appears that common sense has prevailed.” 

“With high energy prices today, crude oil traveling from Canada’s Alberta oil sands and the new fields in North Dakota and Montana to Oklahoma and Texas refineries will help increase the domestic supply and decrease the price of oil and gasoline for transportation in a few years,” Bourne explained. 

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.