Keystone XL Pipeline Approval taking Five Times Longer than Average

Published August 20, 2015

Despite the White House’s insistence it’s simply following the standard process, an August 12 Associated Press (AP) story reported, federal review of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas has dragged on for nearly seven years, more than five times the average for pipeline applications. 

President George W. Bush issued an executive order in 2004, requiring oil pipelines crossing U.S. borders to get a presidential approval. A formal application to build a pipeline sets off a government-wide review coordinated by the State Department. An AP examination of every cross-border pipeline application since 2004 shows the government has taken an average of 478 days — less than a year and a half — to approve or reject every application except for the Keystone XL. By contrast, TransCanada Corp, who first applied to build the estimated $8 billion pipeline in 2008, has waited nearly seven years for a ruling.

Bush Policy Meant to Expedite Pipeline Approvals

Former Bush White House officials who helped develop the policy say the revamped process was intended to expedite permits for major public works projects. The AP quotes Robert McNally, one of President Bush’s top energy advisors, saying, approving a pipeline permit “was seen as the most routine, boring thing in the world.” The shortest approval under Bush took less than four months.

Despite two state department reports, one issued when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State and one issued since John Kerry became head of the State Department, indicating the Keystone XL would not harm the environment or increase the threat of climate change, President Obama has ignored pleas from Republicans and energy advocates to approve the project, which estimates indicate would create tens-of-thousands of jobs.

Ultimately, whether to approve a pipeline comes down to whether the President believes the project serves the nation’s interest. In a 2013 speech, President Obama established a litmus test for the Keystone XL project: Keystone wouldn’t move forward if it would significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions. 

For some reason, no other pipeline has had to meet greenhouse gas litmus test. Excluding the Keystone XL, eight applications for new or significantly upgraded petroleum pipelines have been processed since April 2004. The pipeline Obama took the longest to approve, the 435-mile Vantage Pipeline Project, took fewer than three years, despite requiring complex negotiations with Native American tribes concerning the historical preservation sensitive sites. 

President Obama has given no reason for the continuing delay in the face of State Department reports indicating the pipeline would be safe. 

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.