WASHINGTON - The U.S. State Department has issued a permit for a multibillion-dollar
pipeline to carry crude oil from Canadian oil sands to refineries south
of the border, triggering a court challenge from environmental and
On Thursday, the State Department issued a Presidential
Permit to Enbridge Energy, Ltd. for the Alberta Clipper - a
1,000-mile/1,607-kilometer crude oil pipeline that will run between
Hardisty, Alberta, and Superior, Wisconsin.
With supply of crude oil from Western Canada oil sands developments
expected to grow by as much as 1.8 million barrels per day by 2015, the
industry has asked for more capacity out of the oil sands and into the
U.S. Midwest markets.
In evaluating the Enbridge application, the State Department said in
a statement, officials worked in consultation with "all relevant
agencies and parties and with extensive public and stakeholder
participation and outreach" and conducted an environmental review of
the proposed project.
The department found that the addition of crude oil pipeline capacity
between Canada and the United States will advance the strategic
interests of the United States.
"These included increasing the diversity of available supplies among
the United States’ worldwide crude oil sources in a time of
considerable political tension in other major oil producing countries
and regions; shortening the transportation pathway for crude oil
supplies; and increasing crude oil supplies from a major
non-Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries producer," the
"Canada is a stable and reliable ally and trading partner of the United
States, with which we have free trade agreements which augment the
security of this energy supply," the department said.
But an international coalition of environmental and Native
American groups said the pipeline would carry "the dirtiest oil on
Earth" and vowed to challenge it in court.
"The State Department has rubber-stamped a project that will
mean more air, water and global warming pollution, particularly in the
communities near refineries that will process this dirty oil," said
Earthjustice attorney Sarah Burt. "The project's environmental review
fails to show how construction of the Alberta Clipper is in the
national interest. We will go to court to make sure that all the
impacts of this pipeline are considered."
The environmental and native groups point out that "Tar sands
development in Alberta is creating an environmental catastrophe, with
toxic tailings ponds so large they can be seen from space and plans to
strip away the forests and peat lands in an area the size of Florida."
"In addition," they argue, "greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands
production are three times that of conventional crude oil and it
contains 11 times more sulfur and nickel, six times more nitrogen and
five times more lead than conventional oil. These toxins are released
into the U.S. air and water when the crude oil is processed into fuels
The coalition says this decision contradicts President Obama's
promise to cut global warming and America's addiction to oil while
investing in a clean energy future.
"The tar sands pipeline connects U.S. refiners and consumers
with the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive crude oil on earth," said
Kevin Reuther, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy's legal
"Tar sands crude is causing massive environmental degradation in Canada
and results in significantly more greenhouse gas emissions. This is the
absolute wrong step to take if we want to create a greener energy
The State Department found that allowing the pipeline to be
built across the U.S.-Canadian border would be in the national interest
of the United States. But the coalition argues that instead, this
pipeline will hurt the United States.
"Importing dirty tar sands oil is not in our national
interest," said Bruce Baizel, Earthworks' senior staff attorney. "At a
time when concern is growing about the national security threat posed
by global warming, it doesn't make sense to open our gates to one of
the dirtiest fuels on Earth. This pipeline will lock America into a
dirty energy infrastructure for years to come. This is exactly the kind
of project the State Department should be protecting us from."
Many of the groups involved in the coalition also have appealed the
U.S. Forest Service over its willingness to allow the pipeline to
traverse parts of the Chippewa National Forest in Minnesota.
In addition, a group of tribal members have gathered enough signatures
on a petition to hold a referendum on the Leech Lake tribal council's
agreement to allow the line through tribal land.
"We are saddened by the news that the Presidential Permit was
signed today," said Marty Cobenais of the nonprofit Indigenous
Environmental Network, based in Bemidji, Minnesota.
"The voices and rights of the Leech Lake Band members are not being
listened to by the Obama Administration. According to the Minnesota
Chippewa Tribe Constitution they are allowed to hold a referendum vote
and allow the members to decide to accept the agreement with Enbridge
or not. Nearly 700 signatures were obtained.
"If they vote against the agreement, the pipeline route would have to
go around the boundaries of the Leech Lake Reservation, which would
require a new Environmental Impact Study, plus other permits including
a new Presidential Permit," said Cobenais.
The project was approved before all the federal regulations are
completed, he said. "The Bureau of Indian Affairs is still waiting to
receive a completed application from Enbridge Energy and the Leech Lake
Band of Ojibwe to begin their approval process for allotment lands
affected by these pipelines."
But the State Department said approval of the permit sends a positive
economic signal, in a difficult economic period, about the future
reliability and availability of a portion of United States’ energy
imports, and in the immediate term, this shovel-ready project will
provide construction jobs for workers in the United States.
The National Interest Determination took many factors into
account, including greenhouse gas emissions, the department said,
explaining, "The administration believes the reduction of greenhouse
gas emissions are best addressed through each country’s robust domestic
policies and a strong international agreement."
The department repeated that President Barack Obama is
"committed to reducing overall emissions and leading the global
transition to a low-carbon economy."
The United States will continue to reduce reliance on oil
through conservation and energy efficiency measures, such as the
recently increased Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, the
department said, "as well as through the pursuit of comprehensive
climate legislation and an ambitious global agreement on climate change
to include substantial emission reductions for both the United States