WASHINGTON - The U.S. State Department is expected to release its final environmental assessment of TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline on Friday, with environmentalists all but certain the report will give its blessing to the controversial project.
"We haven't seen the analysis, but we are in regular contact with the State Department so we know what studies have been completed and we know they haven't done the studies we've asked for," Danielle Droitsch, a senior adviser at the National Resources Defense Council, said Thursday.
Environmental groups wanted State Department officials to study whether Keystone XL could be rerouted to avoid environmentally sensitive areas in the U.S. Midwest, and to assess whether pipelines are prone to leaks.
There's no indication those studies were conducted, Droitsch said.
"This assessment is not going to amount to bad news for TransCanada in this particular area, but there are plenty of other hurdles ahead," she added.
The anticipated State Department announcement comes amid a two-week civil disobedience campaign being waged outside the White House by anti-pipeline activists.
More than 250 people, including Canadian actress Margot Kidder, have been arrested as they endeavour to convince U.S. President Barack Obama to block the $7 billion pipeline that will transport oilsands crude from Alberta through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Several of the biggest environmental groups in the U.S., including the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, sent a letter to Obama on Thursday, reiterating their plea.
"This is a terrible project," the letter read.
"It risks many of our national treasures to leaks and spills. And it reduces incentives to make the transition to job-creating clean fuels. You have a clear shot to deny the permit, without any interference from Congress. It's perhaps the biggest climate test you face between now and the election."
The State Department has spent months looking into various pipeline-related issues, including groundwater safety and whether Keystone XL would spur more oilsands production in Alberta.
Sources have told the Washington Post that the results of the studies haven't changed the minds of State Department officials who asserted in April that the pipeline posed minimal risks.
Keystone XL has become a lightning rod for the environmental movement in the U.S. in the aftermath of failed climate change legislation last year. Environmental activists say the project is a disaster waiting to happen and are opposed to Alberta's oilsands due to the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions involved in their production.
Proponents, meantime, say the pipeline will create thousands of jobs and help end U.S. reliance on Middle Eastern oil.
After State releases its report, Obama has 90 days to decide whether approving Keystone is in the U.S. national interest. That's a determination that should get interesting, Droitsch said.
"That gets very political _ with the national interest determination, anything can happen, and the debate is going to get very heated," she predicted, adding there are additional headaches for TransCanada at the state level in terms of permits and other bureaucratic red tape.
"TransCanada has cleared one hurdle, but there are several on the horizon before there's a shovel put to the ground."
With the protest outside the White House hogging headlines, Canadian environmentalists are planning a similar campaign in Ottawa next month.
Greenpeace Canada, the Council of Canadians and the Indigenous Environmental Network will lead a civil disobedience campaign on Parliament Hill on Sept. 26.