State Dept. Releases Keystone XL Environmental Impact Statement

Green groups expresses "outrage" and "disappointment" over "deeply flawed analysis" that ignores "greatest threat to our children’s future: climate disruption"

Common Dreams
The US State Department on Friday afternoon released a newly updated draft of its Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which, if approved, would dramatically increase the extraction and transfer of Canadian tar sands oil to the Gulf coast.

And as Sierra Club's Michael Brune said in a late afternoon press call, "You know the news is bad when it comes out at 4pm on Friday."

The draft itself can be accessed here.

In response to the SEIS' release, Brune released the following statement:

"The Sierra Club is outraged by the State Department's deeply flawed analysis today and what can only be interpreted as lip service to one of the greatest threats to our children's future: climate disruption.

"We're mystified as to how the State Department can acknowledge the negative effects of the Earth's dirtiest oil on our climate, but at the same time claim that the proposed pipeline will 'not likely result in significant adverse environmental effects.' Whether this failure was willful or accidental, this report is nothing short of malpractice.

"President Obama said that he's committed to fighting the climate crisis. If that is true, he should throw the State Department's report away and reject the dirty and dangerous Keystone XL pipeline."

Jane Kleeb of the group Bold Nebraska joined other environmental leaders in rejecting the report's conclusion that tar sands development would not be impacted by rejection of the pipeline.

"Tarsands does not expand unless Keystone XL is built," Kleeb said. "The State Department's assumption that tarsands development does not change with or without this pipeline is wrong and laughable. Why would TransCanada spend billions on building the pipeline and millions on lobbying unless this piece of infrastructure is the--not a--but the lynchpin for the expansion of tarsands. Without this pipeline Canada stays at 2 million barrels a day, with it they get 3 million barrels a day. The President has the ability to keep a million barrels of tarsands in the ground a day. With a stroke of a pen he can protect property rights, water and make a dent in climate change."

"This report is laughable using the wrong assumption and therefore the wrong science," she said. co-founder Bill McKibben agreed, saying that "everyone in Canada knows they cannot expand the Alberta tar sands the way they'd like to without the Keystone XL being built."

"If President Obama is serious about confronting the deepening climate crisis, he needs to take Keystone XL off the table," said Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity. "There's simply no way to be in favor of this dirty, dangerous project and still think we're going to avert climate catastrophe."

Referring to the many glaring errors and what seem like conscious exclusion of scientific consensus, McKibben added: "This is not the State Department's finest hour."

Acknowledging worries that the SEIS signals that the State Dept. would recommend and that Obama would ultimately approve the project, environmentalists said they would be ramping up their efforts in the coming days, weeks, and months.

"We're going to help them [reject the pipeline] by mounting as much public protest as we can in the weeks ahead," said McKibben.

"Oil spills, environmental damage, wildlife put in harm's way, a doubling-down on the climate crisis: It's hard to understand why the Obama government is even considering this project," said Snape.

Some quick key takeaways from the assessment's "Cumulative Impact" section include:


Potential impacts due to releases of crude oil. Releases could potentially impact groundwater where the overlying soils are permeable and the depth to groundwater is shallow. Analyses in Section 4.13 suggest that large crude oil releases that do reach groundwater systems (including the Ogallala Aquifer) could result in oil spreading on the water table as far as 1,214 feet, and dissolved components of the oil, such as benzene, could spread as much as an additional 1,050 feet.


35 to 50 permanent jobs and negligible earnings and other revenues.


Spills associated with the proposed Project that enter the environment are expected to be rare and relatively small. Industry standards and practices (including the 57 Project-specific Special Conditions developed by PHMSA) provide a level of protection above that of other pipeline systems in existence. Modeling shows that, exclusive of topography and groundwater flow, large spills (20,000 barrels) could spread up to 1,214 feet on the ground surface or on the water table, and up to 1,050 feet dissolved in groundwater. Spills reaching surface water could be transported greater distances.

Response was swift on twitter:

According to the introductory letter accompanying the draft (emphasis added):

Once the Draft SEIS is noticed in the Federal Register, a 45-day comment period will begin. As part of the Department's process, members of the public, public agencies, and other interested parties are encouraged to submit comments, questions, and concerns about the project via e-mail to, at, or mailed to:

U.S. Department of State

Attn: Genevieve Walker, NEPA Coordinator

2201 C Street NW, Room 2726

Washington, D.C. 20520

After the end of the public comment period, the Department will prepare a Final SEIS.

Ultimately, a determination will be made on whether this project serves the national interest. The national interest determination will involve consideration of many factors, including: energy security; environmental, cultural, and economic impacts; foreign policy; and compliance with relevant federal regulations. As directed by Executive Order 13337, before making such a decision, the Department will also request the views of several agencies and officials, including: the Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Though the EIS does not necessarily dictate whether or not President Obama will approve the project, its content will be a vital piece of information in signaling the direction the administration is heading. If favorable to the pipeline, fossil fuel industry lobbyists will call mark it as a victory.

But, in anticipation of the release, the environmental group, which just two weeks ago led tens of thousands of people in a march against the pipeline in Washington, tweeted:

As details of the report's content become clear, the DeSmogBlog will be liveblogging the release here.

The timing of the draft assessment's release, however, speaks volumes. As DeSmog's Kevin Grandia notes:

[Releasing the EIS] late on a Friday - very typical when someone wants to put out bad news. This White House has used the tactic a lot. Another thing to note is that this isn't just any Friday afternoon, it is also the day final day to reach a sequester deal in Congress. All eyes in the media are focused on that!

Ahead of the release, the Canadian Press, citing a source at, reported that the EIS "acknowledges that Alberta's oilsands are carbon-intensive" it also "apparently makes clear that all modes of transportation are risky and the pipeline itself isn't any more of a threat to the environment."

If true, such an "analysis would mean that Calgary-based TransCanada has cleared a significant hurdle in its marathon bid to win approval for Keystone XL from the Obama administration."

Earlier today, Connie Hedegaard, the European Union's climate commissioner made headlines by urging President Obama to take a leadership role in the fight against climate change by rejecting the pipeline project.

"If you had a U.S. administration that would avoid doing something that they could do, with the argument that in the time we are living in and with climate change we are faced with, we should not do everything we can do, then it would be a very, very interesting global signal," Hedegaard told reporters.

"We can bail out banks, we can bail out member states, but you cannot bail out climate," she said. "If we just say we must extract all the fossil fuels that we can find in the world, then it's clear that it will not be possible to stay below the 2 degrees."

"Nobody is doing enough," she added. "Europe is not doing enough, the U.S. is not doing enough, China is not doing enough--all of us will have to do more."


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