U.S. State Dept. report seen as favoring Keystone XL; Nebraska differences noted

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March 1, 2013 - 6:00pm

A new U.S. State Department environmental report seen as favorable to the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline is being condemned as inadequate by environmental groups.

The new report is the first one from the federal government since Governor Dave Heineman approved a new route for the pipeline in Nebraska.

Alex Pourbaix, president of energy and oil pipelines for TransCanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline, sounded upbeat. "We’re definitely gratified that after a year-plus of review, the State Department has come to the very same finding that they came to in the original environmental impact statement, which was their reaffirmation that the construction Keystone XL would result in no significant impacts to most resources along the project route," Pourbaix said.

Environmentalist opponents of the pipeline, which would carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, called the report inadequate. Jane Kleeb of the group Bold Nebraska said the route still crosses numerous waterways in the state, as well as the Ogallala Aquifer.

We also do not have a single study conducted by our government on what a worst-case scenario spill of at least 150,000 barrels would look like on the aquifer, as well as on our rivers or on private farm and ranch land," Kleeb said.

The report says across most of the Great Plains Aquifer, it is very unlikely any spills would affect groundwater quality because the aquifer is so deep. It says the exception is in southern Nebraska, where the aquifer is closer to the surface. However it adds because of the way groundwater flows downhill, it‘s still unlikely the aquifer would be affected.

Beyond potential spills, environmentalists object to the pipeline because it would increase the production of tar sands oil, which they argue is an even worse source of greenhouse gasses than conventional oil.

Bill McKibben of the group 350.org ridiculed what he said was the State Department’s conclusion the pipeline would have little effect on production.

"They call it Keystone for a reason. If they don’t have it, they’re not going to be able to expand the tarsands the way that they’v been planning to. And to pretend otherwise is to miss the boat about as badly as, say, the State Department missed it when they didn’t notice the Arab Spring was coming," he said.

TransCanada’s Pourbaix called that argument "incredibly naïve and shortsighted," adding that rejecting the pipeline would actually increase greenhouse gasses. "As you delay these pipelines, it doesn’t mean that the oilsands, or any other production gets delayed. What it means is that more and more is moving by other methods – largely truck and train, both of which have significantly higher accidents, incidents or risk of spills," Pourbaix said.

"Every mile you move a barrel of oil by train produces three times the incidence of GHGs (green house gasses) than moving a barrel of oil by pipeline, than by pipeline," Pourbaix added.

The report now is open to public comment. Kerri Ann Jones of the State Department said Nebraska will be the site of the only public meeting on the subject. But she did not specify where and when that meeting will be held.

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