Canada’s oil sands will be developed even if President Obama denies a permit to the pipeline connecting the region to Gulf Coast refineries, the analysis said. Such a move also would not alter U.S. oil consumption, the report added.
The lengthy assessment did not give environmentalists the answer they had hoped for in the debate over the project’s climate impact. Opponents say a presidential rejection of the project would send a powerful message to the world about the importance of moving away from fossil fuels and make it more difficult for Canada to export its energy-intensive oil.
But the detailed environmental report — almost 2,000 pages long — also questions one of the strongest arguments for the pipeline, by suggesting that America can meet its energy needs without it. The growth in rail transport of oil from western Canada and the Bakken formation on the Great Plains and other pipelines, the analysis says, could meet the country’s energy needs for the next decade, even if Keystone XL is never built.
In a news conference Friday, Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, said the department had not made any final conclusions about the project. “We feel that we need to have a public debate,” Jones said.
The president is not likely to make a decision on TransCanada’s permit application until midsummer at the earliest. The analysis will be subject to at least 45 days of public comment once it is published next week in the Federal Register, and the State Department will have to respond to hundreds of thousands of comments before finalizing its environmental impact statement. The State Department will also have to conduct a separate analysis of whether the project is in the national interest, a question on which eight other agencies will offer input over 90 days.
Jim Lyon, vice president for conservation policy at the National Wildlife Federation, said the department’s analysis “fails in its review of climate impacts, threats to endangered wildlife like whooping cranes and woodland caribou, and the concerns of tribal communities.”
By rejecting the project, Lyon added, “President Obama can keep billions of tons of climate-disrupting carbon pollution locked safely in the ground. . . . Without access to major U.S. export terminals from Keystone XL and other routes, tar sands production will be substantially slowed.”
The report’s executive summary takes a different view, saying it “concludes that approval or denial of the proposed Project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast area.”
Supporters of the project say it will ensure a secure supply of oil from Canada, one of the nation’s closest allies, and will generate high-paying U.S. jobs over the project’s two-year construction.