THE KEYSTONE PIPELINE SAGA: Is the End in Sight?

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KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE

As reported last week, the lower part of the Keystone pipeline opened to the relief of some and consternation of others.  Now, the saga continues with the release of the State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the pipeline, providing the near-final information for Secretary Kerry (and President Obama) to make a decision whether to approve the cross-border pipeline from Canada (which, if approved, will deliver oil to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico).

The crux of the finding is that although the extraction of oil from the tar sands in Canada will increase carbon emissions (the extraction will occur regardless of the approval of the Keystone XL project), the pipeline may generate fewer emissions than rail, barges, or trucks and provide some temporary boost to some regions of the country.

President Obama announced that he would only approve the Pipeline if doing so “does not significantly exacerbate the climate problem,” a very high bar.  Environmental groups, who anticipated the EIS and question many of the findings, will attempt to convince Secretary Kerry to reject the Pipeline.  As anticipated, the oil industry embraced and applauded the EIS findings. While the final approval is not guaranteed, this EIS provides President Obama cover and odds lean toward approval.

The EIS provides a detailed analysis of the proposed project and potential alternatives (including denial of the project) on the environment (including pipeline spills), GHG, wildlife, and the economy.

The EIS Executive Summary reached several conclusions including (document quotes, except where noted):

  • Varying pipeline availability has little impact on the prices that U.S. consumers pay for refined products such as gasoline
  • The total direct and indirect emissions associated with the proposed Project would contribute to cumulative global GHG emissions.
  • The proposed Project would, if permitted, include processes, procedures, and systems to prevent, detect, and mitigate potential oil spills that could occur during construction and operation of the pipeline.
  • Construction of the proposed Project would contribute approximately $3.4 billion to the U.S. GDP.  (BUT) once the proposed Project enters service, operations would require approximately 50 total employees in the United States: 35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors. This small number would result in negligible impacts on population, housing, and public services in the proposed Project area.
  • (The Project) would cross approximately 1,073 surface waterbodies including 56 perennial rivers and streams as well as approximately 24 miles of mapped floodplains… cross important aquifers such as the Northern High Plains Aquifer (NHPAQ) (which includes the Ogallala Aquifer) and the Great Plains Aquifer…within 1 mile of the proposed Project route are 2,537 wells, including 39 public water supply wells.
  • (Limited impacted expected on waterways, rivers, air quality, fisheries, and most wildlife).

Other Federal agencies, including the EPA which has questioned the quality of the environmental review, will have 90 days to comment before the State Department provides President Obama with its final recommendation.

All documents and a timeline related to the latest Keystone application are available on State’s website (and here is another timeline from National Journal).

For those interested in providing comment, the 30-day period begins February 5, 2014, so submit your comments to State now.

Congressional Hearings, Mark-Ups, Meetings & Floor Activity:

Senate Floor:

February 3, 2014:

  • Convene and resume consideration of the conference report to accompany H.R.2642, the Farm bill.

House Floor:

February 5, 2014:

  • H.R. 3590 – Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act of 2013 
  • H.R. 3964 – Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act, Rules Committee Print

February 6, 2014

  • H.R. 2954 – The Public Access and Lands Improvement Act, Rules Committee Print (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller / Natural Resources Committee)

Senate Energy Committee:

  • Business MeetingNominations: Ms. Rhea S. Suh, to be Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Department of the Interior, and Ms. Janice M. Schneider, to be Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, Department of the Interior, February 4, 2014.
  • HearingForestry Legislation, February 6, 2014.

Senate EPW Committee:

House Natural Resources Committee:

House Science Committee:

IN THE KNOW: EVENTS TO CONSIDER

Upcoming Events (listed by date):

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