The U.S. Department of State announced Thursday afternoon that it will postpone making a decision on whether TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project is in the national interest until at least early 2013.
Under Executive Order 13337, the State Department can issue Presidential Permits for transborder pipelines projects that it deems are in the national interest. The department has led what it calls a "transparent, thorough and rigorous" review of TransCanda's permit application for the Keystone XL project, and the executive order directs the secretary of state or a designee to consult with at least eight other federal agencies. The pipeline would carry crude oil approximately 1,661 miles from
This past summer, the State Department issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project under the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA). The agency found that the 36-inch-diameter pipeline would pose "no significant impacts" to most resources along the proposed route. Prior to Thursday's decision to delay making the national interest determination, the State Department accepted public comments during a 90-day review period. Click here for a timeline showing the agency's role in the permit review process.
Proponents of the project, which included a broad coalition of business and labor interests, touted its benefits in terms of job creation and energy security. According to some estimates, the project could generate more than 20,000 jobs. In addition, it would provide a conduit for refiners to receive crude oil from a close
Opponents ranging from environmental groups to celebrities to Republican elected officials in
Citing the "concentration of concerns regarding the environmental sensitivities of the current proposed route" through the Sand Hills, the State Department said that it will now conduct an "in-depth assessment" of other routes that the pipeline could take in
"Based on the Department's experience with pipeline project reviews and the time typically required for environmental reviews of similar scope by other agencies, it is reasonable to expect that this process including a public comment period on a supplement to the final EIS consistent with NEPA could be completed as early as the first quarter of 2013," the federal agency stated Thursday.
A Sampling of Responses
The response from project supporters and opponents was predictable.
In a public statement, TransCanada said that it will work with the State Department on new route options and remains optimistic that the project ultimately will be approved.
"This project is too important to the
"Supplies of heavy crude from Venezuela and
Another project backer, the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), fretted about the decision's impact on employment and energy security.
The decision "will strike a blow against American workers who need jobs, against American consumers who need energy, and against
Also criticizing the decision was the American Petroleum Institute (API), which called the move "deeply disappointing and troubling." According to API, a recent poll found that nearly 80 percent of Americans favor receiving greater supplies of oil from
"Whether it will help the president retain his job is unclear, but it will cost thousands of shovel-ready opportunities for American workers," API President and CEO Jack Gerard noted. "There is no real issue about the environment that requires further investigation, as the president's own State Department has recently concluded after extensive project reviews that go back more than three years. This is about politics and keeping a radical constituency opposed to any and all oil and gas development in the president's camp in November 2012."
On the other side of the issue, project opponent the Sierra Club was pleased with the decision.
“Today's announcement is a death knell for the Keystone XL tar sand pipeline and lands a considerable blow to Big Oil, their lobbyists, and their campaign of lies to keep Americans addicted to oil," stated Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. Brune said that the organization believes that the additional review of what it calls the "true costs of this dirty project" will persuade the State Department to "reject this pipeline."
An ABC television affiliate in
The postponement of a Keystone XL decision until after the next election could also provide a political victory for President Obama with his base of supporters who are often against the growth of the oil and gas industry.
"Because this permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment, and because a number of concerns have been raised through a public process, we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood," Obama said.
Interestingly, despite the extensive public scrutiny the project has undergone to date, Obama added that the "final decision should be guided by an open, transparent process that is informed by the best available science and the voices of the American people."
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