BY RICHARD GILBERT - The U.S. federal government has produced a new environmental assessment of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from western Canada to Nebraska, but it is not clear if the report will facilitate the project's approval.
“The environmental analysis of Keystone XL released today once again supports the science that this pipeline would have minimal impact on the environment,” said Russ Girling, president and CEO of Calgary-based TransCanada.
“The next step is making a decision on a Presidential Permit for Keystone XL. I believe that this project continues to be in the national interest of the United States for two main reasons: supporting U.S. energy security and the thousands of jobs our multi-billion dollar project will create.”
The U.S. Department of State released the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on Jan. 31 in response to a new application by TransCanada in 2012 for a Presidential Permit to construct the Keystone XL Pipeline.
A 30-day comment period for the project began on Feb. 5 and will close on Mar. 7, 2014.
During this period, members of the public and other interested parties are encouraged to submit comments in the national interest.
The analysis in the final SEIS builds on the draft statement released on Mar. 1, 2013 and other documents that were part of the previous pipeline application.
The issue of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions is critical to determining whether this project will go forward.
President Barack Obama said in his climate change speech last June that the pipeline should be approved only if it does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.
The total life cycle emissions associated with production, refining, and combustion of 830,000 barrels per day of oilsands crude oil transported through the proposed project is about 147 million to 168 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per year.
This is equivalent to the GHG emissions from about 300,000 passenger vehicles operating for one year, or 71,928 homes using electricity over the same time.
However, the Pembina Institute argues that the final SEIS is an improvement over the State Department’s March 2013 draft report.
“The assessment now acknowledges that under some circumstances, constraints on new pipeline capacity could have ‘a substantial impact on oilsands production levels,’” said Clare Demerse, federal policy director at the Pembina Institute.
“In other words, building the Keystone XL pipeline could help spur increased oilsands production and the carbon pollution that goes with it. President Obama said he will only approve Keystone XL if it does not significantly worsen carbon pollution. By that standard, Keystone XL is not in the U.S. national interest.”
According to the final SEIS, Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) crudes are generally more GHG intensive than other heavy crudes they would replace or displace in U.S. refineries.
As a result, WCSB crudes emit an estimated 17 per cent more GHGs on a lifecycle basis than the average barrel of crude oil refined in the U.S. in 2005.
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline expansion is a 3,200-kilometre, 36-inch crude oil pipeline stretching from Hardisty, Alberta to a delivery point near existing terminals in Nederland, Texas.
The U.S. portion of the proposed project is estimated to cost about US$3.3 billion and provide the infrastructure to transport oil from the Canadian border and connect to an existing pipeline near Steele City Nebraska.
Construction of the proposed project would include the pipeline itself plus various above ground ancillary facilities, such as access roads, pump stations, and construction camps.
President Obama followed the recommendation of the U.S. Department of State in January 2012 to deny the permit for construction of the project.
The National Interest Determination process focused on the unique characteristics in the Sand Hills and argued the pipeline’s route poses a significant threat to the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies drinking and irrigation water to eight states.
This includes 30 per cent of the water used for irrigation in the U.S.
TransCanada submitted alternative routing corridors and a preferred corridor to the Nebraska’s Department of Environmental Quality in April 2012.
As a result, TransCanada split up the construction of pipeline by building the southern portion first, which prevented the review of the Presidential Permit from delaying the entire project.
The US$2.3 billion Gulf Coast project from Cushing, Oklahoma to Nederland, Texas went into operation in January.
The National Energy Board (NEB) approved an application from TransCanada to construct the Canadian section of the Keystone XL Pipeline in March 2010.
The $1.7 billion Canadian portion of the project involves the construction of about 529 kilometres of new pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta to the Canada/U.S. border at Monchy, Saskatchewan.