State Department: Keystone XL would have little environmental impact

The Keystone XL pipeline would have little environmental impact, according to a final analysis released this afternoon by the State Department, because the extraction of oil from Canada is likely to continue with or without its construction:

An Obama administration analysis of the Keystone XL pipeline application shows the project wouldn’t likely change the amount of oil ultimately removed from Canadian oil sands, suggesting that building the pipeline would have little impact on global climate change.

The report found that the “approval or denial of any single project is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction of the oil in the oil sands, or the refining of heavy crude on the U.S. gulf coast,” a State Department official told reporters Friday.

The conclusion that the heavy crude would be extracted and delivered anyway—by rail if not pipeline—left environmentalists disappointed. But the report isn’t the last word on the matter. Now begins a final State Department study to determine whether the pipeline project is in the nation’s broader interests. A total of eight separate agencies have up to three months to weigh in, potentially injecting the pipeline issue into the midterm election season.

The State Department had reached the same conclusion in previous reports. President Barack Obama, however, rejected the construction of Keystone XL in January 2012 because of environmental concerns on the northern part of the project, which would have run through the Nebraska Sandhills. TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, went back to the drawing board and produced a new route to address those issues.

Despite the State Department report, it’s likely that President Obama will lean on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide input on the climate change impact of Keystone XL. That could be an ominous sign for the pipeline’s future, given that the EPA objected to the State Department’s earlier draft analysis.

President Obama has also tried to downplay the job creation impact that Keystone XL would have. In July, for example, he said that the pipeline would create “somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs.”

The Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI), however, produced a study in June 2011 estimating that Keystone XL could create and preserve up to 80,000 jobs in the United States by 2019 and a peak of 179,000 by 2035.

Those figures weigh the full scale of the pipeline, not just the stalled northern stretch and both direct and indirect job creation, the latter of which shows ancillary economic growth as a result of its construction.

Glenn Kessler, the fact checker at the Washington Post, balked at President Obama’s comments. He pointed out that the State Department has estimated that the pipeline would create up to 3,900 temporary construction jobs and noted that the ancillary effects could be even greater, creating up to 42,100 jobs over a two year period.

Though radical environmentalists rabidly oppose Keystone XL, polls show that Americans back it. There is also bipartisan support for the pipeline in Congress. What’s more, it has the backing of the AFL-CIO.

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