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Reviewing the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline: The more we learn, the worse it looks

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

Posted March 1, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Moving Beyond Oil, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places, Solving Global Warming

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The State Department released its draft environmental review of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would take tar sands from Canada to the US Gulf Coast for export. Past reviews severely underestimated the very serious harm to our climate, health, communities and water from the Keystone XL pipeline and expansion of tar sands extraction and refining. Unfortunately, this draft review is no different. My colleague Anthony Swift has already outlined here, the five necessary ingredients for an environmental review of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. As my colleague Danielle Droitsch writes here, the State Department review misses the mark on all five.

This draft environmental review fails our climate, our communities, our waters and our health. At several key moments over the past months – election night, his Inauguration Address, and the State of the Union, President Obama has responded to widespread public concerns about the need to fight climate change with strong words calling for action. Action to fight climate change must include stopping dirty projects as well as putting clean energy alternatives into place. It is time for the US to draw a line and say no to dirty energy projects starting with the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Yet, this draft review makes the same mistake as earlier reviews of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. It fails to acknowledge that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will drive expansion of the tar sands. With alternative pipeline proposals to the west and east coasts stalled due to public opposition and rail such a high cost option, Keystone XL remains the gateway to the higher prices of overseas markets for expensive tar sands.  NRDC has analyzed the ways in which the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will make climate change worse.

What we already know from existing analysis is that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest. The pipeline means worsening climate change. Piping it through the US heartland would put our ranchers and farmers at risk from difficult to clean up oil spills. And sending it to the Gulf Coast only makes our country a dirty oil gateway to overseas markets. This is a project where multi-national oil companies reap in the benefits while US communities take the risks.

We’ll continue taking a hard look at this draft environmental review. And we know that the many people across the US and Canada who are concerned with tar sands expansion and the Keystone XL pipeline project will be weighing in to make their voices heard. A draft environmental review is just the first step in the process to assess this project and to determine if it is in the national interest. During the next step, the public can make its voice known. We are still far from a decision on this project and it would be premature to mistake a draft environmental review for the end of the process.

This post was updated by the author.

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Comments

Dave UprightMar 1 2013 04:49 PM

If you're really serious about dirty energy and climate change, you would be much better served by paying more attention to an industry that dwarfs the impact of the oil sands. Coal-fired power plants in the US are roughly 100 times more "dirty" than all of the oil sands plants put together.

Concentrate on your own back yard.

Richard SKMar 1 2013 11:35 PM

I have no issue with making sure that the pipeline is built to the highest standards available to ensure that spills do not occur. However if you think that preventing this pipeline from being built will stop us (Canada) from developing our oilsands you are sadly mistaken. We will simply build pipelines that are wholly on Canadian soil and with the new rules for approval of such projects there will be no delays from outfits like yours. As well as pipelines there will be more and more oil being shipped by rail (hardly the most environmentally friendly way of doing it but oh well) And after we ship it to tide water we can sell it to who ever wants to buy it which may or may not be the US, so in the end it will be good for Canada to diversify our customer base. Americans don't seem to be reliable trade partners anymore.

I would have to agree with another poster on here. You should be spending time on the mess in your own back yard, such as your coal fired plants. But then that wouldn't make you very popular at home would it.

ELMar 2 2013 08:44 AM

It is interesting to note that those coal fired power plants that are "roughly 100 times more 'dirty' than all of the oil sands plants put together" also have the dubious distinction of dumping more radioactive waste material into the atmosphere per year than has been created by the world's nuclear power plants. Think about it.

GobblegutsMar 2 2013 10:07 PM

Could the pipeline opponents please find something serious and new to protest against. Concentrate on excessive energy use, energy waste, and efficiency projects if you want to help the planet. Stop NASCAR, turn down the lights in Vegas, return to day time baseball, etc, etc

Rich PlevinMar 3 2013 06:37 PM

Actually, if you're really serious about climate change, you retire coal plants AND avoiding putting all the tar sands C in the atmosphere.

If the US rejects the pipeline, there's at least a chance the that resistance in Canada will hold, whereas if the US approves, it's guaranteed. Given the options, it makes sense to protest vigorously and hope the Canadians are successful as well.

Oh, and Gobbleguts should familiarize him/herself with the scale of the problem to avoid meaningless suggestions like returning to daytime baseball or stopping NASCAR.

MottiMar 3 2013 09:42 PM

I agree with Dave Upright, Richard SK & Gobbleguts. NRDC is on the wrong track since they are singling out CANADA, and not doing anything comparable to damage the US economy. Canada & Canadians depend on the oil sands exports in so many ways, the protests are an attack on the much smaller economy of Canada, who happens to be the best neighbor and friend of the USA. Lost in the (lack of) perspective of NRDC and Sierra Club. Most Canadians see this, and the US affiliated NGOs in Canada are seen as puppets of your ilk, senseless and way over the top. Canada and its government and industry is a great steward of our economy, but NRDC is poking its nose into our livelihoods...irresponsibly.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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