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By Candice Bernd
June 26, 2013
Credit : AP Photo/Evan Vucci


No big deal, but the Keystone XL pipeline may be a step closer to its demise. That is, if the truth about the pipeline’s carbon emissions gets through the State Department’s final review on the project’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

In an announcement climate activists weren’t expecting from the president during his Georgetown University address on climate change, President Obama tied the pipeline’s ultimate approval to carbon emissions, saying:

I know there’s been, for example, a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a pipeline—the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. The State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal. That’s how it’s always been done.

But I do want to be clear. Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.

But climate justice advocates aren’t necessarily holding their breath. The State Department’s draft supplemental EIS, released earlier his year, found that Keystone XL would have a negligible impact on global greenhouse gas emissions—a claim disputed by climate scientists, non-governmental organizations and the EPA. The EIS also caused public outcry after it was discovered that the statement was written by a consulting firm hired by TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline.

The EIS cited industry sources who argued that tar sands from Alberta would still be transported via rail or other pipelines if Keystone XL was never built, and thus it would have a low impact on overall carbon emissions. But this argument has been disputed: Reuters found that shipping tar sands by rail doesn’t compare to the 830,000 barrels per day of crude TransCanada would be able to transport via the Keystone XL.

The president denied the original construction permit for the northern segment of the pipeline in January of 2012, citing concerns about an arbitrarily imposed deadline that Congress had tacked on to the payroll tax-cut extension legislation. Since then, TransCanada has split the pipeline into two segments and re-applied for a permit for the project’s northern half after rerouting the pipeline in Nebraska.

President Obama announced in March of 2012 that he would expedite the project’s southern leg, and since construction started across Texas and Oklahoma, it has faced constant interruption from groups like the Tar Sands Blockade and the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance.

On Monday, eight members of the Great Plain Tar Sands Resistance locked themselves to construction equipment in Oklahoma, blocking the construction of a pump station for the Keystone XL to mark the start of the “Fearless Summer” campaign. The campaign hopes to use direct action tactics to halt the extraction of fossil fuels.

The EIS is in its final stages of review after more than one million public comments were submitted against the pipeline.

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