You will note that, somehow, State can’t complete the new review before the November presidential election. You should also note that, had the project been approved, it was scheduled to begin operating in 2013. Finally, you should note that this is one of those large “infrastructure” projects that the administration repeatedly touts as desirable for long-term job growth.
But environmentalists strongly oppose the project on two grounds: They object to oil-sands development that adds to greenhouse-gas emissions; and they argue that a spill from the pipeline might contaminate groundwater, particularly the Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska.
There are two possible explanations for the delay — politics or incompetence in the original review. “This is all about politics and keeping a radical constituency, opposed to any and all oil and gas development, in the president’s camp in 2012,” said Jack N. Gerard, head of the American Petroleum Institute . Kerri-Ann Jones, the State Department official overseeing the review, denied that. “This is not a political decision,” she said. Although President Obama had conspicuously announced that he could overrule State, she said “there was no effort to influence our decision.”
Was the original review deficient? In late summer, State released a voluminous environmental impact statement — running hundreds of pages — that gave a green light to the project. The study concluded that Canada would proceed with oil-sands development even if the pipeline were rejected. It would “seek alternative transportation systems to move oil to markets.” This, in effect, disposed of the greenhouse-gas argument; these emissions will occur anyway.
As for the pipeline’s direct hazards, the review concluded that it “would have a degree of safety greater than any typically constructed domestic oil pipeline.” Inevitably, the report said, there would be some spills. It cited an earlier Keystone oil pipeline that began operating in June 2010. Since then, there had been 14 spills. Of those, seven were 10 gallons or less and four were 100 gallons or less. The largest was 21,000 gallons, but almost all of that was “contained within the pump station” where the spill occurred. The report also found that even severe spills would contaminate only small stretches of local aquifers and that in “no spill incident scenario would the entire (aquifer) system be adversely affected.”