An environmentally sensitive segment of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline will be rerouted and a final decision on the controversial $7 billion project delayed until after the 2012 U.S. election, officials have announced.
The White House said Thursday (Nov. 10) that it would seek to shift the 1,700-mile pipeline away from the most sensitive areas.
|TransCanada has agreed to reroute the line to avoid the environmentally sensitive Sandhills region and Ogallala Aquifer.|
That work, and subsequent review, will require a delay of at least a year, the Obama Administration said.
TransCanada Corp., the pipeline developer, said later that it would reroute the line.
‘Open, Transparent Process’
“Because this permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment, and because a number of concerns have been raised through a public process, we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood,” President Obama said in a statement.
“The final decision should be guided by an open, transparent process that is informed by the best available science and the voices of the American people.”
Environmental Impact Studied
The decision slapped a surprising halt on a project that had won the State Department’s favor in August. At the time, the department released a nine-volume, 1,000-page Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) showing minimal environmental risk from the project.
The FEIS was the State Department’s third, and final, review since TransCanada proposed the pipeline in 2008.
|Thousands of opponents to TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline took their case to the White House on Nov. 6. Days later, the Obama Administration said the project would be reviewed and part of the line rerouted.|
Although the EIS did not constitute a final decision—one was not expected until the end of the year—it was considered to have cleared a major hurdle from the project.
The study enraged environmental groups, who continued to press opposition to the plan in rallies and demonstrations, culminating in a march Nov. 6 that drew thousands of protesters to the White House.
Later that week, the State Department said it would seek an alternative route for a small portion of the pipeline that runs through an environmentally sensitive part of Nebraska known as the Sand Hills.
That will require a new environmental review that will take until at least the first quarter of 2013, the department said.
Decision Hailed, Reviled
Environmentalists called the new delay a clear victory, while industry and labor assailed the decision, saying the project would have created jobs and increased U.S. oil security.
"If Keystone XL dies, Americans will still wake up the next morning and continue to import 10 million barrels of oil from repressive nations, without the benefit of thousands of jobs and long-term energy security," said TransCanada Chief Executive Russ Girling.
Jack Gerard, director of the American Petroleum Institute, said the pipeline delay was "clearly about politics and keeping a radical constituency opposed to any and all oil and gas development in the president’s camp for 2012.”
Tar Sands Oil
The pipeline would carry up to 830,000 barrels of heavy crude oil per day and was expected to begin operation in 2013, if construction had begun in 2012, the company says. The crude would be extracted from the oil sands areas in Alberta, Canada. Oil sands (also known as tar sands) are a combination of clay, sand, water, and bitumen.
Critics note that TransCanada’s current 1,300-mile Keystone system has sustained 14 spills since it began operation in June 2010, sparking intense debate over whether the company could safely operate the so-called Keystone XL project, which would nearly double the system’s capacity.
The XL project—officially, the Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion Project—would be the third phase of the $13 billion Keystone pipeline network.
TransCanada said it believed the pipeline would eventually be built.