State Department Finds No Major Objections To Keystone XL Pipeline Proposal

The State Department released its environment assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline on Friday. Melissa Block talks to Elizabeth Shogren.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. We've reported a lot on the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline. It would carry oil from the tar sands of Canada all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. And today, there's a development in this story. The State Department has released a new analysis of environmental impacts of the pipeline.

This is just a draft, but it brings us one big step closer to a final decision on whether the government will approve the project. For more, we're joined by NPR environment correspondent Elizabeth Shogren and, Elizabeth, environmental groups have been protesting this project. They say tar sands oil is the dirtiest of the dirty. What does the State Department analysis say about that?

ELIZABETH SHOGREN, BYLINE: Well, the analysis says that this project wouldn't have a big impact on the pace of oil production from Canada's tar sands because Canada will just find other ways to transport its oil. Some of this tar sands oil is already flowing into the U.S. from other pipelines on trucks and trains. And the State Department says that this switch from overseas oil to Canadian crude and oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota does have a cost for the climate.

It takes more energy to produce this kind of oil and that's increasing the greenhouse gas footprint of the gasoline that we use. But what the State Department says is that this is happening whether or not the Keystone is built.

BLOCK: We may remember that about a year and a half ago, the State Department postponed a decision on the project. It was concerned about the pipeline crossing an aquifer in Nebraska. Now, that route has been changed so where does the oil - where would it go now?

SHOGREN: Well, still through Nebraska, but it avoids the environmentally sensitive area and it ends up at the border of Nebraska and Kansas. The same company has already gone ahead and it's building the southern stretch of the pipeline from Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico. The new route for the Keystone does cross a thousand water bodies. There's always going to be the risk of spills.

And it also could have negative impacts on 13 different endangered species, birds and plants like the whooping crane and the greater sage-grouse.

BLOCK: So what is the reaction so far from environmental groups to this analysis that came out today?

SHOGREN: They're furious. They believe that there's no question that the Keystone provides an outlet for this dirty oil, and they say that even the industry says that they need the Keystone pipeline to bring this oil to market. And they say that this opens the door for a decision that would be disastrous for the climate. They think that the president has made some really strong statements on his plans to protect the United States and the world from climate change and that they worry that that could be at risk.

BLOCK: And that's a real question here. Does this analysis tip the hand of where the State Department is heading in terms of whether it's going to approve this project?

SHOGREN: The State Department officials I spoke with today, they said that they are not tipping their hand, that they really want the public to comment on what they've said. What's happening here is that where we get our oil in this country is changing really dramatically and so their assessment is changing all the time. There will be a 45-day comment period, and we will hear a lot of comment because there's so much at stake not just for the environment but also for the economy.

The State Department says 42,000 jobs could come.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Elizabeth Shogren. Elizabeth, thanks.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.