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The proposed Keystone XL pipeline cleared another hurdle today with this assessment: There are a lot of environmental impacts associated with the crude oil from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, but the pipeline would not necessarily make them worse. That's the conclusion of the State Department's final report on the environmental impact of the proposed pipeline. The Keystone would carry crude from Alberta to refineries in Texas. NPR's Elizabeth Shogren has been looking at the report.
ELIZABETH SHOGREN, BYLINE: The Keystone XL has been so contentious because the kind of oil it would carry has a significantly bigger greenhouse gas footprint. To produce it, companies scrape the tarry stuff out of the Earth with huge machines or inject steam under ground to force it out. The State Department says because it take so much energy to produce the stuff, in the end, this fuel releases 17 percent more greenhouse gases than the average crude. Still, Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones says rejecting the pipeline won't stop the oil from getting to market.
KERRI-ANN JONES: Approval of any single project is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction of the oil from the oil sands or the refining of heavy crude oil on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
SHOGREN: That's because the oil could travel by rail or through another pipeline. This key conclusion is part of an environmental assessment that fills 11 volumes. There are other environmental impacts. The assessment says this heavy oil is harder to clean up when it spills. The Kalamazoo River in Michigan is still being dredged three and a half years after a big pipeline spill of this heavy crude.
But the big issue is greenhouse gases. President Obama has said the project won't go ahead if it significantly exacerbates the problem of carbon pollution. The assessment ends more than five years of environmental research. But Jones says it leaves many questions unanswered.
JONES: The broader question about how the decision on this pipeline would fit with our broader national and international efforts to address climate change.
SHOGREN: Environmental groups are scrambling to review the assessment. But they were encouraged by changes from previous ones.
MICHAEL BRUNE: The State Department is saying that the oil is both more toxic and more corrosive, as well as more carbon intensive than conventional oil.
SHOGREN: Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club.
BRUNE: And so this is a document that actually gives Secretary Kerry complete latitude.
SHOGREN: Secretary Kerry will also weigh other factors such as energy needs and national security to determine if the pipeline is in the country's interest. There's no deadline for Kerry's decision. Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.