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U.S. State Department Delays Keystone XL Decision

The U.S. State Department is indefinitely delaying its decision on whether to approve the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline to give federal agencies more time to review the proposal, the Associated Press reported Friday.

The delay could push the Keystone XL decision beyond the November midterm elections.

The route of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.
Credit: Penn State University

The AP reported that the State Department is citing a February decision by a Nebraska judge who overturned a state law allowing the pipeline to be built in the state. The State Department said the overturned law adds a new level of uncertainty regarding the route of the pipeline.

"The agency consultation process is not starting over. The process is ongoing, and the department and relevant agencies are actively continuing their work in assessing the permit application,” the State Department said in a statement.

The State Department did not say how much longer the review of the pipeline proposal would take, according to the AP.

Many scientists and environmentalists fear TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL Pipeline could have serious implications for climate change. Each day, the proposed pipeline would pipe 830,000 barrels of crude oil along an 875-mile route from Alberta’s tar sands region to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast, threading through eastern Montana, western South Dakota and central Nebraska before tying into an existing pipeline in Steele City, Neb. 

The production and processing of a barrel of tar sands crude releases 17 percent more carbon emissions than the average barrel of crude produced elsewhere, according to the State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the pipeline, released in January.

That analysis concluded that Alberta's tar sands would be produced with or without the Keystone XL Pipeline, suggesting that the effect on the climate would be the same regardless whether the pipeline is built.

The nonprofit group Carbon Tracker Initiative countered, saying in a report released in March, that the pipeline would lead to a greater quantity of carbon emissions globally than the State Department claimed.

North Dakota’s Bakken shale oil fields, one of the largest shale oil plays in the U.S., would also be connected to the Keystone XL Pipeline via a proposed spur.

A study released earlier this year showed that the Canadian government may have underestimated emissions of carcinogens known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, from the Alberta tar sands, and they may be a major hazard to both human and ecosystem health.

Fifteen leading climate scientists, including NASA’s James Hansen, Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton and others stated their opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline in a 2012 letter they sent to U.S. House and Senate leadership.

“The tar sands are a huge pool of carbon, one that it does not make sense to exploit,” they wrote. “It takes a lot of energy and water to extract and refine this resource into useable fuel, and the mining is environmentally destructive. Adding this on top of conventional fossil fuels will leave our children and grandchildren a climate system with consequences that are out of their control. It makes no sense to build a pipeline that would dramatically increase exploitation of this resource.”

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