Keystone XL critics now hang hopes on delaying the pipeline

Wed Mar 6, 2013 5:07pm EST
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By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After the Keystone XL oil pipeline cleared an important hurdle last week, critics of the project are searching for ways to force more of the delays that have dogged it for more than four years already.

The State Department said Friday that TransCanada Corp's pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to Texas would not add to global greenhouse gas emissions because oil sands crude will make it to market whether or not the project is built.

That interpretation neutralized a major argument that many environmentalists have put forward against the 800,000 barrel per day pipeline: that once built it would usher in greater development of the oil sands, where production is carbon-intensive.

The public has 45 days to comment on the State Department's review. Once that step is taken the department has 90 days to determine whether the project is in the national interest, with a decision expected in August or later.

"We think 45 days is very insufficient given the 2,000-plus pages of analysis," said Danielle Droitsch, head of the Canada Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups fighting Keystone. Greens will write letters to officials seeking to extend the comment period to 120 days, she said.

Environmentalists have reason to hope. In the years a decision has been pending on Keystone, the State Department has repeatedly delayed the process because of environmental concerns.

In mid-2010 State twice extended the comment period on an earlier environmental review after groups complained they did not have enough time to analyze it. Then it delayed the project for 90 days after the Environmental Protection Agency urged consideration of emissions from refineries in Texas and damage from potential oil spills.

Greens hope the State Department will embrace fresh delays because John Kerry, who took over from Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State in February, has long supported tackling global warming. "One would hope that Kerry ... would be more than happy to spend more time talking about this," said Damon Moglen, the climate director at Friends of the Earth.   Continued...

Demonstrators carry a replica of a pipeline during a march against the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington, February 17, 2013. REUTERS/Richard Clement