Despite the Obama Administration’s earlier assertion that it would either approve or disapprove the Keystone XL Pipeline project by the end of this year, the State Department, on November 10, announced a delay in the final decision. The proposed $7 billion, 1700-mile pipeline would connect the oil sands region of Alberta to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. (See the December 2011 Congressional Digest titled “Keystone Pipeline.”)
Under the original proposal, the pipeline would pass through the Sand Hills of Nebraska, which includes the Ogalla Aquifer, a major fresh water resource for eight states. Critics were concerned that oil spills from the pipeline could contaminate the aquifer, putting citizens’ health at risk.
The State Department stated that “given the concentration of concerns regarding the environmental sensitivities of the current proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, the Department has determined it needs to undertake an in-depth assessment of potential alternative routes” in that state. The department’s new review could take up to 18 months.
A few days after the State Department announcement, TransCanada (the Alberta-based energy company proposing the pipeline) offered to adjust its route to avoid the environmentally sensitive region. Nevertheless, the State Department must still conduct its study, which will take into account broader environmental and other issues in order to determine whether the pipeline project is “in the national interest.”
Meanwhile, also in early November, the State Department’s inspector general said that he was looking into conflict-of-interest charges and improper political influence in the preparation of the department’s environmental impact statement on the pipeline. That report concluded that the project would have “limited adverse environmental impact,” as long as it adhered to regulations.
For now, the project ― considered the most high-profile environmental issue of the Obama presidency ― remains on hold, most likely through the 2012 elections.