WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Keystone XL pipeline does not pose a threat to the environment and denying the project would not slow oilsands development, according to the U.S. State Department.
The state department released a draft environmental assessment of the $7 billion project Friday afternoon.
“The analyses of potential impacts associated with construction and normal operation of the proposed Project suggest that there would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed Project route,” provided TransCanada followed a number of safety measures, the report says.
The draft environmental assessment triggers a 45-day public comment period, to begin next week, after which the department will decide whether the project is in the U.S. national interest.
TransCanada Pipelines CEO Russ Girling called Friday’s environmental assessment draft “a pretty significant step.”
“It confirms what we’ve been saying — it would have minimal impact on resources along the route and on greenhouse gases,” he said.
The hope now, Girling added, is a decision will come out of the White House within six months, which would allow a 2014 or early 2015 construction timeline to stand.
The time it’s taken thus far is frustrating, he said.
“It’s four-and-a-half years of review in a process that’s historically taken 18 to 20 months,” he said.
Kerri-Ann Jones, the department’s assistant secretary, told reporters Friday that denying the project would not slow development of the oilsands, a claim environmentalists have used as a reason for President Barack Obama to reject the application.
But she stressed Friday’s report does not make recommendations “one way or the other” about whether the pipeline should be built.
“We’re not at that stage in the process,” she said.
Obama is expected to approve or reject Keystone later this year.
Keystone supporters such as Alberta Premier Alison Redford praised the report, but groups opposing the pipeline lashed out at the State Department Friday.
“This analysis fails in its review of climate impacts, threats to endangered wildlife like whooping cranes and woodland caribou, and the concerns of tribal communities,” Jim Lyon of the National Wildlife Federation said in a statement.
“If Keystone XL wouldn’t speed tar sands development, why are oil companies pouring millions into lobbying and political contributions to build it?”
If approved, the pipeline would ship 700,000 barrels of crude a day from Canada’s oilsands to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.
A year ago, Obama rejected the company’s application to build the pipeline — but encouraged them to reapply. At the time, Obama said Republicans had imposed a deadline to decide the fate of the project that did not allow enough time to study the environmental impacts.
The initial pipeline route travelled through environmentally sensitive lands in Nebraska. The route has since been modified.
— With files by Bill Kaufmann