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EPA: Keystone XL would have a ‘significant’ impact on climate

Tar sands development in Alberta, Canada. Creative Commons: Shell, 2009

Tar sands development in Alberta, Canada. Creative Commons: Shell, 2009

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bolstered the argument against the Keystone XL pipeline this week by underscoring how low oil prices could intensify the project’s contributions to climate change.

On Monday, the agency challenged the US Department of State to revisit its environmental impact analysis of the pipeline, saying that developing Canada’s tar sands “represents a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions.”

The State Department is currently conducting a review of the proposed project.

In a letter, the agency pointed out that due to the massive carbon footprint of tar sands oil, the $8 billion project would unleash up to 27.4 million metric tons of carbon pollution more than transporting and burning the same amount of conventional oil.

In its Final Environmental Impact Analysis (FEIS), the State Department concluded that building Keystone would not contribute to climate change, based on the assumption that oil companies would develop Canada’s tar sands with or without Keystone, a claim that has been hotly contested by environmentalists.

Now, low oil prices are poking holes in the already shaky economic arguments for building Keystone. With oil prices plummeting, shipping oil by rail is proving too costly to be profitable—which means that blocking Keystone would halt the extraction of Canadian tar sands oil and prevent the sizeable emissions associated with the project from being released into the atmosphere.

In light of oil’s precipitous plummet—prices have fallen 50% in the last seven months—EPA’s letter urges giving analysis of the effects of lower prices “additional weight.”

Climate activists fighting the pipeline, which would deliver dirty Canadian crude to Gulf Coast refineries, found their cause bolstered by EPA’s judgment.

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, said:

[EPA’s] knife-sharp comments make clear that despite the State Department’s relentless spin, Keystone is a climate disaster by any realistic assessment. The president’s got every nail he needs to finally close the coffin on this boondoggle.

Others used the opportunity to underscore the risks posed to land and water by the proposed project. “The pipeline would threaten our waters, our lands and turbo-charge climate pollution. It’s absolutely not in our national interest,” said Danielle Droitsch, Canada Project director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

EPA’s letter arrives as Congress prepares to finalize a bill forcing federal approval of Keystone XL. This bill is widely expected meet a veto from President Obama, who has opposed setting a new precedent for infrastructure projects by overriding established review procedures.

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