Friday, January 31, 2014

Strategic Keystone

If the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline through the United States is not built, Canada is likely to redirect massive quantities of oil from its Alberta tar sands to China.  Proven oil reserves in Canada - largely Alberta - rival those of Saudi Arabia.  Losing access to them would be perceived by many in the U.S. as a strategic disaster.  Losing them to growing rival China would perceived as far worse.

Enter the environmental impact assessment process mandated by the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA") in the case of major federal actions.  President Barack Obama stated on July 27, 2013, that
I'm going to evaluate this [proposed Keystone XL pipeline] based on whether or not this is going to significantly contribute to carbon in our atmosphere.
On January 31, 2014, the U.S. Department of State released its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement ("FSEIS") on the pipeline.  Section 1.4 of the FSEIS includes analysis of President Obama's evaluation criterion:
Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands...
In other words, according to the FSEIS, approval of the Keystone XL pipeline will be essentially irrelevant to the amount of "carbon in our atmosphere." So, will the United States or China be directly responsible for releasing that carbon?  Based on the the State Department's FSEIS, it is now much likelier to be Canada's fossil fuel-hungry neighbor to the south.