Environment, Education, Energy: Policy to People

Sierra Club Report Claims Keystone XL Pipeline Fails Obama’s Climate Test

A worker inspects a segment of the Keystone Pipeline before it's lowered into a trench near Stroud, Okla.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A worker inspects a segment of the Keystone Pipeline before it's lowered into a trench near Stroud, Okla.

President Obama is still deciding whether to approve the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would unlock vast supplies of Canadian tar sands oil for the U.S. and global markets.

During a major climate speech in June, Obama reiterated his support for the project, with one stipulation:

“Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

He’s feeling pressure from all sides on this issue. The oil industry and Republican politicians generally hate Obama’s guts, and have equated any delay in the project as willful neglect of the U.S. economy.

On the other side are environmental groups like the Sierra Club, whose recent report, “Fail: How the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Flunks the Climate Test,” claims Obama has no choice but to nix the project because of its potential impact to the environment.

The report makes the pipeline out to be a climate-killing monster.

“Tar sands release significantly more carbon pollution than the average crude oil used in the U.S.”

… a pipeline that would contribute 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year for 50 years risks blowing our ability to mitigate dangerous levels of climate change.”

But the report goes far further than simply railing against tar sands. It accuses the federal government and energy industry of working together to mislead the public.

President Obama has said he’ll base his decision on the impact the project will have on the climate. And the project’s Environmental Impact Statement — produced through the State Department — is supposed to give the President the information he needs to make that judgment.

But the Sierra Club’s report casts doubt on the reliability of Keystone’s EIS, and the contractor the State Department picked to evaluate the pipeline’s climate impact.

“The Department chose Cardno-Entrix from a list of contractors recommended by TransCanada. Serious allegations of conflicts-of-interest between the State Department, TransCanada, and Cardno-Entrix arose. The subsequent Office of Inspector General investigation found numerous contractual and financial relationships between Cardno-Entrix and TransCanada that had not been disclosed…”

It was determined there was no actual conflict of interest, but the State Department was chastised for not fully vetting Cardno-Entrix before giving it the job.

The Obama Administration rejected that first attempt to get approval for the Keystone XL pipeline.

For the second attempt, a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement was prepared, but again, the Sierra Club has serious problems with the contractor that put it together, Environmental Resources Management, and asked for an investigation, which it is getting:

“The request was based on ERM’s failure to disclose information about its relationships with the oil industry … ERM answered ‘no’ when asked if it had any ‘direct or indirect’ relationships ‘with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work.’ Yet, in the period 2009-2012 the firm was working for more than a dozen of the largest energy companies involved in the Canadian tar sands that stand to benefit if Keystone is built… “

Issues with the relative dirtiness of Canadian tar sands, and potential conflicts-of-interest between government and industry are only a couple of the complaints the report makes.

The report goes on to say that the Canadian Prime Minister can’t be trusted to impose tough environmental standards on drilling in his country, and that the pipeline would create a glut of tar sands at refineries on the Gulf Coast that would end up being exported to other countries in its raw form.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership among Oklahoma’s public radio stations and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.



  • 2fst4u

    The US needs to do whatever is necessary to become totally independent of middle east oil. Oil is the only reason we show any concern about whatever happens in the mid east. They have killed each other in the name of god for ever. We should wash our hands and just let them do what they do….murder. It’s about time the world takes care of it’s selve. when the US is threatened we will be able to take care of our selves.

    • CS Martin

      @2fst4u, is this pipeline in your backyard? If yes, I’m not quite clear what quality of life you want to have or leave when you’re gone. If no, then maybe the people who’s land this is affecting, negatively, can better judge what it is doing and will do to their land and natural resources. Turning portions of the US into what resembles the Middle East, environmentally, in the name of energy / oil independence is not the way to go. Our value of life here should be protected from that result. We should not be selling oil to any country. Perhaps our time, money and effort should be solely dedicated to harnessing, storing, exporting and using our renewable energy resources . . . ones that are less destructively devastating to the place we call home.

      • Canadian Tarbaby

        Most people are uneducated when it comes to pipeline safety and the quality of environmental controls on pipelines. The cows in the field that pipeline runs beneath create more methane and pollution than the pipeline does, compare that to the ships that supply oil from the Middle East and their horrific environmental record. Until the majority starts driving a tesla instead of an SUV Americans are going to need fuel, you might as well get it from a close friend than an enemy from across the globe. When indirect energy is considered the OILsands are not all that different than many other sources of high grade oil.

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »