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State Department Moves Forward On Construction Of Keystone XL Oil Pipeline

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WASHINGTON -- The State Department on Friday released its final environmental assessment of the Keystone XL, removing a major barrier to the construction of the 1,700 mile oil pipeline, which would stretch from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast.

In a report consistent with the agency's earlier findings, the final Environmental Impact Statement found the proposed pipeline would have "no significant impact" to the vast majority of resources along the pipeline corridor, and suggested moving forward on the project with limited modifications.

Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, emphasized that no final decisions have been made.

"This is not the rubber stamp for this project," Jones told reporters in a conference call on Friday. "The permit for this project has not been approved or rejected at all ... we will continue to have more discussion."

The department will open the discussion up to a public comment period, slated to run through early October, with public meetings in Texas, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Washington, D.C.

While refining oil from Canada's tar sands will generate significantly more greenhouse gas emissions per barrel of final product than the production of conventional oil, authors of the report argued that if the oil were not extracted by the Keystone XL, it would be transported to refineries by other means, including barges and tankers.

Further, according to the State Department's analysis, potential spills "would likely be limited." Another TransCanada pipeline known as the Keystone I has experienced 14 spills since it began operation just over a year ago, including one 21,000 gallon spill in Ludden, N.D.

While the Department's report "recognizes the public’s concern for the Northern High Plains Aquifer System," which supplies 78 percent of the public water supply and 83 percent of irrigation water in Nebraska as well as 30 percent of water used in the U.S. for irrigation and agriculture, it found that "no sole-source aquifers, or aquifers serving as the principal source of drinking water for an area, are crossed by the proposed pipeline route."

Federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency -- which has already deemed the State Department's previous environmental assessments inadequate -- will also be consulted. Other issues to be considered include economic impact as well as foreign policy.

“Once again, the State Department has failed to do its homework, and they’re leaving the American public to suffer the consequences," said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, international program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement Friday.

“It is utterly beyond me how the administration can claim the pipeline will have ‘no significant impacts’ if they haven’t bothered to do in-depth studies around the issues of contention," she added. "The public has made their concerns clear and the administration seems to have ignored them. If permitted, the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be a dirty legacy that will haunt President Obama and Secretary Clinton for years to come."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will make a final decision on the project by year's end.

Read the full EIS report here.

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