WASHINGTON — The long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline cleared a major hurdle toward approval Friday, a serious blow to environmentalists’ hopes that President Barack Obama will block the controversial project running more than 1,000 miles from Canada through the heart of the U.S.
The State Department reported no major environmental objections to the proposed $7 billion pipeline, which has become a symbol of the political debate over climate change. Republicans and some oil- and gas-producing states in the U.S. — as well as Canada’s minister of natural resources — cheered the report, but it further rankled environmentalists already at odds with Obama and his energy policy.
The report stops short of recommending approval of the pipeline, but the review gives Obama new support if he chooses to endorse it in spite of opposition from many Democrats and environmental groups. Foes say the pipeline would carry “dirty oil” that contributes to global warming, and they also express concern about possible spills.
Pushing back on the notion that the pipeline is now headed for speedy approval, the White House said the report isn’t the final step and noted that the report includes “a range of estimates of the project’s climate impacts.” Only after various U.S. agencies and the public have a chance to weigh the report and other data will a decision be made, said White House spokesman Matt Lehrich.
“The president has clearly stated that the project will be in the national interest only if it does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” Lehrich said.
Republicans and business and labor groups urged Obama to approve the pipeline to create thousands of jobs and move further toward North American energy independence.
The 1,179-mile pipeline would travel through the heart of the United States, carrying oil derived from tar sands in western Canada to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Canadian tar sands are likely to be developed regardless of U.S. action on the pipeline, the report said.
The report said oil derived from tar sands in Alberta generates about 17 percent more greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming than traditional crude. But the report makes clear that other methods of transporting the oil — including rail, trucks and barges — would release more greenhouse gases than the pipeline.