On Thursday, the State Department issued a Presidential Permit to Enbridge Energy, Ltd. for the Alberta Clipper - a 1,000-mile/1,607-kilometer crude oil pipeline that will run between Hardisty, Alberta, and Superior, Wisconsin.
With supply of crude oil from Western Canada oil sands developments expected to grow by as much as 1.8 million barrels per day by 2015, the industry has asked for more capacity out of the oil sands and into the U.S. Midwest markets.
In evaluating the Enbridge application, the State Department said in a statement, officials worked in consultation with "all relevant agencies and parties and with extensive public and stakeholder participation and outreach" and conducted an environmental review of the proposed project.
The department found that the addition of crude oil pipeline capacity between Canada and the United States will advance the strategic interests of the United States.
Syncrude Canada oil sands refinery on the Athabasca Oil Sands Deposit in northeastern Alberta (Photo courtesy Syncrude)
"These included increasing the diversity of available supplies among the United States’ worldwide crude oil sources in a time of considerable political tension in other major oil producing countries and regions; shortening the transportation pathway for crude oil supplies; and increasing crude oil supplies from a major non-Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries producer," the department said.
"Canada is a stable and reliable ally and trading partner of the United States, with which we have free trade agreements which augment the security of this energy supply," the department said.
But an international coalition of environmental and Native American groups said the pipeline would carry "the dirtiest oil on Earth" and vowed to challenge it in court.
"The State Department has rubber-stamped a project that will mean more air, water and global warming pollution, particularly in the communities near refineries that will process this dirty oil," said Earthjustice attorney Sarah Burt. "The project's environmental review fails to show how construction of the Alberta Clipper is in the national interest. We will go to court to make sure that all the impacts of this pipeline are considered."
The environmental and native groups point out that "Tar sands development in Alberta is creating an environmental catastrophe, with toxic tailings ponds so large they can be seen from space and plans to strip away the forests and peat lands in an area the size of Florida."
"In addition," they argue, "greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands production are three times that of conventional crude oil and it contains 11 times more sulfur and nickel, six times more nitrogen and five times more lead than conventional oil. These toxins are released into the U.S. air and water when the crude oil is processed into fuels by refineries."
The coalition says this decision contradicts President Obama's promise to cut global warming and America's addiction to oil while investing in a clean energy future.
"The tar sands pipeline connects U.S. refiners and consumers with the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive crude oil on earth," said Kevin Reuther, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy's legal director.
"Tar sands crude is causing massive environmental degradation in Canada and results in significantly more greenhouse gas emissions. This is the absolute wrong step to take if we want to create a greener energy future."
The State Department found that allowing the pipeline to be built across the U.S.-Canadian border would be in the national interest of the United States. But the coalition argues that instead, this pipeline will hurt the United States.
"Importing dirty tar sands oil is not in our national interest," said Bruce Baizel, Earthworks' senior staff attorney. "At a time when concern is growing about the national security threat posed by global warming, it doesn't make sense to open our gates to one of the dirtiest fuels on Earth. This pipeline will lock America into a dirty energy infrastructure for years to come. This is exactly the kind of project the State Department should be protecting us from."
Many of the groups involved in the coalition also have appealed the U.S. Forest Service over its willingness to allow the pipeline to traverse parts of the Chippewa National Forest in Minnesota.
In addition, a group of tribal members have gathered enough signatures on a petition to hold a referendum on the Leech Lake tribal council's agreement to allow the line through tribal land.
"We are saddened by the news that the Presidential Permit was signed today," said Marty Cobenais of the nonprofit Indigenous Environmental Network, based in Bemidji, Minnesota.
"The voices and rights of the Leech Lake Band members are not being listened to by the Obama Administration. According to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Constitution they are allowed to hold a referendum vote and allow the members to decide to accept the agreement with Enbridge or not. Nearly 700 signatures were obtained.
"If they vote against the agreement, the pipeline route would have to go around the boundaries of the Leech Lake Reservation, which would require a new Environmental Impact Study, plus other permits including a new Presidential Permit," said Cobenais.
The project was approved before all the federal regulations are completed, he said. "The Bureau of Indian Affairs is still waiting to receive a completed application from Enbridge Energy and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe to begin their approval process for allotment lands affected by these pipelines."
But the State Department said approval of the permit sends a positive economic signal, in a difficult economic period, about the future reliability and availability of a portion of United States’ energy imports, and in the immediate term, this shovel-ready project will provide construction jobs for workers in the United States.
The National Interest Determination took many factors into account, including greenhouse gas emissions, the department said, explaining, "The administration believes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions are best addressed through each country’s robust domestic policies and a strong international agreement."
The department repeated that President Barack Obama is "committed to reducing overall emissions and leading the global transition to a low-carbon economy."
The United States will continue to reduce reliance on oil through conservation and energy efficiency measures, such as the recently increased Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, the department said, "as well as through the pursuit of comprehensive climate legislation and an ambitious global agreement on climate change to include substantial emission reductions for both the United States and Canada."
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.