State Dept.: 'Many Lawyers' 'Dedicating Significant Time' to Keystone Decision

April 21, 2014 - 6:28 AM


This project in Hartford, Ill., will allow oil to be moved from the Keystone Pipeline. (Photograph by John Badman/The Telegraph via AP Photo)

( - How many U.S. government employees are working on the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline approval/disapproval process?

The U.S. State Department cannot say:

"I can't give you an exact number right now, because there are -- well, it's -- the reason I'm hesitating is that there are quite a number of people that even in the State Department and a range of different bureaus that are dedicating their time," a State Department official said in a conference call on Friday.

"As you might imagine, there are people who are environmental specialists with different backgrounds, there are many lawyers who are dedicating significant time to all of our work. There are people with energy backgrounds. There are others with energy security backgrounds. There's the foreign policy component that we have to address."

On Friday, the start of the Easter holiday weekend, State Department officials announced that a decision on building the Keystone XL pipeline will be delayed once again -- this latest delay coming almost five-and-a-half years after the project was first proposed.

Speaking on background, two officials said the State Department needs more time to review the 2.5 million public comments on the project; and they're waiting to see what the Nebraska Supreme Court decides about the pipeline's proposed route. If the route changes as a result of the court decision, additional assessments will have to be made -- and of course, that will take more time -- beyond the five years that already have elapsed.

Even some Democrats are blasting the latest delay, which seems deliberately arranged to avoid infuriating liberal environmentalists before the midterm election in November.

In addition to all the experts now working on the pipeline, State Department officials said a contractor is reviewing and sorting all the public comments, putting them into categories -- "so that we can more expediently... collect both the relevant information and insights..."

Because the project will cross the U.S. border, the decision to build it rests with the State Department, which must certify that it is in the national interest.

Asked when Americans can expect a final decision, the officials couldn't say: "I can't render a judgment on when is the final decision could take place. We want this to move as expeditiously as possible. We recognize that this is an issue of great concern to the American public, to American business. We take that extremely seriously, and we believe that the process should be brought to a conclusion, and for that reason, we're doing everything that we possibly can in the interim to move on the issues that we are -- we do have a capacity to asses."


TransCanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline, expressed frustration and disappointment with the latest in a series of delays:

"Another delay is inexplicable," Transcanada's President and CEO Russ Girling said on Friday, after the State Department announced it needed "additional analysis and consideration" of the proposed pipeline route.

"The first leg of our Keystone pipeline began shipping oil to refineries outside of St. Louis in 2010. It is about the same length of pipe as Keystone XL, carries the same oil and also crosses the 49th parallel. It took just 21 months to study and approve. After more than 2,000 days, five exhaustive environmental reviews and over 17,000 pages of scientific data, Keystone XL continues to languish."

Girling said TransCanada is sorry for the American construction workers and their families  who will "miss out on another construction season where they could have worked to build Keystone XL.

"We are also disappointed the United States will continue to rely on regimes that are fundamentally opposed to American values for the eight to nine million barrels of oil that is imported every day. A stable, secure supply of oil from Canada and from the U.S. makes better sense and I am sure a majority of Americans agree."

The 1,179-mile pipeline -- if it ever gets built -- would bring Canadian crude oil across the U.S. border to Steele City, Nebraska.

On Friday, the State Department told reporters that "we are moving ahead very diligently" and "we have a very intensive process that's going on, looking at all of the environmental, energy security, infrastructure, climate, and other factors that could affect our eventual assessment of the national interest."

Almost one year ago, in June 2013, President Barack Obama said the Keystone XL pipeline would not be built if it created more carbon pollution.

“Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires 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,” the president said. “The net effect of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.