The US State Department suggested Friday that a $7 billion Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline would have no major impact on the environment, but stopped short of recommending it be approved.
The lengthy draft environmental impact statement examines how the Keystone XL Project could affect wildlife and surrounding areas as it crosses from the tar-sands of Alberta and travels 875 miles (1,050 kilometers) south.
The fate of the proposed $7 billion pipeline, which many environmentalists fear could be damaging, is still awaiting approval from the State Department.
“The analyses of potential impacts associated with construction and normal operation of the proposed project suggest that there would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed Project route,” the report said.
But it qualified its remarks by saying Keystone would have to meet all the measures it has vowed to implement to mitigate any harm caused by the project.
The new report will launch a 45-day period for public comments, after which a final decision will be taken, US officials said.
“It really has no recommendations one way or the other. At this point we are looking at this very, very objectively” said Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.
“We want to make sure we serve the best interests of our country and so we are really taking a thorough look, and we waiting for everyone to comment and to give us their feed-back.”
President Barack Obama denied approval for an initial project last year citing environmental concerns, in part due to criticism in Nebraska, where the proposed route would have traversed an area of sensitive wetlands and extensive areas of shallow groundwater.
TransCanada, the operator of the project, submitted a new route which avoids that Sand Hills region, but still traverses an area known as the High Plains Aquifer. Nebraska lifted its objections to the pipeline in January.
The State Department’s report found that “after construction, the proposed pipeline would not obstruct flows over designated floodplains” in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.
“Any changes to topography would be minimal and thus would not affect local flood dynamics or flood elevations,” it said.
It did find however that 24 protected or threatened species, including the whopping crane and the greater sage grouse, could be impacted by the project due to habitat loss or reduced food.
The pipeline would cross the US-Canada border at Morgan, Montana and then travel to Nebraska where it will join up with existing pipeline facilities to then shepherd the oil onward to Oklahoma and Texas.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]