Keystone pipeline clears major hurdle

The U.S. State Department's environmental analysis of TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline has given the project a thumbs up.
Environmental activists are opposed to TransCanada's proposed pipeline. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

The U.S. State Department's environmental analysis of TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline has given the project a thumbs up.

State Department officials say there's no indication the pipeline would spur further oilsands production or pose any significant risks to the six U.S. states that it will cut through, as it carries crude from northern Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas.

Click here for a map of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

"It's not a decision," State Department official Kerri-Ann Jones explained during a conference call. "It's one piece of the information that will be considered."

The assessment moves the administration of President Barack Obama a step closer to a final decision on the pipeline. It now has 90 days to determine whether the controversial project is in the national interest of the United States.

Alberta's Energy Minister, Ron Liepert, says the province is pleased the report was balanced and based on facts, not emotions. 

The U.S. needs a secure supply of affordable oil and the pipeline can deliver it, along with economic benefits from the $7 billion project, he said.

The decision isn't a surprise to the big U.S. environmental groups that are fighting the pipeline. An official for one group, the National Resources Defense Council, said State Department officials failed to conduct many of the studies the environmentalists were demanding.

Among them was an examination of whether Keystone XL could be rerouted to avoid environmentally sensitive areas in the U.S. Midwest, and to assess whether pipelines are prone to leaks.

Mass arrests at rallies

The State Department decision comes as anti-pipeline activists continue a two-week civil disobedience campaign outside the White House.

More than 250 people, including Canadian actors Margot Kidder and Fort McMurray-born Tantoo Cardinal, have been arrested as they try to convince U.S. President Barack Obama to block the pipeline.

Keystone XL has become a lightning rod for the environmental movement in the U.S. in the aftermath of failed climate-change legislation last year.

Environmental activists say the project is a disaster waiting to happen and are opposed to Alberta's oilsands due to the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions involved in their production.

"This is not the rubberstamp for this project," said Jones, disputing several big American environmental groups who immediately decried it as such.

"The permit that is required for this project has not been approved or rejected at all … it should not be seen as a lean in any direction either for or against this pipeline. We are in a state of neutrality." 

Proponents, meantime, say the pipeline will create thousands of jobs and help end U.S. reliance on Middle Eastern oil.

With files from CBC News