The U.S. State Department released about 100,000 public comments it has received on TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the first batch of more than 1.2 million submitted to the agency on the project.
The comments on a draft environmental impact study were posted yesterday on a government website a month after the State Department reversed an earlier decision not to release them. The agency said last night in a statement that it would publish comments in similarly sized batches on a weekly basis.
TransCanada’s $5.3 billion project awaits approval from the State Department, which has jurisdiction because the pipeline crosses the U.S. border with Canada. The Calgary-based company’s proposal is supported by labor unions and the energy industry and opposed by environmental groups fighting climate change.
Keystone is designed to carry a type of heavy crude called bitumen from Alberta to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Combined with oil extracted from shale formations in North Dakota, the line would transport about 830,000 barrels a day, crossing six U.S. states.
Some of the comments submitted to the department came as form letters from groups that back or object to the pipeline. The Institute for Energy Research, a Washington-based nonprofit that favors freely functioning energy markets, urged the agency to expedite the project’s approval.
“The Keystone XL pipeline would increase America’s energy security and strengthen our relationship with Canada,” according to the institute’s comment, addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry. “The only thing stopping this common sense project is the federal government.”
Pipeline opponents, including the National Audubon Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council, also submitted their concerns that the project could cause harm to the environment.
“Building the Keystone XL pipeline can only lead to more environmental destruction along its route, damaging habitat, water supplies, and fouling our wildlife,” wrote the National Audubon Society in its submission.
Obama initially denied a permit for Keystone in January 2012, citing concerns that it might be a threat to the ecologically sensitive Sand Hills region in Nebraska. TransCanada resubmitted its plan in May with a new route from the Canadian border to connect to a pipeline in Steele City, Nebraska.
The draft State Department environmental impact statement concluded the Alberta oil would find its way to customers with or without Keystone. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said the department’s review wasn’t thorough enough.
After the State Department issues a final environmental assessment, it will determine whether Keystone is in the national interest by evaluating issues such as economic impact, trade and relations with foreign governments.
Canadian officials have stepped up lobbying to win a U.S. permit for the project, which would relieve an oil glut in Alberta and increase revenue to the province.
Daniel Kessler, a spokesman for 350.org, a pipeline opponent, said the group expects a final decision by October.
On May 22, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a Republican-backed bill seeking to approve Keystone, the eighth time congressional Republicans have advanced legislation promoting the pipeline.
The House measure is unlikely to become law as the Senate, where Democrats have the majority, isn’t considering similar legislation, and President Barack Obama’s administration has threatened a veto should the bill emerge from Congress.
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