Keystone Faces New Questions as Senator Seek Health Study

A decision on the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline that has been under U.S. review for more than five years is facing additional questions from Senate Democrats who plan to ask for a study on the project’s health impact.

Senator Barbara Boxer of California said she and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island will send a letter today to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asking for a fuller examination of how public health would be affected by the mining and processing of the oil sands linked to the pipeline project.

“Health miseries follow the tar sands,” Boxer, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said at a news conference in Washington. She said more production of oil sands could increase asthma and cancer rates.

Advances in drilling techniques have unlocked millions of barrels of oil from tar sand, shale and other geologic formations in North America. The increase in production has led companies to seek new ways to transport that crude oil to refineries, including TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline from the U.S.-Canada border to Steele City, Nebraska.

The State Department is reviewing whether the $5.4 billion project, first proposed by Calgary-based TransCanada in 2008, is in the U.S. national interest. Keystone XL’s effect on public health hasn’t been adequately studied, Boxer said, including by a recent State Department environmental assessment that largely blessed the project.

“Clearly much more needs to be done before a final decision is made,” Boxer said.

Economic Boost

The State Department’s current review is supposed to weigh factors including how Keystone XL would affect the environment, diplomatic relations with Canada and local economies along the 875-mile (1,407 kilometer) route. The XL project would connect to an existing pipeline network, linking the oil sands in Alberta, Canada, with U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.

“Keystone XL clearly passes President Obama’s climate test, so opponents are scrambling to find any other way to slow down the process,” said Katie Brown, a spokeswoman for Oil Sands Fact Check, a group supported by oil producers in the U.S. and Canada.

Supporters, including the American Petroleum Institute, have said the project will create thousands of construction jobs and increase U.S. energy security. Canada has said it wants to build the pipeline as a boost to its economy.

Opponents, including landowners along the route and the National Wildlife Federation, have said the pipeline may increase the risks of climate change by promoting development of a type of fuel that has a high carbon footprint. Landowners in Nebraska say an oil spill from the potentially 830,000 barrel-a-day pipeline could damage water resources and sensitive habitat.

The U.S. government’s environmental report, released last month, found Keystone wouldn’t have a major effect on greenhouse gas emissions because the oil sands would be developed with or without the pipeline.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Snyder in Washington at jsnyder24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net

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