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Oil Spills May Complicate Obama’s Keystone XL Decision

Crews at the scene of a Canadian Pacific train derailment that spilled thousands of gallons of crude oil near Parkers Prairie in western Minnesota on March 27
Crews at the scene of a Canadian Pacific train derailment that spilled thousands of gallons of crude oil near Parkers Prairie in western Minnesota on March 27Photograph by Minnesota Pollution Control Agency/AP Photo

Two spills of oil from the Canadian tar sands region last week brought into stark relief an aspect of the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline: how—and whether—bitumen from Alberta will make it to the Cushing (Okla.) oil depot and Gulf Coast refineries in the event that President Obama rejects TransCanada’s application to build the 1,250-mile extension. A derailed train in Minnesota on March 27 spilled at least 20,000 gallons (476 barrels) of oil, which an activist group later reported was tar sands oil. Then, two days later, a pipeline rupture in Arkansas spilled about 84,000 gallons (2,600 barrels) of heavy crude into a suburban subdivision, a spill well-covered by cable news outlets.

Last month the U.S. Department of State, which controls the permitting process for the pipeline (since it would cross a border), issued the latest of many Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statements it has released on the project. The president ordered the new review in November 2011 after numerous questions over the department’s impartiality were raised when apparent conflicts of interest at State, and a company it had contracted with, came to light.