Briefing on U.S. State Department's Release of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact State for Keystone XL
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
MR. VENTRELL: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us for this call. This is an on-the-record call. We have with us Assistant Secretary Kerri-Ann Jones, who is going to brief about the U.S. State Department’s release of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Keystone XL.
So without further ado, I’m going to turn it over to the Assistant Secretary. Go ahead, Kerri-Ann.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Good afternoon, everyone. I also want to thank you for being on this call. I’d just like to make a few introductory comments and then open it up for your questions.
First of all, let me tell you what we’re doing today. We are releasing the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, or the Draft SEIS, as it’s known, for the presidential permit application for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
This Draft SEIS is a technical review of the potential environmental impacts. This draft is not a decision on the presidential permit application. What this draft is, it’s a response to the application we received in May 2012 for a pipeline that crosses the U.S.-Canada border near Morgan, Montana, passes through Montana then South Dakota and Nebraska, and terminates in Steel City, Nebraska.
What we have done in the Draft SEIS is to expand and update existing information from the final EIS that was done in 2011 for the original Keystone application. This new supplemental – this new draft supplemental includes a comprehensive review of a new route in Nebraska. It also includes any significant new information or new circumstances that are now available regarding the routes in Montana and South Dakota. Those routes are fairly unchanged, largely unchanged from what they were in the original application.
Our process from this point on is, we have posted the draft on our website, and when EPA officially posts this draft, which will take about a week, we will begin a 45-day comment period, a public comment period. During that comment period, we plan to have a public meeting in Nebraska. And when we have closed the comment period and reviewed and incorporated comments and responded to them, we will produce a final supplemental environmental impact statement. And when that final is released, we then plan to begin what we call the National Interest Determination, which we’ve discussed before.
So that’s sort of a rundown of what we’re doing and our next steps. So let me stop there and open it up for questions.
OPERATOR: Ladies --
MR. VENTRELL: Can we go ahead and take the first question?
OPERATOR: Sure. Just one moment, please. We have a question from the line of John Broder from The New York Times. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi Kerri-Ann. It’s Broder, of course. We just had access to this thing a few minutes ago. Could you summarize for us what you found about the greenhouse gas emission impacts of the tar sands in the pipeline?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Right. Well, as you know, the greenhouse gas question and the relationship to climate is a very important topic, and what we have done in the draft supplemental is we have looked at the greenhouse gas impact from a number of ways, both the overall lifecycle of greenhouse gas emission related to the oil that would be moving through this pipeline, as well as how the construction of the pipeline might influence the overall development of the oil sands.
And I think that this has been an area of great interest, and as I said in my opening comments, this is a draft SEIS, and it’s a preliminary document. We’re very anxious to have a lot of public comment. But with this preliminary analysis, we find in this draft that the approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including this proposed project, really remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of development of the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil in the U.S.
But let me reiterate that this is a draft document, and we’re anxious to get a lot of comments from the public and to have a lot of discussion about this document.
QUESTION: Hi there. Juliet Eilperin here. Thanks, Assistant Secretary. On the flipside, it looks like part of what the analysis is showing is that, in fact, in terms of the next decade, we would not need this pipeline to get the 830,000 barrels of oil a day to the United States. Could you tackle that part of the equation?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Well, I think – thanks, Juliet. You raise a good question. Certainly, that is one of the areas we look at in the draft and that’s sort of in the discussion where we look at alternatives. We have a very robust discussion of alternatives, including the no-action alternative, where what we look at is what would happen if this pipeline were not to be built, what would happen with other forms of transport, not just pipelines, but rail and barge. And also we look at what would happen to – with the existing pipeline structure. Would there be other changes or modifications for that? So there is a tremendous amount of analysis in this draft on that very issue, and I would refer you to that.
MR. VENTRELL: Operator, can we take the next question?
QUESTION: Hello, thank you very much for taking this call. We literally have only just opened this report up and it’s very dense and very comprehensive. But could you tell us, overall, if you found the environmental impact of the pipeline would be significant or would it meet the standards that you need for an eventual approval to go ahead?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Well, as I said in my opening remarks, again, this is a draft. And so while there is a section where there is a summary discussion, I don’t think it’s – I think it’s somewhat premature to get into that, because we feel that we need to have a public debate. We covered a range of issues regarding what could be environmental impacts, covering what’s been already mentioned on this call – greenhouse gases and climate considerations – as well as groundwater, as well as the ability when you’re passing through somewhat fragile areas, the effects on threatened and endangered species.
So I would just refer you to the summary piece and just say I think it’s premature at this point to really try to come down with strong conclusions, as we want to make sure we get a lot of comments on this and we have a full public debate about the document.
QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. Can you shed any light on when and where you might hold a meeting in Nebraska? And is that the only meeting you are planning?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: At this point, that’s the only meeting we’re planning during the comment period. And I don’t have much information beyond that. We have not yet decided where or when. I think we would like to sort of have it somewhere, I think, towards the middle of the comment period or a little bit past the middle, just to give everyone a chance to digest a little bit of the document and sort of have a chance to sort of raise – to bring their questions to the meeting. We’ll try to announce that as soon as possible, because we know that there’s a lot of planning involved, and we look forward to working with the folks in Nebraska to really plan a well-organized meeting.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Alicia Roske from Reuters. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks. As everyone’s saying, I haven’t – definitely haven’t had a chance to get through the whole report, so I wanted to follow up on a question that was asked earlier. The report does look at the no-pipeline alternative. But did the State Department compare the emissions that would come from developing the pipeline with the emissions that will come from transporting the oil, as you said, via barge, via trucks, via railroad? Was there – did the State Department look at that, and if so, what did the State Department find?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Yes. When we look at the – in the section where we discuss alternative, both the no-action alternatives as well as alternatives with different actual physical routes, we do do a comparison of what all of those different potential modes of transportation or routes would do. And we do try to make an analysis of how those different choices would affect the greenhouse gas emission profile of those different kinds of paths.
But I think I would refer you to the alternative section to really have you go through that to sort of look at the broad analysis, and also to the market analysis section, which does talk about a lot of the different things that have happened in the past few years that affect the overall oil markets and that affect all of these different transportation options.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Elizabeth Shogren from NPR. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for taking my question. I’d like to know whether the report reflects anything about what the pipeline would do to the U.S. greenhouse gas footprint, and the President’s goals to reducing that footprint. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Well, what we have done is look at the overall impact of, as I said, both the lifecycle emissions of the oil that might pass through the pipeline, as well as the overall development of the oil sands. We have taken that as a very serious concern and try to look at – quantitate those numbers, and to sort of then look at what they would do in terms of the overall progress we’re trying to make. In some cases, this oil is coming in and replacing oil that’s already in the U.S. system from different sources. So the question is: How much of a change does this make? And this is somewhat addressed in the document.
This is a document that really is looking at the technical issues related to this particular project. It’s not really a policy document. It’s part of a collection of information that would go forward later on when a lot more work has been done to look to the decision and see how this would fit into the overall – our overall thinking on climate.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Elise Labott from CNN. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. Just to kind of echo what everybody else said in terms of the fact that we just got this, but just kind of looking through the executive summary, I mean, generally – I mean, I just feel like – where do you come down on this? I mean, is there some kind of recommendation in terms of – is there less environmental impact from this particular – I do understand it’s a draft, and you need all the comments and everything. But, I mean, is there, like, a conclusion that you make in terms of the environmental assessment, whether it’s less harmful than the original proposed route, or any kind of – can you boil it down to – for us a little bit? Because it’s a very dense document, as you can tell.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: No, I appreciate the density of the document and how much is covered in it. But as I said in the previous question, we’re really looking for the public debate at this point. And there is a section that does summarize impact. The document also, in identifying impacts, has outlined also some approaches that could be made to mitigate those impacts. And so I think it’s important at this point to really just deal with the comprehensive nature of the document and look at all of the different environmental issues that are raised. And we’re looking for the feedback now from the public to sort of help us shape this going forward, get a lot of feedback and move on to a final document.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Neela Banerjee from the Los Angeles Times. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, this is Neela Banerjee from the LA Times. I just wanted to ask sort of broadly – I mean, in looking through the document as quickly as we can, I mean, is there a finding so far, based on the analysis, that this is an environmentally sound project?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Sorry, I would say – I would sort of repeat the answer I’ve been sort of giving. I mean, we’re not going to sort of come out and make those conclusions at this point until we engage with the public and really get some feedback. We have found that there are, in some cases, impacts, and in some cases, those impacts – there are mitigation approaches I think can be taken. But I think that it needs to be looked at within the document and then have a fuller public debate before we move forward.
MR. VENTRELL: Operator, we’ve got time for one more question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our last question is from the line of Wendy Koch, USA Today. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. I mean, you’ve said multiple times that this is a draft technical report. I understand that. But we have to be very clear in writing about this, so I just want to know do you – does this technical draft report, does this say the project – suggest the project should go ahead or not?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: The purpose of this draft technical document is to be objective and to show all of the potential impacts and potential mitigations that could be moved forward if this project were to go forward. This project – this paper does not come out one way or the other and make a decision about what should happen with this project. We’re not at that stage in the process.
And so while I understand your question, this is a preliminary draft document for discussion with the public. It does call out where there could be impacts, it does call out what mitigation efforts could be, but it really has no recommendations one way or the other. At this point we’re looking at this very, very objectively. We want to make sure we serve the best interests of our country and so we are really taking a very thorough look and we’re waiting for everyone to comment and to give us their feedback, so we’re anxious to sort of get into this comment period.
MR. VENTRELL: Thank you, everyone, for joining the call this afternoon, and have a great weekend.
 Juliet Eilperin
 Agence France-Presse
 Lincoln, Nebraska Journal Star