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Keystone Pipeline Looks Worse With Each Study

The decision on the Keystone Pipeline is stalled, not least because of recent controversies posed over its accused encroachment on private property. Three Nebraska farmers are suing over the pipeline's proposed route, which they say was drawn up unfairly and runs over their land.

Additionally, the State Department launched an inquiry recently into Environmental Resources Management Group, better known as ERM Group, a British company hired by the State Department to examine how the pipeline would affect the landscape between Canada and Texas.

Last year, ERM Group was contracted to draft a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to succeed the original. Unredacted documents released by Mother Jones in May showed that the analysts who worked on the Keystone report had previously worked for TransCanada and "other energy companies poised to benefit from Keystone's construction," despite claiming to the contrary on government conflict-of-interest disclosure forms.

When ERM Group was asked on the form if it had any direct or indirect relationship with any business that would be affected by the pipeline decision, the company answered that it had not. An outcome from the inquiry is pending.

A final decision on whether to build the pipeline is up to President Barack Obama, who has gone on record to say he would oppose construction if it is found to "significantly exacerbate" carbon pollution.

It turns out that may be the case.

At the end of August, another report by the Sierra Club and Oil Change International found that the bitumen produced from the oil sands of northern Alberta would push climate change into "overdrive."

The groups referred to the State Department's own findings that overall emissions produced by the bitumen in the tar sand could be as much as 22% higher than conventional oil. Furthermore, the construction of the pipeline would lead to at least a 36% increase in current tar sands production.

The oil industry also argues that if the pipeline isn't permitted, the tar sands oil will be exported by another medium. But the groups note a June 18 finding by Standard & Poor's: "The proposed Keystone XL pipeline and expansions of the Enbridge system are all necessary to accommodate the near-term forecast production growth."

As with the reports by the Center for Biological Diversity and Cornell University, the report by the Sierra Club and Oil Change International found that any financial benefits from the pipeline would be heavily outweighed by the costs of the environmental damage it causes, especially by increasing climate change.

"Keystone XL is a climate disaster," said the Sierra Club's executive director, Michael Brune. "The president set a tough climate test for the pipeline, which it clearly fails to pass."

A final decision on the pipeline is expected in the early half of 2014.

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