By Jeffrey Simpson
The U.S. State Department gives green light to the Keystone XL pipeline. That was the tenor of the media coverage and headlines after the department’s report was released last week.
Read one way, that interpretation was plausible. Read another, it was not. The conflicting interpretations, based on a reading of the document rather than spin from the Harper government and the oil industry, show why Keystone XL remains unsettled in Washington. The reason is not all politics, as is frequently asserted, although politics obviously plays a role.
The State Department’s detailed, lengthy and professional final report (no wonder it took so long to produce) argues that Alberta’s bitumen oil would be sent somewhere, somehow because demand for oil exists. Keystone XL or not, bitumen oil would be exploited and used.
If the U.S. nixed Keystone XL, affirms the report, bitumen oil would be shipped south by rail, or rail and ship. Or it would be sent by pipelines to Canadian coasts for export. Since bitumen oil would be used by somebody, blocking pipeline shipment to Gulf of Mexico refiners would not affect total greenhouse gas emissions. Hence the green-light interpretation.
However, the report knocked the props from under two long-standing claims of the bitumen industry and its salespeople in the Ottawa and Alberta governments. Bitumen oil is dirty oil, and the State Department report explains why.