Investigation into Keystone XL Pipeline Permit Process Initiated

keystone xl investigation

I think you have to acknowledge that a new announcement regarding a probe into the Keystone XL Tar Sands Oil Pipeline permitting process is the result of tremendous citizen action. From thousands of protesters lining up to get arrested in front of the White House over the course of a few weeks this summer, to over 10,000 circling the White House yesterday (and the millions who have supported rejecting the pipeline online in the meantime), this is the #1 issue for environmentalists and climate activists at the moment.

The pressure has built up. Obama has announced that he’s aware of that and that he is going to make the final decision on the matter (not the State Department, which has sketchy ties to the company behind the pipeline). Activists have been hopeful that his announcement means that he is eventually going to stop the project from moving forward. But everyone is still being tentative in their optimism, and keeping the pressure on.

Now, beyond the 10,000 or more activists (which included climate scientists, distinguished career-long environmental champions, and celebrities) who circled the White House yesterday (and the UK activists who circled a mini White House at the U.S. embassy in London), the big news of the day is that the U.S. Office of Inspector General has announced an investigation into this pipeline’s permitting process.

Why would it do so? No oil projects have ever been connected to political corruption, have they? A massive one going from Canada to the Gulf Coast is completely unlikely to be related to sketchy business, isn’t it?

Well, the investigation was requested by several members of Congress. Beyond any general concerns, like those expressed above, there are a number of specific concerns that have instigated the investigation. Here are some quotes from the letter requesting the investigation:

  1. “[T]he Department of State allowed a contractor with a financial arrangement with TransCanada, which seeks to build the Keystone XL pipeline, to conduct the Department’s environmental review mandated under federal law as part of its consideration of TransCanada’s proposed pipeline.” Yes, that seems like a bad idea.
  2. “Based on the apparent conflict of interest this presents, and the deficiencies of the final environmental impact statement (EIS) itself, we urge the Department to conduct a new and objective environmental review so the government and the public can fully and fairly evaluate the impacts associated with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.” The letter from the members of Congress goes on about this conflict of interest and the EIS.
  3. Of particular note is also these two lines: “It is also troubling that the EIS has been criticized at several steps in the process by the Environmental Protection Agency for underestimating the proposed Keystone XL pipeline’s potential to increase greenhouse gas emissions and the risk of harmful oil spills, and for failures to fully evaluate opportunities to mitigate the impact of the proposed project. The New York Times article points out that the final EIS downplays the possibility of unique cleanup measures being necessary in the event of a spill, despite the fact that a recent tar sands pipeline spill in Michigan has left a portion of the Kalamazoo River closed for more than a year, with the cleanup tab running over $500 million and no certainty that the cleanup efforts underway will be successful.”

For more, you can view the letter from Congressman Bernie Sanders and others.

From the Office of Inspector General: “The primary objective of the review is to determine to what extent the [State] Department and all other parties involved complied with Federal laws and regulations relating to the Keystone XL pipeline permit process”

As reported earlier today, world-leading NASA climatologist James Hansen has said this pipeline would be “game over” for the climate. Others have shown how it is like “the fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.” Tar sands oil production results in 5-30% more greenhouse gas emissions than traditional oil production.

Another concern not mentioned above is that, for years, the State Department’s Keystone XL review body was only one, junior-level staffer. This is a $7-billion-dollar project! One staffer?

Of course, a consultant who would financially benefit from such a project going through is not the person you’d like to conduct the environmental review, is it?

Beyond the environmental concerns, job-creation and economic claims of pipeline supporters seem to be off. A recent Cornell study found that the pipeline would actually cost the U.S. jobs.

There are actually a number of other concerns, as well, but we’ll leave it at that for now.

About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to and click on the relevant buttons.