Slippery pipeline: The Keystone XL project deserves closer scrutiny

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The question of whether the United States should permit the construction of a 1,700-mile pipeline across the middle of the country to permit the transport of crude oil from Canada to Texas is complicated enough already.

Now it appears that the State Department, the government body which will make the decision since it is an international matter, has also introduced lobbying and potential conflict-of-interest elements into the process. We believe that compromises the department's integrity.

The proposal would allow the oil company TransCanada to build a pipeline called Keystone XL between the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to Port Arthur, Texas. The route would cross Montana, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas and the pipeline would carry an estimated 700,000 barrels a day of corrosive "diluted bitumen" crude oil.

The basic U.S. interest to be weighed is the balance between the jobs and profits that would emanate from the construction and maintenance of the pipeline, and the risks to the environment that would be posed by possible spills, blowouts and sabotage, now and in the future.

A particularly important piece of the decision-making process involves the U.S. government's consideration of an environmental impact statement. That part may now have been corrupted since Cardno Entrix, the company chosen to do the environmental study, describes in its advertising the pipeline's prospective builder, TransCanada, as one of its "major clients." Cardno Entrix submitted an environmental impact statement at the end of August that gave TransCanada a green light.

The second questionable element at play here is that TransCanada's top Washington lobbyist, Paul Elliott, was the deputy campaign director for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2008 presidential run. Trans- Canada has registered 14 leaks in various pipelines in the United States in recent years, including one in May in North Dakota.

The Keystone XL pipeline would pass through a number of important sources of mid-America's water, including the famous Ogallala aquifer, which stretches between western Texas and South Dakota and underlies eight states. Landowners from the states that would host the pipeline have also complained that, in seeking to acquire land, Trans-Canada has told them that it has a U.S. government pledge that "eminent domain" will be applied if they don't sell what is necessary to complete the project.

The Department of State is scheduled to hand down a decision by the end of the year, and environmentalists who have put up strong opposition predict that the Obama administration will approve the plan.

It is essential, however, given the importance of the decision to America and the role played in it so far by Cardno Entrix, TransCanada's important client, and Mr. Elliott, Ms. Clinton's former campaign aide, that a new and truly independent environmental impact statement be prepared on Keystone XL before the matter goes any further.

At this point the affair is giving off a very foul odor.


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