Dangers On A Train: Top Canadian Official Disputes State Department’s Keystone Claims

The State Departments draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Keystone XL pipeline is centered on the assumption that there will be an increase in tar sands oil production with or without the pipeline. On that basis, it concludes Keystone will have no impact on carbon pollution or climate change.

Reuters debunked the State Department’s notion that without Keystone, the tar sands oil can travel by rail to the Gulf Coast.

Yesterday, Reuters reported that the Canadian government’s top Keystone cheerleader also admitted that rail would not be an effective alternative to the pipeline — also undermining the State Department’s assessment

Canadian Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver is in Washington, DC to continue the Canadian campaign to convince President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to approve the permit for the Keystone pipeline. Under questioning today by Reuters’ reporter Patrick Rucker, Oliver debunked the State Department’s assumption that the construction of Keystone would have no impact on tar sands oil production. Reuters reported

Using trains to move heavy crude oil out of Western Canada would be a poor alternative to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, Canada’s top energy official said on Wednesday, and a rail-only plan would likely put a dent in future oil sands development.

Joe Oliver, Canada’s natural resources minister, said costs and logistical challenges make crude-by-rail a poor second choice for oil sands producers trying to reach the U.S. Gulf Coast.

“I don’t think anybody feels that it could be a substitute for pipelines,” Oliver told Reuters.

But Oliver said pipelines reliably beats crude-by-rail which “is more expensive for longer hauls than pipelines.”

In fact, the State Department’s draft SEIS did suggest that “limitations on pipeline transport would force more crude oil to be transported via other modes of transportation, such as rail, which would probably (but not certainly) be more expensive.” In other words, Oliver publicly disputed this major State Department assumption.


Minister Oliver is an outspoken proponent of building the Keystone XL pipeline. He has brutally attacked advocates who expressed opposition to Keystone because of concerns about climate pollution, toxic oil spills, and other risks. Last year Oliver wrote in an “open letter

There are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade. Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.

Oliver’s acknowledgment that the State Department’s rail scenario is unlikely occurred just two days after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also questioned the same fundamental assumption about tar sands oil production without Keystone. EPA concluded that

The market analysis and the conclusion that oil sands crude will find a way to market: With or without the Project is the central finding that supports the DSEIS’s [draft SEIS] conclusions regarding the Project’s potential GHG emissions impacts. Because the market analysis is so central to this key conclusion, we think it is important that it be as complete and accurate as possible.

Both Canadian Energy Minister Oliver and the U.S. EPA agree: The State Department’s draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement’s central assumption about tar sands oil production without Keystone is wrong.