The State Department's environmental impact statement for the Keystone XL pipeline has been the focus of a spin war among economic and political interests with a stake in the decision. The news media fell in line with the industry narrative that it "cleared the way" for the pipeline, ignoring the factual errors in the report. Media critics at the left-leaning Media Matters ask why the mainstream media failed to note Reuters' expose of the EIS' overstatement of rail traffic offering an alternative route for the oil.
"When the State Department released its final Environmental Impact Statement, nearly all the headlines read the same: 'Report Opens Way to Approval for Keystone Pipeline' and 'State Dept. Keystone XL Would Have Little Impact On Climate Change.' Yet after Reuters broke the news last week that the State Department was wrong in its predictions of greatly expanded rail capacity, undermining its claim of no climate impact, no major media outlet amplified the report.
In a report released late on Friday, January 31, the State Department concluded that Keystone XL was 'unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas' based on the assumption that if the pipeline were not built, the equivalent amount of tar sands would instead be transported by rail. It was this finding that the media trumpeted, largely ignoring that buried in the analysis, the State Department for the first time acknowledged that under some studied scenarios, the project could have the equivalent climate impact of adding 5.7 million new cars to the road. The idea that the Keystone XL would not harm the climate led many to declare that President Barack Obama should approve the pipeline, even spurring MSNBC host Ed Schultz to call for approval (before later reversing his stance) and liberal commentator James Carville to predict that the pipeline would be built.
On March 5, Reuters added to skepticism that locking in infrastructure enabling tar sands extraction would have no climate impact, reporting that the State Department's draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) had significantly overestimated the amount of tar sands that would move by rail from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The draft EIS projected that about 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) would be moved along this route by rail before the end of 2013. However, a Reuters analysis found that 'even in December, when deliveries were near their highest for the year, that tally did not top 40,000 bpd' -- less than a quarter of the State Department's prediction. The final EIS removed any specific projections of movement by rail."