Keystone XL protest

Protestors of the Keystone XL Pipeline demonstrate in Washington.
Rena Schild /

The Inspector General of the U.S. State Department announced an investigation into the Keystone XL pipeline project last week.  The investigation will be on whether or not the authors of the latest environmental impact report lied about a conflict of interest.  Some believe the report, written by Environmental Resource Management (ERM), to be muted on the impact the project would have.    The London based consulting firm was hired by the State Department to measure potential damage should the pipeline spill, and the research was released this spring.  Several environmental watchdogs, such as the Sierra Club and Bill McKibbon’s group, claim the report is flawed.

The complaint filed against the ERM report specifically addresses the consulting firm’s work history with TransCanada, the company building the pipeline extension.  In the report filing ERM answered the company does “not currently have a working relationship with TransCanada.”  However, records show that ERM has worked for TransCanada on past projects.  The IG investigation will determine whether the lack of disclosure affected the report’s outcome.

In order to build the proposed pipeline, which would massively increase the amount of oil being transported across the United States daily, TransCanada needs State Department approval to build across the U.S.-Canadian border.  The proposal for the pipeline has been in discussion since 2008.  President Obama has warned that if the project will increase carbon pollution significantly, he will not let the permit be approved.

The inspector general said that the Keystone XL pipeline complaint investigation should be finished in January.  It is expected that a decision on the pipeline will be made afterwards.  However, it remains unclear if the decision must wait until the investigation is over.

The Keystone pipeline, which already runs from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, has a history of spills.  Residents in Lake Conway, Arkansas are still complaining of health problems from an Exxon Mobil oil spill in April of this year.  While the environmental hazard seem obvious to some, polling shows the public opinion is still in favor of approving the pipeline.