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Legislators, EPA Slam XL Pipeline Plan

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

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TransCanada Corp. has taken another one-two punch from Uncle Sam on its controversial plan to extend the Keystone pipeline system from Canada to Texas.

In sharply worded letters to the State Department, both the Environmental Protection Agency and several dozen members of Congress have again called oversight of the massive project inadequate.

TransCanada’s current 1,300-mile Keystone system has sprung 11 leaks in its first year—two in the last month—sparking intense debate over whether the company could safely operate the so-called Keystone XL project, which would nearly double the system’s capacity.

From Alberta to the Gulf Coast

The XL project—officially, the Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion Project—would be the third phase of the $13 billion Keystone pipeline network.

 TransCanada pipeline

 Images: TransCanada Corp.

TransCanada operates more than 37,000 miles of wholly owned pipelines across North America.

The 1,661-mile, 36-inch tar sands oil pipeline would begin in Hardisty, Alberta; run through Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska; incorporate parts of the recently completed Keystone system in Nebraska and Kansas; and deliver to existing terminals in Nederland, TX, to serve the Port Arthur, TX, market.

In a letter May 31 to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, 34 members of Congress called the State Department’s Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) on the project inadequate. They requested a meeting to discuss their concerns.

‘Ignored or Inadequately Analyzed’

The letter was the legislators’ third on the same topic. Dozens of members of Congress signed similar letters of concern to the State Department in June 2010 and December 2010.

Now, the group writes, “we are concerned that once again the Department of State has failed to appropriately address issues that were ignored or inadequately analyzed in the first environmental review.”

Moreover, the group said, “several new substantive issues” have arisen since the first review—presumably including the recent series of leaks from the current system.

Concerns Highlighted

The legislators question whether the additional pipeline is even needed, given the generally accepted long-term objective of reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The draft EIS assumes that the U.S. needs more oil, the letter says, adding: “However, there is more than enough existing pipeline capacity to import maximum levels of Canadian tar sands oil for at least the next 10 years.”

The legislators are also requesting:

· Consideration of alternative routes that avoid environmentally sensitive areas;

· A thorough analysis of the route’s impact on low-income and minority populations;

· A “thorough, technical safety review” of diluted bitumen pipelines; and

· A public comment period of at least 120 days.

EPA Objections

The EPA is also unhappy with the project. In July 2010, EPA gave the State Department’s draft EIS the lowest possible rating (Inadequate-3) and now says the subsequent supplemental review was not much better. EPA rated the SDEIS “Environmental Objections/Insufficient Information (EO-2)”—the third lowest of four ratings options.

In a nine-page letter June 6 to the State Department, Assistant EPA Administrator Cynthia Giles said the project needed far more study.

“As EPA and the State Department have discussed many times, EPA recommends that the State Department improve the analysis of oil spill risks and alternative pipeline routes, provide additional analysis of potential impacts to communities along the pipeline route and adjacent to refineries and the associated environmental justice concerns, together with ways to mitigate those impacts, improve the discussion of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) associated with oil sands crude, and improve the analysis of potential impacts to wetlands and migratory bird populations,” Giles wrote.

Tar Sands Oil

Giles’ letter notes Keystone’s recent series of spills and urges more detailed analysis of the risk of (and response to) future spills, particularly since the system carries tar sands diluted bitumen.

Tar sands oil is a heavy, extremely viscous, unconventional petroleum found in large deposits in Canada and elsewhere.

A growing chorus of critics says tar sands oil is more acidic and corrosive than conventional crude and requires more heat and pressure to move, thus increasing the risk of pipeline corrosion and leaks and vastly increasing the GHGs generated in processing and transporting.

Giles notes that a resident reported one of the recent Keystone leaks and said that a recent federal directive regarding the pipeline “was based on the hazardous nature of the product that the pipeline transports and the potential that the conditions causing the failures that led to the recent spills were present elsewhere on the pipeline.”

Leaks Called Manageable

Keystone XL proponents say the U.S. would benefit from having a friendlier, more stable, oil supplier. They also call the tar sand risks overblown.

TransCanada spokesman James Millar called most of the recent Keystone leaks “small and manageable. All were cleaned up quickly and we moved forward.”

The American Petroleum Institute has said that TransCanada’s response to the leaks “shows that the process works.”

The State Department said Monday that it would add six public comment sessions to its review process. The department is expected to reach a decision on the XL project by the end of the year.


Tagged categories: EPA; Pipelines

Comment from James Johnson, (6/9/2011, 9:11 AM)

I agree that leaks in a new pipeline are unacceptable and they need more stringent inspection and QC. Beyond that, again the goal of the current administration is to strand us for energy in order to cause product prices to increase to better suit their agenda to spend many billions on green energy. Again the EPA is over reaching and being totally unreasonable in their aim to stop progress. This whole situation has little to do with the environment and everything to do with a political agenda.

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