As John Podesta has said, the phrase “green tar sands” is like “error-free deepwater drilling” and “clean coal”. Thankfully, a key Canadian energy goal – construction of a 1,700 mile pipeline to bring dirty tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast – has hit a significant speed bump, the U.S. EPA. CAP’s Tom Kenworthy has the story.
In unusually blunt comments the Environmental Protection Agency has sharply criticized the State Department’s draft Environmental Impact Statement on the $7 billion pipeline project which is awaiting a State Department decision on granting a permit. At the very least, EPA’s concerns about the potential environmental effects of the pipeline are likely to slow the decision process.
“We think that the Draft EIS does not provide the scope or detail of analysis necessary to fully inform decision makers and the public, and recommend that additional information and analysis be provided,” EPA advised State in a July 16 letter. EPA said that the draft environmental analysis needed further work on a range of issues, ranging from the basic need for the pipeline given U.S. clean energy and carbon pollution reduction goals to its potential impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, wetlands, migratory birds, public water supplies and minority communities.
“EPA has raised a major red flag,” said Jim Lyon, senior vice president for the National Wildlife Federation, which recently published “Staying Hooked on a Dirty Fuel,” a study opposing construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. “Tar sands and the pipelines that carry them are the wrong energy choice for the U.S.”
The Keystone XL pipeline, which would deliver up to 900,000 barrels of tar sands crude to Port Arthur, Texas and other refining destinations on the Gulf Coast, would be the third tar sands pipeline to win approval from the U.S. government. One completed pipeline now brings oil from the border in North Dakota to the upper Midwest. A second pipeline, Keystone I, was approved last year by the State Department will connect Alberta to Oklahoma.
Oil from Canadian tar sands is among the world’s dirtiest, most polluting and environmentally destructive oils. As the EPA estimates in its letter, carbon pollution from tar sands is “82% greater than the average crude refined in the U.S., on a well-to-tank basis.” That difference is equal to the emissions of seven coal-fired power plants. Strip mining the ore that contains the bitumen which is refined into oil has also damaged vast areas of Canada’s boreal forest. Processing the ore consumes large quantities of water and yields large waste ponds that can harm and kill waterfowl and other birds.
In addition to raising concerns about carbon pollution from the project, EPA:
- questioned the overall need in light of “proposed and potential future changes to fuel economy standards and the potential for more widespread use of fuel-efficient technologies, advanced biofuels and electric vehicles”¦.”
- was skeptical of the State Department’s claim that additional air quality impacts from refining tar sands at U.S. refineries would not be major.
- said that the draft EIS had not adequately studied potential impacts to surface and ground water from pipeline leaks and spills.
- Expressed concerns that the draft EIS had not fully examined the potential for minority, low-income and tribal communities being disproportionally affected by the project.