Will Keystone XL Spoil Your Holidays?

by Tony Iallonardo, via National Wildlife Federation

One of the sadder rituals in the nation’s capital is the “December surprise,” whereby the administration in power makes controversial pronouncements right around a major holiday. I’d be willing to bet all the candy canes in my stocking that the U.S. State Department, which is currently overseeing an environmental review of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, will do just that before the year is out. It will be difficult for State to please everybody, and either polluters or conservation groups are going to be pretty unhappy. Ominously, State has a history of coming up very very short on it’s Keystone XL studies.

Why the State Department? State Department won’t have the final word of course, that’s ultimately going to be up to newly re-elected President Barack Obama. But State’s decision could offer clues about where the President is heading on energy policy over the next four years, and his final decision on the Presidential Permit for Keystone XL is his prime opportunity to signal he is serious about addressing high carbon fuels like tar sands that are speeding climate disruption.

State’s decision will come in the form of a “supplemental environmental impact statement” (SEIS) for the pipeline segment that crosses over Canada and runs to Steele City, Nebraska.

State, rather than the Environmental Protection Agency or the Energy Department, is charged with running the environmental assessment because the mega-pipeline crosses an international boundary with Canada.  President Obama must decide if this pipeline is in the national interest.

Why Keystone is a big big deal. The administration’s Keystone XL decision represents a pivotal moment in the direction of energy policy for the nation because approving the pipeline for one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet will do nothing to move the nation to a cleaner, less-polluting, less carbon-intensive future.  Quite the opposite, Keystone XL’s dirty tar sands could ‘crowd out’ rapidly growing markets for renewable energy like wind and solar power. It will lock in more dependence on imported oil and metastasize the destruction of natural resources already well underway in Canada’s boreal forests.

Energy giant TransCanada originally proposed the Keystone XL pipeline to transport 800,000  barrels daily of tar sands oil through five states from Alberta, Canada, 1,700 miles to Gulf of Mexico refineries in Texas. Tar sands oil is a type of heavily-polluting, crude oil or bitumen that must be diluted before it can be pumped through pipelines.  Bitumen is more corrosive on pipelines and it is more toxic and more difficult to clean up than conventional oil.

How did we get here? Last December, Congress sent President Obama a bill requiring a final decision on the Keystone permit. The President was lauded by conservationists when in mid-January this year, he rejected the application saying Keystone hadn’t been adequately studied.  He also invited TransCanada to resubmit a new application.

After the administration gave the go-ahead for a southern segment of Keystone XL that will run to the Gulf Coast, State suggested that TransCanada reroute the northern segment of the pipeline to avoid sensitive areas in the Great Plains, especially the Sandhills and the Ogallala aquifer which makes Midwest agriculture possible and supplies drinking water to millions.  On May 4, 2012, TransCanada filed a new application with the U.S. Department of State revising and shortening the previously proposed route.

Currently, the state of Nebraska is putting the finishing touches on an evaluation of the new proposal and the State Department is preparing a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) on the May application.

The State Department’s website says, “We will consider this new application on its merits . . . this involves consideration of many factors, including energy security, health, environmental, cultural, economic, and foreign policy concerns.”  Let’s hope they mean it, but many conservationists remain concerned State’s focus will fall in line with TransCanada’s wishes: namely to have a very narrow review that only looks at the rerouted portion of the pipeline and little else.

Seeing the forest for the trees. Of course Keystone XL will have profound impacts that State or ultimately the President need to address.   Here’s just a few things the new SEIS should include to do justice to generations of Americans who will have to live with this pipeline and its pollution for its half century service life:

  • An examination of all environmental impacts, including  air, water and climate and refinery emissions;
  • An analysis of impacts on wildlife, facts ignored in the first EIS, including threatened and endangered species, especially the Whooping Crane and Sandhill Crane whose migratory flight would cross Keystone at numerous points.
  • An honest of accounting of the drawbacks including: pipeline spill risks, jobs that could be lost in renewable energy here in the U.S., and state-by-state impacts on energy prices for states likely to see price hikes from Keystone.
  • A respectful consultation with impacted communities and tribal interests who will suffer in the event of a catastrophic spill.

Years from now, we will likely look back on the Keystone XL pipeline decision and see it as a turning point in national energy policy. Our first glimpse of that future may depend on whether State is naughty or nice this holiday season.

Tony Iallonardo is senior communications manager for National Wildlife Federation. This piece was originally published at NWF and was reprinted with permission.

5 Responses to Will Keystone XL Spoil Your Holidays?

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    I don’t see it. Hillary hasn’t resigned yet, and even though she personally may favor the pipeline to please her friends in the fossil fuel industry, she won’t risk pissing off everybody who is concerned about climate change. This move could sabotage her 2016 ambitions.

  2. Carol says:

    I would say that Paul Elliott and Broderick Johnson (to name just 2) are more than just friends to Hillary.
    The influence of tar sands industry lobbyists connected to Hillary Clinton is huge.
    Tragically, money is the key to winning “elections” and she will need lots of it in 2016 (I can’t imagine what the world will be like in 2016 . . wait . . I can but I can’t think about that today as I have to function!)
    The web of tar sands lobbyists tied to Clinton AND Obama seems impenetrable. All of this was apparent well before the election yet here we are.
    Irony: as “Joy to the World” blasts throughout the malls and airwaves, the fate of the Keystone pipeline may be determined. Unless one finds joy in destruction . . . . this will be another giant step toward “Misery to the World” thanks to humans.

  3. Aaron Lewis says:

    The Keystone EIS was prepared by contractors whose largest clients are oil companies. The original EIS contractor was Cardio Entrix, and for the last couple years, its largest client was BP oil. This is a contractor that helped conceal the actual size of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Cardino Entrix is a good friend of Big Oil.

    The largest problem with the Keystone project is air emissions. Large amounts of CO2 will be emitted in the extraction and preparation of dilbit to go into the pipeline. More CO2 will be emitted as the dilbit is refined, then the refined products will be converted to CO2. What make this project different is the large amounts of CO2 released before the dilbit goes into the pipe, and that is not addressed in the EIS. Thus, the EIS is not compliant with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

    This is a failure in contract scoping and supervision at the Department of State (DoS). Even if the folks at DoS do not know NEPA (DoS has every kind of lawyer there is) the folks at Cardino Entrix do know NEPA, and they had a professional responsibility to inform DoS as to the requirements of NEPA. Failure to address the CO2 emissions was a deliberate violation of NEPA, while making a pretense of compliance.

    A second error in the EIS is that the pipeline will be carrying dilbit, which behaves very differently than crude oil. However, the leak analysis assumes that leaks will be of crude oil. A crude oil leak into water floats and is visible. A dilbit leak into water sinks to the bottom, and large leaks can occur, doing great environmental damage, without being visible in the near term. With dilbit, an inspector cannot just look for oil sheens on the surface of water to check for leaks at stream and river crossings. Thus, document contains technical errors. There is no excuse for such errors in a document supporting national policy decisions.

    It seems that this document was prepared to support a political or commercial decision that had already been made. However, DoS should be able to produce a more plausible cover document. This document is too pitiful for words.

  4. Aaron Lewis says:

    Some may remember that the Alaska Pipeline was sold to the American People to ensure American energy independence. Then, a great deal of the oil was shipped to Japan.

    With the Chinese investment in Talisman (TLM) a large producer of dilbit (“oil” from tar sands or shale) at the mouth of the pipe, we can deduce that that real purpose of the Keystone XL Pipeline is to move dilbit to the Texas refineries designed to process heavy crude, and then by tanker to China.

    It is the same game that the same players used to get approval of the Alaska Pipeline so they could ship oil to Japan. Follow the money, and it looks like the Keystone XL Pipeline is for moving oil from Canada to China.

    China will own much of the dilbit as it goes into the pipe, and they do not have to sell one drop of it in North America.

  5. Aaron Lewis says:

    By modern standards, the Keystone XL is not a high capacity pipeline. Anybody that thinks it will deliver enough oil to the US market to lower the price of gas at the pump is mistaken. If the oil companies wanted to do that, they would have planned a bigger pipeline. Today, we have the equipment so building a bigger pipeline is not that much more expensive.

    No, the oil companies are there to make money, not to be your friend. They want to keep the price of oil high, and therefore they plan a small pipeline, so they can make a large profit on every drop of oil that flows through it.