"While America Spars Over Keystone XL, A Vast Network Of Pipelines Is Quietly Being Approved"
After countless marches, arrests, Congressional votes, and editorials, the five-and-a-half year battle over the controversial Keystone XL pipeline is nearing its end. If a recent ruling in Nebraska doesn’t delay the decision further, America could find out as soon as this spring whether or not the pipeline, which has become a focal point in America’s environmental movement, will be built.
But while critics and proponents of Keystone XL have sparred over the last few years, numerous pipelines — many of them slated to carry the same Canadian tar sands crude as Keystone — have been proposed, permitted, and even seen construction begin in the U.S. and Canada. Some rival Keystone XL in size and capacity; others, when linked up with existing and planned pipelines, would carry more oil than the 1,179-mile pipeline.
With the public eye turned on Keystone, some of these pipelines have faced little opposition. But it’s not just new pipelines that worry Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust. Weimer said companies are beginning to revamp old pipelines by expanding their capacity or reversing their flow, changes that can be troubling if proper safety measures aren’t put in place.
“Some of these pipelines have been in the ground for 40, 50, 60 years, so they were put in the ground before pipelines had the latest and greatest coatings or before the welding was up to snuff,” he said. “So there’s lots of issues about how you verify that the pipe that’s been in the ground that long is really up to additional pressures.”
Weimer said that while Keystone has served as a distraction from these other pipelines, it’s also increased the public’s awareness of the dangers of transporting tar sands crude. But post-Keystone decision, he said, he’s not sure whether that interest will wane, or whether activists will pick right back up where they left off on Keystone and tackle other pipeline proposals.
“It could go either way,” he said. “It could be that people put so much energy into Keystone that if it gets approved it might take the wind out of everybody’s sails, and they’ll figure ‘what’s the point,’ or it might be that there’s a lot more people that are interested and will continue on with all these other ones.”
America will have to wait for the White House’s decision on Keystone XL to find out. Meanwhile, here are ten other pipelines — projects that haven’t been waylayed by international approval processes or political skirmishes — you should know about.
If Energy East is approved, the pipeline would carry about 1.1 million barrels of tar sands crude each day — a huge capacity compared to Keystone XL’s 830,000 barrels per day (bpd) — from Saskatchewan and Alberta’s Athabasca region to Canada’s East Coast. About two-thirds of the pipeline already exists, meaning a major part of the project will be converting that existing line, which carries natural gas, into a crude oil pipeline.
The pipeline has gotten some push-back in Canada, however. A February report from the Pembina Institute found Energy East would have an even greater impact on the climate than Keystone XL, with the potential to generate 30 to 32 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year — the equivalent of adding more than seven million cars to the roads, and more than the 22 million metric tons that the think tank predicts Keystone XL will produce. And a March report from multiple Canadian environmental organizations argued that the benefits of Energy East to Canadian oil refineries had been overblown.
TransCanada filed its project description for the pipeline with the National Energy Board in early March, marking the first step in the pipeline’s approval process.
CREDIT: National Energy Board
Line 9 Reversal And Expansion
On March 6, Canada’s National Energy Board approved Enbridge’s Line 9 expansion and reversal plan, which will allow the currently westward-flowing Line 9 pipeline to flow east, enabling it to carry 300,000 barrels of tar sands from Alberta to refineries in Quebec each day. The NEB’s approval of the plan will hold only if Enbridge meets 30 conditions laid out by the NEB relating to emergency response, public consultation and other safety issues. Enbridge has one year to meet these conditions and cannot begin the reversal operations until the conditions are met and the pipeline is inspected.
Environmentalists have decried the NEB’s decision to approve the project. “Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline project is a recipe for disaster,” Adam Scott of Canada’s Environmental Defense said. “The 39-year-old pipeline runs directly through the most densely populated parts of Canada, threatening the health, safety and environment of Canadians.”
But it’s not just Canadians who are concerned about the pipeline. The reversal means tar sands will be travelling dangerously close to communities in New England, and the pipeline will connect at the end of its route to another pipeline that could carry the crude to Portland, Maine. Enbridge has denied that this is their plan, saying they won’t ship Line 9′s tar sands past the Canadian border, but New England residents are still worried.
“Today’s decision should energize residents of New England to stand up and say unequivocally: We do not want tar sands in our communities and we do not want to play any role in encouraging the tar sands industry to continue with its irresponsible and dangerous development,” NRDC’s Canada Project Director Danielle Droitsch wrote in a blog post on March 7.
Alberta Clipper Expansion
Enbridge is already in the process of increasing the capacity of the existing Alberta Clipper pipeline from 450,000 to 570,000 barrels per day by installing new pumps and metering terminals along the route. Ultimately, the company seeks to increase the pipeline’s capacity to 880,000 bpd — more than the capacity of Keystone XL — but approval for that is still in the works. The existing pipeline carries tar sands crude from Hardisty, Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin, and was shut down last month after a leak at a Saskatchewan pump station spilled about 125 barrels of oil.
The expansion project has faced some opposition. In January, the Sierra Club called on the State Department to consider the cumulative effects of the Alberta Clipper expansion in its review of the Keystone XL pipeline — but overall, Alberta Clipper hasn’t gotten the attention Keystone XL has.
“We’re very concerned this has flown under the public’s radar,” Peter LaFontaine, an energy policy advocate for the National Wildlife Federation told Bloomberg News in May. “The public doesn’t seem to have the same sort of attention for pipeline expansions as they do for pipeline construction. But we’re talking about a lot of crude.”
The State Department announced on February 14 that the permitting process for the Alberta Clipper expansion would be delayed beyond the anticipated mid-2014 decision.
CREDIT: Andrew Breiner
White Cliffs Twin Pipeline
On March 17, commissioners in Adams County, Colorado approved the construction of the White Cliffs Twin Pipeline, which will carry crude oil 527 miles from Platteville, Colorado to Cushing, Oklahoma. The pipeline will run along an existing pipeline, a twinning effort that will give the two pipelines a total capacity of about 150,000 bpd.
According to the Denver Post, most of the Adams County residents who showed up to the pipeline’s public hearing supported the project — all except one, who said the approval of the pipeline meant the county’s residents were “selling ourselves down the wrong road.”
If the $7.9-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project is approved, two pipelines will be built stretching about 730 miles from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia. One pipeline will transport approximately 525,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen each day from Alberta to B.C. for export to Asian markets, while the other would carry around 193,000 barrels per day of condensate, the mix of liquid hydrocarbons that’s used to dilute heavy tar sands so it can be transported, back to Alberta.
CREDIT: Enbridge, www.gatewayfacts.ca
In December, a Canadian review panel recommended that the Northern Gateway pipeline project be given the go-ahead by the federal government as long as 209 conditions are met (none of which address climate change or carbon pollution). The project has run into serious opposition, however, with the country’s First Nations tribes growing particularly vocal. One spokesman recently vowed that the groups will maintain a “wall of opposition” against the project. About 130 First Nations have signed on to the Save the Fraser declaration, which aims to ban all tar sands pipelines from First Nations territory and from the ocean migration routes of the Fraser River salmon. The Canadian federal cabinet is expected to make its final decision on Northern Gateway by July.
Trans Mountain Expansion Project
CREDIT: Canada National Energy Board
Kinder Morgan filed a proposal for an expansion of its Trans Mountain Pipeline system in December 2013, seeking to build another pipeline to carry Canadian tar sands from Edmonton, Alberta to the West Coast of Canada, near Vancouver. If approved, the pipeline would increase the capacity of the Trans Mountain pipeline system from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day.
Like the Northern Gateway, the pipeline has sparked substantial opposition in Canada, especially on the West Coast. The city of Vancouver has filed for intervenor status against the pipeline, which would allow it to make submissions to Canada’s National Energy Board and take an active role in the hearings on the pipeline. Native tribes in Washington and British Columbia have also announced their intent to oppose the Trans Mountain project as intervenors, citing their worries about the major environmental impacts the pipeline would have, especially the uptick of oil tankers in their tribal waters.
Eastern Gulf Crude Access
CREDIT: Andrew Breiner
If approved, the Eastern Gulf Crude Access pipeline would carry oil from the Bakken region and Alberta’s tar sands from Patoka, Illinois about 770 miles to Boyce, Louisiana. Like many other pipeline projects, the Eastern Gulf Crude Access is part construction, part restructuring — the proposal would re-purpose 574 miles of existing natural gas pipeline to carry oil, and construct 40 miles of new pipeline at the beginning of the line’s route, from Patoka to Johnsonville, Illinois.
The companies in charge of the project — Enbridge and Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas, Texas — originally wanted it to go to St. James, Louisiana, but didn’t gain enough customer support to build that leg of the pipeline.
Enbridge’s Sandpiper pipeline would carry Bakken crude oil about 610 miles from Tioga, North Dakota to Superior, Wisconsin. North Dakota officials have heralded the pipeline, which is the largest in development in the state.
“This is going to add that additional pipeline capacity that we need going forward,” Justin Kringstad of North Dakota Pipeline Authority told KUMV-TV. “As we continue to rise our production levels we need that adequate means of transportation to move that crude to markets around the U.S.”
But Sandpiper still needs state and federal approval, and the pipeline has drawn opposition from some students and native tribes. Farmers and property owners along the pipeline route have also voiced their concerns with the pipeline.
“We limed and put manure on that this spring, and then we find out in July that’s exactly where they want to put a pipeline,” organic farmer Janaki Fisher-Merritt told MPR News in October. “If they go through there it just increases our risk too much, we won’t grow vegetables on it.”
If approved, construction on the pipeline is slated to start in December 2014, and officials hope the pipeline is in service by 2016.
Flanagan South, an Enbridge project, is already in the works, and once constructed will carry tar sands and Bakken crude 589 miles from Flanagan, Illinois to Cushing, Oklahoma. The pipeline, which workers began constructing last fall, will run alongside the existing Spearhead Pipeline, which carries about 173,000 barrels of Canadian oil each day. Flanagan’s initial capacity will be 600,000 barrels of oil from Canada, North Dakota and Montana per day — by comparison, Keystone XL will be 1,179 miles in its entirety and have a capacity of 830,000 barrels per day.
The pipeline was approved by the Army Corps of Engineers using a permit called NWP 12, a tactic that has resulted in lawsuits from the Sierra Club, who say it allows the Corps to “piecemeal” the pipeline project into separate water crossings, making it easier to approve. Doug Hayes, staff attorney for the Sierra Club, said he thinks the NWP 12 process doesn’t provide citizens along the pipeline route adequate opportunity to voice their opinions on the pipeline, resulting in a dearth of public knowledge about Flanagan South.
“When we were talking to people along the pipeline route, many of them were surprised and shocked to learn that there was this major tar sands pipeline being approved without any public involvement whatsoever in their backyards,” Hayes said. “So no, there was not adequate public awareness of this. There still isn’t.”
Line 3 Replacement
Enbridge plans to replace a major pipeline running from Edmonton, Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin, an update that would nearly double the size of the existing pipeline. The existing pipeline has ruptured multiple times over its 46-year lifespan, and the update would replace the aging pipes with new steel and coating. Enbridge says it can complete the update without getting a State Department permit, even though the project crosses a national boundary, but environmentalists have taken issue with that claim.
“Like with their proposed Alberta Clipper pipeline expansion, Enbridge will need a new presidential permit for the project,” Sierra Club staff attorney Doug Hayes said in a statement. “And the same climate test that the president set for the Keystone XL pipeline will apply.”
The project is the largest in Enbridge’s history and replacing the 1,031 miles of pipeline is projected to cost the company $7 billion.
Andrew Breiner contributed the ThinkProgress graphics for this piece.