The controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, intended to pump Canadian tar sands oil to Gulf Coast distributors, has hit a major roadblock on its pathway to federal approval. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a scathing review of the U.S. Department of State’s draft analysis of the pipeline’s environmental impacts, calling it “insufficient” for the second year in a row. EPA has identified numerous flaws and omissions in the State Department’s Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS), ranging from oil spills to greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution:
As explained in this letter, we have a number of concerns regarding the potential environmental impacts of the proposed Project, as well as the level of analysis and information provided concerning those impacts. Our concerns include the potential impacts to groundwater resources from spills, as well as effects on emission levels at refineries in the Gulf Coast. In addition. we are concerned about levels of GHG emissions associated with the proposed Project, and whether appropriate mitigation measures to reduce these emissions are being considered. Moreover, the SDEIS does not contain sufficient information to fully assess the environmental impacts of the proposed Project, including potential impacts to groundwater resources and communities that could be affected by potential increases in refinery emissions.
The EPA letter specifies these risks with TransCanada’s Keystone XL project, which would bring 830,000 barrels of tar sands per day to Gulf Coast refineries:
— Oil Spills: The pipeline project puts the Ogallala aquifer, the Missouri River, and minority, low-income, and tribal communities at risk from oil spills. The existing Keystone pipeline has frequent problems, including two spills in the last month.
— Increased Refinery Pollution: The pipeline project will significantly increase Gulf Coast refinery production, putting in particular the community of Port Arthur, Texas, at risk of new air pollution.
— Global Warming Pollution: Annual lifecycle GHG emissions, the EPA believes, may be even higher than the State Department’s estimate of 12 to 23 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent. Over the pipeline’s 50-year lifespan, that could add up to over one billion metric tons of global warming pollution. The draft analysis fails to use social cost of carbon estimates to analyze the damages that would be caused by that much pollution.
— Wetlands Destruction: There will be several hundred acres of wetlands affected along the pipeline route.
— Migratory Birds: The pipeline project puts numerous species of migratory birds at risk.
The State Department will now begin work on a final environmental impact statement. Although President Barack Obama has let Secretary of State Hillary Clinton take the lead on the question of approving the Keystone XL pipeline, this Cabinet-level conflict will likely have to resolved within the White House. The president himself will probably need to take a stand on whether this project, which poses dire risks to our health and security, but promises massive profits for the oil industry, is in the national interest.
Climate scientist Jim Hansen has joined the chorus of objectors to the Keystone XL pipeline “tar sands monster,” warning that “exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize the climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts.”