Keystone XL Risks


NRDC National Resources Defense CouncilTestimony of
Anthony Swift
Policy Analyst, International Program
Natural Resources Defense Council
Before the
House Committee on Energy and Commerce
Subcommittee on Energy and Power
Committee on
Energy and Commerce
United States House of Representatives
June 16, 2011

The U.S. onshore hazardous liquid pipeline system is receiving higher volumes of new, more corrosive form of crude oil called diluted bitumen. These blends have properties which pose potential new risks to the U.S. onshore liquid pipeline system, public safety and the environment. Pipeline regulators have not assessed the risks of this new product or considered whether new pipeline safety and spill response regulations will be necessary to protect the public and environment.

Timely federal action is urgently required, as an increasing amount of diluted bitumen comes into our nation through existing pipelines that may not be sufficiently designed to handle it. It is critical that the risks of this product inform agencies conduct environmental review, make siting determinations and consider design and safety requirements for new pipelines such as TransCanada‘s Keystone XL.

Actions which may address the specific risks of potentially corrosive products such as diluted bitumen include, but are not limited to:

  • Evaluate the nature and magnitude of new risks posed to pipelines and hazards created by spills. Regulations should be updated accordingly.
  • Ensure active engagement by PHMSA in all stages of pipeline infrastructure development.
  • Expand protections for at risk resources, including open-source aquifers such as the Ogallala.

Visit this comment to see a transcript of a related letter from the EPA to the Dept. of State on June 16 2011. Otherwise continue below for the rest of Swift’s testimony.

Chairman Whitfield and Ranking Member Rush, and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today on pipeline safety oversight. My name is Anthony Swift. I am a policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) specializing in energy issues. Since the Enbridge pipeline spill last summer in Michigan, I have been studying the safety implications of diluted bitumen or raw tar sands crude transported through existing pipeline technology. NRDC is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 1.2 million members and online activists worldwide, serviced from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Beijing.

Introduction

Pipeline safety is of major concern in the United States today. A recent series of pipeline disasters has increased public awareness regarding the potential dangers of diluted bitumen to the U.S. hazardous liquid pipeline system. Diluted bitumen is a corrosive, acidic and potentially unstable blend of thick raw bitumen and volatile natural gas liquid condensate. Last year’s pipeline spill of over 840,000 gallons of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan demonstrated just a few of the risks associated with transporting corrosive, acidic and unstable diluted bitumen in aging pipelines. These concerns have been intensified by the rapid increase of diluted bitumen imports into the United States in recent years.

Chemical assays of diluted bitumen blends, reports from refiners receiving diluted bitumen, large spills in the United States and Canada involving diluted bitumen or pipelines that carry it as part of their product mix, and the safety record of the Alberta pipeline system are large warning signs of the risk of transporting bitumen blends. Responsible federal officials need to address these serious questions as part of the environmental review of the project.

Diluted bitumen is much thicker, or viscous, than conventional crude and must be pumped through a pipeline at high pressure. As thick, abrasive diluted bitumen moves through the pipeline, it generates significant friction, which heats the pipeline. For instance, TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline would run at temperatures of up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. It is typically diluted with light, highly volatile natural gas liquids which increase the risk of explosion in the event of a spill. We have learned the hard way that relying on conventional technologies and equipment to drill and complete a deep offshore well in the Gulf of Mexico introduces risks that drilling a well in West Texas does not. TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, which would move 830,000 barrels per day of hot corrosive tar sands diluted bitumen through the heart of the Ogallala Aquifer, creates hazards that a conventional crude pipeline carrying light, low-sulfur crude oil through West Texas does not. This is a new technology with new potential risks. It is imperative that our pipeline safety regulators put updated regulations in place that will prevent unnecessary leaks and spills.

In my testimony this morning I will describe how volumes of diluted bitumen are increasing in the U.S. onshore pipeline system, the potential risks that this increase poses to the environment and public safety, and gaps in the federal regulatory response to diluted bitumen transported in pipes.

The U.S. pipeline system is carrying increasing volumes of potentially corrosive diluted bitumen

Over the last few years, the U.S. onshore hazardous liquid pipeline system has been used to transport increasing volumes of corrosive grades of crude oil. During that time, pipeline regulators have not moved to assess or address the risks to the public and environment that this trend poses. While U.S. refiners have witnessed a decades-long trend of declining crude quality, most of this can be attributed to heavy sour coming into our Gulf Coast refineries from oil tankers.†1 Gulf refineries process this crude and then move it through conventional pipelines in the form of refined product, sparing much of the U.S. onshore pipeline system the wear and tear of transporting the heavier, sour crudes. Sour crudes are more corrosive and can lead to both internal and external corrosion of the pipeline. However, this is changing as the U.S. pipeline system is used to transport increasing volumes of heavy, corrosive diluted bitumen from Canada’s tar sand region.

Historically, the United States has imported the majority of Canadian tar sands crude in the form of synthetic crude oil, a substance similar to conventional crude oil. It has already gone through an initial upgrading process. Importing tar sands oil into the United States as diluted bitumen.instead of synthetic crude oil.is a recent and growing development. After running short on upgrading capacity, Canadian oil producers are increasingly mixing raw bitumen, a thick, semi-solid substance, with a diluent such as a volatile natural gas liquid condensate. The hot mixture is then piped to and through the United States at high pressure.

Over the last ten years, diluted bitumen exports to the United States have increased six fold, to almost 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2010. comprising more than half of the approximately 900,000 bpd of tar sands oil currently flowing into the United States.†2 By 2019, Canadian tar sands producers plan to increase this amount to as much as 1.5 million bpd of diluted bitumen.†3

Diluted bitumen may pose an increased risk to pipeline systems

There are already many signs that diluted bitumen presents new risks to pipeline integrity and, when spilled, generate unique hazards. The physical and chemical properties of diluted bitumen blends, as well as the documented poor safety record of pipelines that have been used to carry diluted bitumen, raise serious questions that need to be addressed, particularly as an increasing amount of diluted bitumen moves through .S. pipelines.

Heavy diluted bitumen has a number of chemical and physical characteristics which increase its risks to pipeline systems. Diluted bitumen has significantly higher sulfur content,†4 which can lead to sulfide stress corrosion cracking,†5 and higher chloride salt content,†6 which can lead to chloride stress corrosion. It also has higher quantities of highly abrasive quartz, rutile, and pyrite particles.†7 Additionally, it is generally transported at higher temperature and pressure than conventional crudes moved through the U.S. pipeline system. The unstable blend of heavy bitumen and volatile natural gas liquid condensate create problems for leak detection and presents significant additional hazards in the event of a spill. (Exhibit 1: NRDC Technical Letter to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA))

While the use of onshore pipelines to move large quantities of diluted bitumen is relatively recent, there are many early indications that the characteristics of diluted bitumen pose increased risks to pipeline systems. The Alberta pipeline system, which moves significant quantities of diluted bitumen, has had sixteen times more spills per mile due to internal corrosion than the older U.S. system. (Exhibit 2: Tar Sands Pipelines Safety Risks) On April 29, 2010 the Rainbow pipeline, which carries a variety of crude blends including Peace River diluted bitumen,†8 leaked 1.3 million gallons in northern Alberta.†9

As imports of this corrosive crude increase, the U.S. pipeline system may already be showing the strain. Midwestern states with the longest history with heavy Canadian tar sand crude are North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.†10 Over the last five years, crude oil pipelines in these states have spilled almost three times as much crude per mile than the national average.†11 The Enbridge Lakehead System, which transports the majority of Canadian crude exported to the United States from Alberta to refineries in the Midwest,†12 was also responsible for over half of all crude oil spilled in the United States in 2010, †13 while accounting for less than five percent of the country’s crude transmission mileage.†14 Prior to the 840,000 gallon diluted bitumen spill (2010) on Enbridgefs line 6B in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in-line inspections revealed 329 corrosion anomalies on that line alone.†15

Meanwhile, TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline, one of the first pipelines dedicated to moving diluted bitumen from Canada to the United States, has had twelve leaks over the last year; its first year in operation.†16 The largest of these, which occurred in May 2011 was approximately 21,000 gallons,†17 a large spill by most reporting categories.†18 The Department of Transportation responded this month by issuing the pipeline with a Corrective Action Order, after determining that the pipeline was an “immediate threat to life, property and the environment”.†19 The Keystone pipeline is the newest hazardous liquid pipeline to ever receive such an enforcement action.†20 These failures provide early signs that minimum design requirements for conventional pipelines may not be sufficient for the Keystone system. (see Attachment 3: NRDC et. al. Comments to the Office of Pipeline Safety In response to the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Titled “Safety of On-Shore Hazardous Liquid Pipelines”)

Limits of leak detection technology

Pipeline leak detection technology continues to have significant limits when it comes both to real-time leak detection and detection of “small” persistent leaks. Past experience with spills on the Keystone and other diluted bitumen lines demonstrate that operator detection and response are often the most significant component dictating total overall time before pipeline shutdown.†21 During the Kalamazoo spill in Michigan, the pipeline involved wasnft finally shut down until twelve hours after the leak first occurred.†22 An investigation of Keystone I’s May 7 spill by North Dakota authorities showed that while the leak detection system indicated a spill had occurred at 3:51 AM, the pipeline was not shut down until 4:35 AM . a response time of forty-four minutes.†23 This was after a third party called to provide visual confirmation of the spill as operators where validating leak detection data.†24

However, in many ways most concerning is the challenge that the detection of small, persistent leaks pose to detection systems. This problem is demonstrated by a recent 63,000 gallon spill on an Enbridge pipeline in Canada.†25 That spill was the result of a leak the size of a pinhole that went undetected by the company and was eventually discovered by nearby residents.†26 Undiscovered seeping leaks can dramatically increase the impacts of what would otherwise be small spills.

Meanwhile, computational pipeline monitoring (CPM) systems used to detect pipeline leaks are only able to detect leaks that comprise a certain percentage of overall pipeline capacity. This presents potential problems for all pipelines. On high-capacity pipelines like Keystone XL, which would carry 830,000 bpd, the inability to detect a leak below 1.5% . 2% of overall flow rate could lead to disaster, leading to an undetected “seep” as large as 16,600 barrels (or nearly 700,000 gallons) per day.†27 The reality of these risks, and the limits of current leak detection technology, must be understood when siting pipelines.

Diluted bitumen spills present new risks to the public and environment

In addition to the increased risk of pipeline spills, diluted bitumen spills themselves pose new challenges and hazards to the public and environment. By itself, bitumen is far too thick, or viscous, to move through a pipeline, even at high pressure. Natural gas liquid condensate, the substance often used to dilute bitumen to allow it to travel through a pipe, is primarily composed of smaller, volatile hydrocarbons. These include small aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene and small paraffinic and naphthenic hydrocarbons like pentane and hexane.†28

While conventional crude has relatively small concentrations of light, volatile hydrocarbons, these smaller hydrocarbons may make up as much as 30% of diluted bitumen.†29 The low flash point and high vapor pressure of the natural gas liquid condensate used to dilute the bitumen increase the risk of a leak exploding with catastrophic results.†30 Some blends of diluted bitumen contain more than nine percent pentane content.†31 Pentane is an extremely flammable natural gas liquid that has been known to ignite from static discharge, even under carefully controlled and monitored conditions.†32 Pentane vapor adversely affects the central nervous system when inhaled, and pentane liquid readily evaporates at room temperature, absorbing latent heat from the environment.†33 As a senior process engineer working on tar sands diluted bitumen issues noted:

The safety risks associated with solvent release are high. On the basis of the likelihood and consequences, the risk rating matrix could rank a solvent release as high as 1 or 2 [extremely high or high risk] if a paraffinic hydrocarbon is used.†34

Diluted bitumen contains benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and n-hexane, toxins that can affect the human central nervous systems.†35 As the Environmental Protection Agency noted, following the Kalamazoo diluted bitumen spill in Michigan, high benzene levels in the air prompted the issuance of voluntary evacuation notices to residents in the area by the local county health department.†36 A report filed by the Michigan Department of Community Health found that nearly 60 percent of individuals living in the vicinity of the Kalamazoo spill experienced respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurological symptoms consistent with acute exposure to benzene and other petroleum related chemicals.†37 In addition to their short term effects, long term exposure to benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons has been known to cause cancer.†38

In additional to its volatile components, diluted bitumen also contains vanadium, nickel, arsenic and other heavy metals in significantly larger quantities than occur in conventional crude.†39 These heavy metals have a variety of toxic effects, are not biodegradable, and can accumulate in the environment to become health hazards to wildlife and to people.†40

Diluted Bitumen presents new challenges for spill response and cleanup

The characteristics of diluted bitumen also create significant new challenges for cleanup efforts. In the case of conventional oil spills, mechanical devices such as booms, skimmers, and sorbent materials, the primary line of defense against oil spills in the United States,†41 contain and recover oil floating on the water surface.†42 However, unlike conventional crude oils the majority of diluted bitumen is composed of raw bitumen which is heavier than water. Following a release, the heavier fractions of diluted bitumen will sink into the water column and wetland sediments. In these cases, the cleanup of a diluted bitumen spill may require significantly more dredging than a conventional oil spill.†43 Eleven months have passed since the Enbridge spill in the Kalamazoo river watershed, and the Kalamazoo River is still closed. Spill responders attribute the difficulties of cleanup to the blend of crude spilled.a combination of Cold Lake diluted bitumen and Western Canadian Select diluted bitumen. Mark Durno, Deputy Incident Commander with EPA, recently stated:

“I truly believe the characteristics of this material is the reason we still have such a heavy operation out here. Because it was a very heavy crude, we ended up with a lot more submerged oil than we anticipated having to deal with.”†44

Further, heavy oil exposed to sunlight tends to form a dense, sticky substance that is difficult to remove from rock and sediments.†45 It would be tempting to call this material “tar”, but commercial tar does not contain the corrosive sulfur chemicals or toxic heavy metals characteristic of Canadian bitumen. Removing this tarry substance from river sediment and shores requires more expensive and time-consuming cleanup operations than required by conventional oil spills.†46 These factors increase both the economic and environmental costs of diluted bitumen spills.

These are just early signs of trouble. They do not eliminate the need for additional study; rather, they present an urgent and compelling case that more study is needed. As the United States transports increasing volumes of this more toxic heavy crude through its onshore pipeline system, it is imperative these risks are properly understood and addressed. The environmental assessment for Keystone XL should be informed by a clear understanding of the real risks of this pipeline so that appropriate alternatives may be considered. Beginning with a default assumption that proposed Keystone XL will be safe undermines the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process.

Regulators cannot use risk-based standards to effectively ensure the safe, reliable, and environmentally sound operation of the nation’s pipeline system until they have apprised themselves of the nature or magnitude of risks from transporting an increasing amount of diluted bitumen through U.S. pipelines. This is an area that requires proactive due diligence. It is imprudent to adopt a reactive wait-and-see approach toward these risks.

Government oversight and regulation can prevent serious oil pipeline leaks and spills

Addressing diluted bitumen pipeline safety risks may require a variety of changes in the design, operation and corrosion control practices for these pipelines. Such changes cannot be left to the good will of the oil pipeline industry. Actions which Congress may take to address some of the safety risks posed by corrosive products such as diluted bitumen include:

1. Congress should require that PHMSA conduct a detailed study of pipeline transport of tar sands

Rather than ignoring the problem and blindly presiding over an unprecedented expansion of pipeline infrastructure intended to transport diluted bitumen over sensitive resources, Congress should direct our pipeline safety regulators to fully study the risks and develop the appropriate regulations to address them. Fortunately, the Senate is advancing S.275, “The Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2011″, a bill which directs PHMSA to conduct an analysis of whether there is an increased spill risk for pipelines transporting tar sands crude oil and if current pipeline safety regulations are sufficient to address that risk. This is a necessary first step in the right direction. We urge the House to support this measure.

Additional steps are also necessary. A thorough understanding of the impacts tar sands diluted bitumen has on pipeline integrity only provides PHMSA with half of the information it needs to effectively use risk-based standards to ensure the safety of tar sands pipelines. The agency must also have a thorough understanding of the potential impacts of a diluted bitumen spill. Risk-based spill standards must not only consider the frequency of a spill risk, but also the nature and severity of that risk. Diluted bitumen includes concentrations of volatile, highly flammable natural gas liquids transported at high pressure and temperature. The potential for large-scale explosion and conflagration is both real and substantial. Furthermore, cleanup of diluted bitumen presents responders with unique challenges. Congress should direct the Environmental Protection Agency to work with PHMSA to develop coordinated cleanup responses specifically targeted to this relatively new environmental risk.

2. Congress should direct PHSMA to engage in all stages of pipeline development

PHMSA should be actively engaged in all stages of major pipeline infrastructure development, including the environmental review process, project design, construction and operation. While PHMSA does not have siting authority for hazardous liquid pipeline, the agency cannot effectively establish risk-based safety standards unless it is appraised of the public and environmental resources at risk and the magnitude of that risk.

The U.S. State Department is currently considering an application for a Presidential Permit by TransCanada for a pipeline project called Keystone XL. That project is currently undergoing an environmental review as part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). PHMSA does not appear to be actively engaged in the environmental risks assessment for Keystone XL. It should be. As it stands, in their latest environmental review of Keystone XL, the Department of State’s pipeline experts have determined that the Keystone XL pipeline will have a leak due to pipeline corrosion once every 3,400 years and a leak due to flooding and washout once every 87,600 years. State’s prediction that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline will have a leak due to “Materials and Construction” once every 3,300 years is even more surprising, given that the first Keystone pipeline, built by the same company, using the same grade steel that would be used to build Keystone XL, has had a dozen leaks in less than a year of operation. Of course, few people expect the Department of State to have significant pipeline safety expertise. PHMSA does and should be using their expertise to support the federal NEPA process for Keystone XL. This should include the development of a report addressing pipeline safety issues specific to diluted bitumen, prior to the completion of the NEPA review process.

You simply cannot have an agency that purports to use risk-based standards to regulate pipeline safety take a hands-off approach when it comes to where a pipeline is built, what happens if it spills, and how those two dynamic variables affect each other. PHMSA should be actively engaged at all levels of the pipeline project planning, design, and construction process. This should include a report establishing pipeline safety guidelines and regulations specific to diluted bitumen. That report should inform the environmental impact statement process for Keystone XL and the routing of the pipeline.

3. Congress should direct PHMSA to provide additional protections for open-source Aquifers

The Ogallala Aquifer is a prime example of an absolutely essential water resource that should receive the highest level of protection under pipeline safety regulations. The Ogallala Aquifer, considered one of the great fresh water resources of the world, contains approximately two-thirds of the volume of the High Plains Aquifer system. It covers approximately 174,000 square miles underneath eight states.†47 It is one of the largest fresh water aquifer systems in the world. The Ogallala Aquifer is a vital water source for irrigating U.S. farmland. However, the aquifer is very porous. A pipeline spill here would likely have substantial impacts, potentially causing long-term damage that would be extremely difficult to contain and remediate.

Given the importance and sensitivity of this resource, one would assume that PHMSA’s risk based standards would afford it the highest level of protection. This is not the case. In fact, the Ogallala Aquifer receives the lowest level of federal oversight under current pipeline safety regulations. This is a potential disaster waiting to happen. Current plans are to construct the Keystone XL tar sand pipeline through the heart of the Ogallala Aquifer in an area in Nebraska called the Sandhills. With over a billion acre-feet of groundwater,48 this is the richest area of Ogallala Aquifer. In many parts of the Sandhills, the water table is at surface level. We really don’t know how a spill will impact the Sandhills region or what challenges attempting to remediate contamination in the Aquifer here will entail. PHMSA’s records show that there are currently no crude oil pipelines going through Nebraska’s Sandhills.†49 TransCanada, which wants to build a pipeline through that environmentally sensitive region, has not presented a special plan in the event of a worst case scenario, possibly because the company “anticipate(s) that most spills will be small and easily removed with a shovel”,†50 During the Gulf spill, we witnessed the sad consequences that come of allowing an accident prone company to replace expensive but prudent safety measures with reckless optimism. Let us not court a similar disaster in the deep waters of our nation’s greatest fresh water aquifer.

Conclusion

It is in the public’s best interest for our pipeline safety regulators to evaluate the risks that high volumes of heavy, corrosive and abrasive crudes, such as diluted bitumen, will have on the U.S. pipeline system. After PHMSA has identified these risks, the agency should adopt appropriate safety regulation. Both should be done before significant new pipeline projects, such as the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, are permitted and constructed. We hope that you will closely consider the concerns that we have raised today and act to ensure the future safety of our hazardous liquid pipeline system. It would be tragic to wait until the United States has a catastrophic diluted bitumen spill to take these risks seriously.

NRDC thanks you for the opportunity to present its views. As the nation continues to strive towards greater standards of pipeline safety, we look forward to working with the Committee to develop policies that foster a balanced and environmentally sustainable outcome.

Footnotes

1 While the API gravity and sulfur content of crudes refined in the U.S. has been increasing, a significant portion of this effect is due to the import of sour, heavy fuels into the U.S. Gulf where it is refined (U.S. Energy Information Administration, Petroleum & Other Liquids, Crude Oil Input Qualities, 2011, http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_pnp_crq_a_EPC0_YCS_pct_a.htm).

2 “Oil Sands Statistics 2000-2007″, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, http://membernet.capp.ca/raw.asp?x=1&dt=NTV&e=PDF&dn=34093; http://www.neb-one.gc.ca/clf-nsi/rnrgynfmtn/sttstc/crdlndptrlmprdct/stmtdcndncrdlxprttpdstn-eng.html.

3 Andy Burrowes, Rick Marsh, Marie-Anne Kirsch et al., Alberta’s Energy Reserves 2009 Supply/Demand Outlook 2010-2019, Calgary, Alberta: Energy Resources Conservation Board, 2010, p. 3, http://www.ercb.ca/docs/products/STs/st98_current.pdf.

4 Canadian Crude Quick Reference Guide Version 0.54, Crude Oil Quality Association, 2009, http://www.coqa-inc.org/102209CanadianCrudeReferenceGuide.pdf.

5 Karl Sieradzki, Stress Corrosion Cracking, Technical Paper, http://www.azgovernor.gov/estf/stress.pdf.

6 Planning Ahead for Effective Canadian Crude Processing, Baker Hughes, 2010, p. 4, http://www.bakerhughes.com/assets/media/whitepapers/4c2a3c8ffa7e1c3c7400001d/file/28271-canadian_crudeoil_update_whitepaper_06-10.pdf.pdf&fs=1497549; A. I. (Sandy) Williamson, Degradation Mechanisms in the Oilsands Industry, Calgary, Alberta: Ammonite Corrosion Eng. Inc., 2006, Presentation to the National Association of Corrosion Engineers, slide 27, http://www.naceedmonton.com/pdf/FtMacPresentation/Ammonite_Degradation%20Mechanisms%20in%20OS%20Operations_NACE_Fort%20Mac_10%2006.pdf.

7 S.A. Lordo, “New Desalting Chemistry for Heavy/High Solids Crude”, 2010, pg. 12, http://coqa-inc.org/20100211_Lordo_Solids_in_Crude.pdf.

8 Crude Monitor, Peace River Heavy, 2011, http://www.crudemonitor.ca/crude.php?acr=PH.

9 Dina O’Meara, Rainbow oil pipeline leak largest in 36 years, Calgary Herald, May 3, 2011, http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/Rainbow+pipeline+leak+largest+years/4720888/story.html;

10 The sulfur content and API gravity of crude transported in pipeline to refineries in the northern region of PADD II are significantly above the national average, (U.S. Energy Information Administration, Petroleum & Other Liquids, Crude Oil Input Qualities, 2011, http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_pnp_crq_a_EPC0_YCS_pct_a.htm).

11 ND, MN, WI and MI have approximately 5,475 miles of crude pipelines, or 10.9% of the approximate 50,214 U.S. crude pipeline mileage (PHMSA, State Mileage by Commodity Statistics, 2011, http://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/comm/reports/safety/MI_detail1.html?nocache=8335#_OuterPanel_tab_4; Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Table 1-10: U.S. Oil and Gas Pipeline Mileage, 2009
http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_01_10.html). Meanwhile, between 2007-2010 crude pipelines in ND, MN, WI, and MI spilled 38,220 barrels of crude, or 30.3% of the 125,862 barrels of crude spilled in the U.S.

12 Jeffery Jones, Enbridge eases oil shipping lines as glut shrinks, Reuters, Apr 21, 2011, http://ca.reuters.com/article/businessNews/idCATRE73K7EO20110421.

13 Enbridge spilled over 31,400 barrels of crude in a series of 18 spills in IL, MI, MN, ND and WI in 2010; making up nearly 60% of the 53,300 barrels of crude spilled in the U.S. that year.

14 The U.S. portion of Enbridge’s Lakeshead system consists of 1,900 miles of liquid petroleum pipelines, comprising approximately 3.8% of U.S. crude pipeline mileage (Enbridge, LakeHead System, http://www.enbridgeus.com/Main.aspx?id=210&tmi=210&tmt=1; Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Table 1-10: U.S. Oil and Gas Pipeline Mileage, 2009
http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_01_10.html).

15Todd A. Heywood, Feds say Enbridge pipeline may never restart, Aug 27, 2010, http://michiganmessenger.com/41372/feds-say-enbridge-pipeline-may-never-restart.

16 RL Miller, Keystone pipeline spilled tar-sands oil 11 times in past year. Do we really want to supersize it?, Grist.org, May 12, 2011, available at http://www.grist.org/oil/2011-05-12-lets-supersize-a-disaster last accessed May 2011.

17 Edward Welsch, TransCanada Pipeline Spills Oil in North Dakota, Wall St. J., May 9, 2011, available at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703730804576313432899153672.html last accessed May 2011; http://www.argusleader.com/assets/pdf/DF174518518.PDF .

18 State Department, Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement, 3-93, 2011, http://www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/clientsite/keystonexl.nsf?Open.

19 Department of Transportation, Corrective Action Order, June 3, 2011, http://blog.nwf.org/wildlifepromise/files/2011/06/320115006H_CAO_06032011.pdf.

20 A review of all CAO’s on record issued by PHMSA for hazardous liquid pipelines, available at: PHMSA, Enforcement Action Database, 1985-2011, http://www.phmsa.dot.gov/pipeline/enforcement.

21 NRDC Pipeline Study.

22 Deborah Hersman, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Testimony before Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, September 15, 2010, http://www.ntsb.gov/speeches/hersman/daph100915.html (last accessed January 12, 2011). See also: Matthew McClearn, “Enbridge: Under Pressure”, Canadian Business, December 6, 2010, http://www.canadianbusiness.com/markets/commodities/article.jsp?content=20101206_10023_10023 (last accessed January 12, 2011). See also: Eartha Jane Melzer, “Pipeline spill underlies fears of new tar sands development”, Michigan Messenger, August 10, 2010, http://michiganmessenger.com/40744/pipeline-spill-underlines-fears-of-new-tar-sandsdevelopment

23 North Dakota Public Service Commission, Summary of Keystone Release Incident, May 16, 2011, http://www.argusleader.com/assets/pdf/DF174518518.PDF.

24 Id.

25 No coverup in N.W.T. pipeline leak: Enbridge, CBC News Canada, June 7, 2011, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/story/2011/06/07/nwt-enbridge-pipeline-spill.html.

26 Id.

27 State Department, SDEIS for Keystone XL, 3-127, 2011.

28 El Paso Corporation, Material Safety Data Sheet for NGL Condensate, 2007, http://www.elpaso.com/msds/A0021-Natural%20Gas%20Condensates.pdf.

29IHS CERA, Oil Sands, GHGs, and European Oil Supply, March 2010, Pg. 19, http://www.ceps.eu/system/files/article/2011/03/MARCH%2021_Final_JACKIE%20FORREST.pdf

30 There are numerous cases of pipeline explosions involving NGL condensate, including the January 1, 2011 explosion of a NGL condensate line in northern Alberta (“Pengrowth investigates pipeline explosion in northern Alberta”, The Globe and Mail, 2 Jan. 2011, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/pengrowth-investigates-pipeline-explosion-in-northern-alberta/article1855533/, last accessed 12 Jan. 2011); and the 2007 explosion of an NGL pipeline near Fort Worth Texas after it had been ruptured by a third party (“No Injuries In Parker Co. Gas Pipeline Explosion”, AP/CBS 11 News, 12 May 2007, http://www.keiberginc.com/web_news_files/pipeline-explosion-pr1.pdf, last accessed 12 Jan. 2011).

31 Crude Monitor, Access Western Blend, 2011, http://www.crudemonitor.ca/crude.php?acr=AWB.

32 Vining Wolff, Solvent Slurries in Bitumen Production, Knovel Engineering Cases, March 18th, 2011, http://engineeringcases.knovelblogs.com/2011/03/18/solvent-slurries-in-bitumen-production/.

33 Id.

34 Id.

35 “Material Safety Data Sheet: DilBit Cold Lake Blend”, Imperial Oil, 2002, http://www.msdsxchange.com/english/show_msds.cfm?paramid1=2479752, last accessed 12 Jan. 2011.

36 Environmental Protection Agency, Comments regarding SDEIS for Keystone XL project, June 6, 2011 http://www.epa.gov/compliance/nepa/keystone-xl-project-epa-comment-letter-20110125.pdf.

37 Martha Stanbury et al., Acute Health Effects of the Enbridge Oil Spill, Lansing, MI: Michigan Department of Community Health, November 2010, http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdch/enbridge_oil_spill_epi_report_with_cover_11_22_10_339101_7.pdf, last accessed 12 Jan. 2011.

38 Toxicological Profile for Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 1995, http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp.asp?id=122&tid=25, last accessed 12 Jan. 2011.
Benzene, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 1995, http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=14, last accessed 12 Jan. 2011.

39 “Athabasca Bitumen”, Environment Canada, Emergencies Science and Technology Division, http://www.etc-cte.ec.gc.ca/databases/OilProperties/pdf/WEB_Athabasca_Bitumen.pdf.
“Tar Sands”, South Dakota Sierra Club, http://southdakota.sierraclub.org/LivingRiver/tarsands.htm.

40 The bioaccumulation of heavy metals is well established in academic literature (see, for example, R. Vinodhini and M. Narayanan, Bioaccumulation of heavy metals in organs of fresh water fish Cyprinus carpio (Common carp), Int. J. Environ. Sci. Tech, 5 (2), Spring 2008, 179-182, http://www.ceers.org/ijest/issues/full/v5/n2/502005.pdf, last accessed 12 Jan. 2011). Heavy metals are elemental in nature and cannot biodegrade and have a variety of toxic effects (“Toxicological Profiles”, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 2010, http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/index.asp, last accessed 12 Jan. 2011).

41 “Oil Spill Response Techniques”, EPA Emergency Management, Environmental Protection Agency, 2009, http://www.epa.gov/oem/content/learning/oiltech.htm.

42 Understanding Oil Spills and Oil Spill Response, Environmental Protection Agency, 2009, Chapter 2: Mechanical Containment and Recovery of Oil Following a Spill, http://www.epa.gov/oem/docs/oil/edu/oilspill_book/chap2.pdf, last accessed 12 Jan. 2011.

43 The Northern Great Plains at Risk: Oil Spill Planning Deficiencies in Keystone Pipeline System, Plains Justice, 2010, p. 7, http://plainsjustice.org/files/Keystone_XL/Keystone%20Pipeline%20Oil%20Spill%20Response%20Planning%20Report%202010-11-23%20FINAL.pdf.

44 Rebecca Williams, Oil Lingers in Kalamazoo River, The Environment Report, Radio Interview, Apr 4, 2011, http://www.environmentreport.org/show.php?showID=520.

45 Understanding Oil Spills and Oil Spill Response, Environmental Protection Agency, 2009, Chapter 4: Shoreline Cleanup of Oil Spills, http://www.epa.gov/oem/docs/oil/edu/oilspill_book/chap4.pdf.

46 Id.

47 United States Geological Service, High Plains Regional Groundwater Survey, June 14, 2011, http://co.water.usgs.gov/nawqa/hpgw/factsheets/DENNEHYFS1.html

48U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Sandhills: Building Partnerships for an Ecosystem, http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/pfw/ne/ne4.htm#Whatis.

49 Review of hazardous liquid pipelines in NE Sandhills counties (National Pipeline Mapping System, http://www.npms.phmsa.dot.gov/PublicViewer/, last visited June 10, 2011).

50 State Department, Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Appendix C “Spill, Countermeasure and Prevention” Adobe pg. 15. http://www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/clientsite/keystonexl.nsf?Open.

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9 Responses to Keystone XL Risks

  1. David Wilson says:

    I knew you would get around to the Keystone pipeline eventually :-)

    of course you know about the Washington action ( http://www.tarsandsaction.org/ ) with 1,252 arrests (including myself), and about the upcoming Ottawa sit-in ( http://ottawaaction.ca/ ) on the 26th.

    I am interested in what you may think about civil disobedience in this context?

    • Alan Burke says:

      I’m not surprised that you’ve commented David – thanks.

      It seems to me that this issue is at least as weighty as the one championed by the Mahatma Gandhi. As long as civil disobedience is non-violent, I see it as a very good idea under the circumstances. We cannot sit idly by ignoring the failures of politicians to recognize the need for legitimate science backing in setting policy.

      Too many politicians are swayed by the “Merchants of Doubt” who are driven by extreme political ideology (especially concerning market regulation), fundamentalist and evangelical religion, or vested business interests (in this case the fossil fuel industries).

      Perhaps if they see a lot of voters protesting they’ll start to worry:

      A politician is one who thinks that the worst possible outcome for the World is that he or she not be re-elected. We need statesmen now, not politicians.

      • David Wilson says:

        thanks yourself Mr. Burke, in reality I was dismayed that only 1,200 turned out, I seem to remember that it took 50,000 to levitate the Pentagon

        and I do not see anyone rallying people to attend the Ottawa sit-in (yet?)

        and to be honest I asked that question straight – because I was really not sure what you would say and I dreaded a negative reply, thank goodness I have adult children who speak to me realistically on these issues otherwise I would have given up long ago, my son is even making noises like we will go together to Ottawa

        so, thanks again, and be well, David.

        ps – I did not mention that the points raised in the NRDC report are good ones and useful – I had not considered that bitumen diluted with carrier is not quite like crude oil in at least several important respects, so thanks for that too.

  2. Alan Burke says:

    Here’s a transcription of what the EPA said to the DoS about Keystone XL on 16 June 2011, from the ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR FOR ENFORCEMENT AND COMPLIANCE ASSURANCE. Sections marked in italics are my emphasis.

    Mr. Jose W. Fernandez
    Assistant Secretary Economic. Energy and Business Affairs
    U.S. Department of State Washington, DC 20520

    Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones
    Assistant Secretary Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
    U.S. Department of State Washington, DC 20520

    Dear Mr. Fernandez and Dr. Jones

    In accordance with our authorities under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) NEPA regulations, and Section 309 of the Clean Air Act, EPA has reviewed the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL Project (“Project”).

    EPA reviewed the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for this project and submitted comments in July of2010. At that time EPA rated the DEIS as “Inadequate-3″ because potentially significant impacts were not evaluated and additional information and analyses were necessary to ensure that the EIS fully informed decision makers and the public about potential consequences of the Keystone XL Project. Since that time, the State Department has worked diligently to develop additional information and analysis in response to EPA’s comments and the large number of other comments received on the DEIS. The State Department also made a very constructive decision to seek further public review and comment through publication of the SDEIS. to help the public and decision makers carefully weigh the environmental costs and benefits of transporting oil sands crude from Canada to delivery points in Oklahoma and Texas. The consideration of the environmental impacts associated with constructing and operating this proposed pipeline is especially important given that current excess pipeline capacity for transporting oil sands crude to the United States will likely persist until after 2020, as noted in the SDEIS.

    While the SDEIS has made progress in responding to EPA ‘s comments on the DEIS and providing information necessary for making an informed decision, EPA believes additional analysis is necessary to fully respond to our earlier comments and to ensure a full evaluation of the potential impacts of proposed Project, and to identify potential means to mitigate those impacts. 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. We are encouraged by the State Department’s agreement to include some of these additional analyses in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final EIS). We have noted those agreements in this letter, and look forward to working with you to develop these analyses for the Final EIS.

    Pipeline Safety/Oil Spill Risks

    EPA is the lead federal response agency for responding to oil spills occurring in and around inland waters. As part of that responsibility, we have considerable experience working to prevent and respond to oil spills. Pipeline oil spills are a very real concern, as we saw during the two pipeline spills in Michigan and Illinois last summer. Just in the last month, the Keystone Pipeline experienced two leaks (in North Dakota and Kansas), one of which was brought to the company’s attention by a local citizen. These leaks resulted in shut-downs and issuance of an order to TransCanada from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), requiring that corrective measures be taken prior to the subsequently approved restart of operations. PHMSA’s Order of June 3, 2011 for the Keystone Pipeline -which also carries Canadian oil sands crude oil and is operated by the same company as the proposed Keystone XL Project ~ 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. These events, which occurred after EPA’s comment letter on the DEIS. underscore the comments about the need to carefully consider both the route of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline and appropriate measures to prevent and detect a spill.

    We have several recommendations for additional analyses that relate to the potential for oil spills, as well as the potential impacts and implications for response activities in the event of a pipeline leak or rupture. We recommend and appreciate your agreement that the Final EIS use data from the National Response Center, which reports a more comprehensive set of historical spill events than the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration’s incident database, to assess the risk of a spill from the proposed pipeline. With respect to the spill detection systems proposed by the applicant, we remain concerned that relying solely on pressure drops and aerial surveys to detect leaks may result in smaller leaks going undetected for some time, resulting in potentially large spill volumes. In light of those concerns, we also appreciate your agreement that the Final EIS consider additional measures to reduce the risks of undetected leaks. For example, requiring ground-level inspections of valves and other parts of the system several times per year, in addition to aerial patrols, could improve the ability to detect leaks or spills and minimize any damage.

    The SDEIS indicates that there may be a “minor” increase in the number of mainline valves installed to isolate pipeline segments and limit impacts of a spill, compared to what was originally reported in the DEIS (SDEIS, pg. 2-4). However, no detailed information or decision criteria are provided with regard to the number of valves, or their location. In order to evaluate potential measures to mitigate accidental releases, we appreciate your agreement to provide additional infonnation in the Final EIS on the number and location of the valves that will be installed and to evaluate the feasibility of increasing the number of valves in more vulnerable areas. For example, it may be appropriate to increase the number of valves where the water table is shallow, or where an aquifer is overlain by highly permeable soils, such as the Ogallala aquifer. We also recommend consideration of external pipe leak detection systems in these areas to improve the ability to detect pinhole (and greater) leaks that could be substantial, yet below the sensitivity of the currently proposed leak detec tion systems. In addition, while we understand that valves are not proposed to be located at water crossings that are less than 100 feet wide, we recommend that the Final EIS nevertheless consider the potential benefits of installing valves at water crossings less than 100 feet wide where there are sensitive aquatic resources.

    Predicting the fate and transport of spilled oil is also important to establish potential impacts and develop response strategies. While the SDEIS provides additional information about the different classes of crude oils that may transported, we recommend the Final EIS evaluate each class of crude that will be transported, how it will behave in the environment, and qualitatively discuss the potential issues associated with responding to a spill given different types of crude oils and diluents used.

    With regard to the chemical nature of the diluents that are added to reduce the viscosity of bitumen, the SDEIS states “the exact composition may vary between shippers and is considered proprietary information” (SDEIS, pg. 3-104). We believe an analysis of potential diluents is important to establish the potential health and environmental impacts of any spilled oil, and responder/worker safety, and to develop response strategies. In the recent Enbridge oil spill in Michigan, for example, benzene was a component of the diluent used to reduce the viscosity of the oil sands crude so that it could be transported through a pipeline. Benzene is a volatile organic compound, and following the spill in Michigan, high benzene levels in the air prompted the issuance of voluntary evacuation notices to residents in the area by the local county health department. Similarly, although the SDEIS provides additional information on the potential impact of spills on groundwater, we recommend that the Final EIS improve the risk assessment by including specific information on the groundwater recharge areas along the pipeline route, recognizing that these areas are more susceptible to groundwater contamination from oil spills.

    We appreciate that the SDEIS provides additional information about the feasibility of alternative pipeline routes that would reduce the risk of adverse impacts to the Ogallala aquifer, by re-routing the pipeline so it does not cross the aquifer. Many commenters, including EPA, expressed concerns over the potential impacts to this important resource during the review of the DEIS. If a spill did occur, the potential for oil to reach groundwater in these areas is relatively high given shallow water table depths and the high permeability of the soils overlying the aquifer. In addition, we are concerned that crude oil can remain in the subsurface for decades, despite efforts to remove the oil and natural microbial remediation.

    However, the SDEIS concludes that the alternative routes that avoid the Ogallala aquifer are not reasonable, and consequently does not provide a detailed evaluation of the environmental impacts of routes other than the applicant’s proposed route. The SDEIS indicates that no other alternatives are considered in detail because, in part, they do not offer an overall environmental advantage compared to other routes. In support of this conclusion the SDEIS presents a limited analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the alternative routes and offers qualitative judgments about the relative severity of impacts to different resources, e.g., considering potential impacts from spills to the Ogallala aquifer less important than impacts to surface waters from a spill associated with an additional crossing of the Missouri River. We think this limited analysis does not fully meet the objectives of NEPA and CEQ’s NEPA regulations, which provide that agencies rigorously explore and objectively evaluate reasonable alternatives. CEQ guidance states that reasonable alternatives include those that are practical or feasible from the technical and economic standpoint and using common sense. Recognizing the regional significance of these groundwater resources, we recommend that the State Department re-evaluate the feasibility of these alternative routes and more clearly outline the environmemal, technical and economic reasons for not considering other alternative routes in more detail as part of the NEPA analysis.

    Oil Spill Impacts on Affected Communities and Environmental Justice Concerns

    The communities facing the greatest potential impact from spills are of course the communities along the pipeline route. We are concerned that the SDEIS does not adequately recognize that some of these communities may have limited emergency response capabilities and consequently may be more vulnerable to impacts from spills, accidents and other releases. This is particularly likely to be true of minority, low-income and Tribal communities or populations along the pipeline route. We appreciate your agreement to address this issue in the Final EIS by clarifying the emergency response capability of each county along the pipeline route using the plans produced by Local Emergency Planning Committees. We also appreciate your agreement to identify potential mitigation measures in the Final EIS based on this information. We look forward to working with your staff to identify data sources and approaches for addressing these Issues.

    As part of this analysis, we are concerned that the SDEIS may have underestimated the extent to which there are communities along the pipeline with less capacity to respond to spills and potentially associated health issues, particularly minority, low-income or Tribal communities. We appreciate your agreement to re-evaluate in the Final EIS which communities may have such capacity issues by adopting the more commonly-used threshold of 20% higher low-income, minority or Tribal population compared to the general population, instead of the 50% used in the SDEIS.

    With respect to data on access to health care, we are encouraged that the SDEIS provided critically important information on medically underserved areas and on health professional shortage areas. We will provide recommendations on methods to present this data to make it more meaningful to reviewers and will work with your staff as you move towards publishing a Final EIS.

    The SDEIS does recognize that minority, low-income or Tribal populations may be more vulnerable to health impacts from an oil spill, and we appreciate the applicant’s commitment to provide an alternative water supply “if an accidental release from the proposed Project that is attributable to Keystone’s actions contaminates groundwater or surface water used as a source of potable water or for irrigation or industrial purposes … ” (SDEIS, pg. 3-154). Further, the SDEIS states that impacts would be mitigated by the applicant’s liability for costs associated with cleanup, restoration and compensation for any release that could affect surface water (SDEIS, pg. 3-154). We believe that this mitigation measure should also apply for releases that could affect groundwater. Finally, we recommend that the Final EIS evaluate additional mitigation measures that would avoid and minimize potential impacts through all media (i.e., surface and ground water, soil, and air) to minority, low-income and Tribal populations rather than rely solely on after-the-fact compensation measures. Some examples of additional mitigation include developing a contingency plan before operations commence for emergency response and remedial efforts to control the contamination. This would also include providing notification to individuals affected by soil or groundwater contamination, ensuring the public is knowledgeable and aware of emergency procedures and contingency plans (including posting procedures in high traffic visibility areas), and providing additional monitoring of air emissions and conducting medical monitoring and/or treatment responses where necessary.

    Environmental and Health Impacts to Communities Adjacent to Refineries

    We are also concerned with the conclusion that there are no expected disproportionate adverse impacts to minority or low-income populations located near refineries that are expected to receive the oil sands crude, particularly because many of these communities are already burdened with large numbers of high emitting sources of air pollutants. It is not self-evident that the addition of an 830,000 barrels per day capacity pipeline from Canada to refineries in the Gulf Coast will have no effect on emissions from refineries in that area. We recommend that the Final EIS re-examine the potential likelihood of increased refinery emissions, and provide a clearer analysis of potential environmental and health impacts to communities from refinery air emissions and other environmental stressors. As part of this re-evaluation, we encourage the State Department to provide more opportunities for people in these potentially affected communities to have meaningful engagement, including additional public meetings, particularly in Port Arthur, Texas, before publication of the Final EIS. Public meetings in these potentially affected communities provide an opportunity for citizens to present their concerns, and also for the State Department to clearly explain its analysis of potential impacts associated with the proposed project to the people potentially affected.

    Lifecycle GHG Emissions

    We appreciate the State Department’s efforts to improve the characterization of life cycle GHG emissions associated with Canadian oil sands crude. The SDEIS confirms, for example, that Canadian oil sands crude are GHG-intensive relative to other types of crude oil, due primarily to increased emissions associated with extraction and refining.

    The SDEIS also includes an important discussion of lifecycle GHG emissions associated with oil sands crude and provides quantitative estimates of potential incremental impacts associated with the proposed Project. For example, the SDEIS (pg. 3-198) states that under at least one scenario, additional annual lifecycle GHG emissions associated with oil sands crude compared to Middle East Sour crude are 12 to 23 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent (C02-e) at the proposed Project pipeline’s full capacity (roughly the equivalent of annual emissions from 2 to 4 coal-fired power plants). While we appreciate the inclusion of such estimates, EPA believes that the methodology used by the State Department and its contractors to calculate those estimates may underestimate the values at the high-end of the ranges cited in the lifecycle GHG emissions discussion by approximately 20 percent. We will continue to work with your staff to address this concern as you move towards publishing a Final EIS.

    Further, in discussing these lifecycle GHG emissions, the SDEIS concludes “on a global scale, emissions are not likely to change” (SDEIS, pg. 3-197). We recommend against comparing GHG emissions associated with a single project to global GHG emission levels. As recognized in CEQ’s draft guidance concerning the consideration of GHG emissions in NEPA analyses, “[T]he global climate change problem is much more the result of numerous and varied sources, each of which might seem to make a relatively small addition to global atmospheric GHG concentrations.”)

    Moreover, recognizing the proposed Project ‘s lifetime is expected to be at least fifty years, we believe it is important to be clear that under at least one scenario, the extra GHG emissions associated with this proposed Project may range from 600 million to 1.15 billion tons CO2-e, assuming the lifecycle analysis holds over time (and using the SDEIS’ quantitative estimates as a basis). In addition, we recommend that the Final EIS explore other means to characterize the impact of the GHG emissions, including an estimate of the “social cost of carbon” associated with potential increases of GHG emissions. The social cost of carbon includes, but is not limited to, climate damages due to changes in net agricultural productivity, human health, property damages from flood risk, and ecosystem services due to climate change. Federal agencies use the social cost of carbon to incorporate the social benefits of reducing CO2 emissions into analyses of regulatory actions that have a marginal impact on cumulative global emissions; the social cost of carbon is also used to calculate the negative impacts of regulatory actions that increase CO2 emissions.

    Finally, we continue to be concerned that the SDEIS does not discuss opportunities to mitigate the entire suite of GHG emissions associated with constructing the proposed Project. We appreciate your agreement to identify practicable mitigation measures in the Final EIS for GHG emissions associated with operation of the pipeline in the United States. As part of that analysis, we recommend consideration of opportunities for energy efficiency and utilization of green power for pipeline operations. In addition, We recommend a discussion of mitigation approaches for GHG emissions from extraction activities that are either currently or could be employed to help lower lifecycle GHG emissions to levels closer to those of conventional crude oil supplies. We recommend that this discussion include a detailed description of efforts ongoing and under consideration by producers, as well as the government of Alberta, to reduce GHG emissions from oil sands production_

    Wetlands Impacts

    EPA co-administers the Clean Water Act Section 404 regulatory program, which regulates the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States, including wetlands. While we appreciate that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for day-today processing of permit applications, our review or aerial photography recently posted on the Project’s website indicates that the DEIS may have underestimated the extent of ecologically valuable bottomland hardwood wetlands in Texas. We appreciate your agreement to evaluate these wetland estimates in the Final EIS and to display the location of the bottomland hardwood wetlands with maps and aerial photography. Given their ecological importance, we recommend the same evaluation be done for prairie pothole wetlands that may be impacted by the proposed Project. EPA also recommends that the Final EIS discuss whether it is possible to make further pipeline route variations to avoid both bottomland hardwood and prairie pothole wetlands.

    Our review of the aerial photography also indicates that there may be numerous wetland crossings that would impact more than 0.5 acres of wetlands, which is the upper threshold for impacts under the US Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) nationwide general permit for utility line crossings in waters of the United States. In that light, and recognizing that there will be several hundred acres of wetlands affected along the entire pipeline route, we recommend that the Corps review the proposed wetland impacts as a single project requiring an individual Clean Water Act Section 404 permit. Consolidating each of these crossings into one individual permit review would also provide for more transparency as to the project impacts and allow for more effective mitigation planning. as well as compliance monitoring of the entire project.

    Finally, we appreciate your agreement to provide a discussion of potential mitigation measures for project activities that permanently convert forested wetlands to herbaceous wetlands. We continue to recommend providing a conceptual wetland mitigation plan in the Final EIS, including a monitoring component that would, for a specified period of time, direct field evaluations of those wetlands crossed by the pipeline (and mitigation sites) to ensure wetland functions and values are recovering. We also recommend that the Final EIS evaluate the feasibility of using approved mitigation banks to compensate for wetlands impacts.

    Migratory Birds

    The SDEIS includes a summary of regulatory and other programs aimed at protecting migratory bird populations that may be affected by oil sands extraction activities in Canada. However. we recommend that the Final EIS provide additional information that would address potential impacts to specific migratory species, with an emphasis on already-vulnerable species, and we appreciate your agreement to provide that information in the Final EIS. Data found in the North American Breeding Bird Survey (a partnership between the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the Canadian Wildlife Service ‘s National Wildlife Research Center), which monitors bird populations and provides population trend estimates, should be helpful. We also recommend that the Final EIS discuss mitigation measures that are either currently or could be employed for identified impacts.

    Conclusion

    Based on our review, we have rated the SDEIS as “Environmental Objections – Insufficient Information (EO-2)” (see enclosed “Summary of Rating Definitions and Follow-up Actions”). 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.

    We look forward to continuing to work with you to strengthen the environmental analysis of this project and to provide any assistance you may need to prepare the Final EIS. In addition, we will be carefully reviewing the Final EIS to determine if it fully reflects our agreements and that measures to mitigate adverse environmental impacts are fully evaluated. We look forward as well to working with you as you consider the determination as to whether approving the proposed project would be in the national interest under the provisions of Executive Order 13337.

    Please feel free to contact me at (202) 564-2400, or have your staff contact Susan Bromm, Director, Office of Federal Activities, at (202) 564-5400, if you have any questions or would like to discuss our comments.
    Sincerely,
    [signed]
    Cynthia Giles

  3. Pingback: the road not taken

  4. Alan Burke says:

    Copied here with permission of the author “Piezo” 1:13 AM on September 17, 2011
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/editorials/keystone-xl-pipeline—-key-to-prosperity/article2169363/comments/

    Incredible – just as it was once unthinkable that the calibre of person who would write off Kyoto as a “socialist scheme to suck money from wealth-producing nations” would ever have a hope of forming a government (not the US mind you, where the 80% of Repulican leadership candidates for 2012 do not even “believe” in climate change, but in *Canada*), it might once have been equally unthinkable that our national newspaper would pass this nonsense off with a staight face. Who writes this stuff anyhow, Margaret Wente (who, come to think of it, is also coincidentally both an oil-industry board member and someone who doesn’t believe in science when it comes into conflict with her economic interests).

    Where to begin with the (shall I kindly call them overlooked?) fallacies here – how about:
    1) (Globe: “the alternative to the pipeline are actually worse”) – only if the key element on your scorecard is maximizing oil and emissions production. Perhaps the editorial board would benefit with a bit of vision here – oil is by definition a dead end. Either because we declare it as such (given that we already have more than enough conventional reserves available to drive the CO2 content of the atmosphere into the region of runaway climate change should we choose to actually use them all), or because we decide to allow the “rights of the market” to take precedence over the rights of the planet’s inhabitants and let that market do what it does best – extract an increasingly lucrative nonconventional resource to its last drop in order to maximize ROI for our noble oil barons, while externalizing the consequences of that action for the rest of us to suffer by. At what point, praytell, shall we begin to transition towards the post-carbon economy that would actually provide a solution to this mess?

    2) (Globe: “Environmentalists are right to be concerned about the overall increase in emissions that comes from oil. But a large share of that comes not from the oil sands directly, but from … the vehicles that burn fuels refined from oil-sands bitumen.”) – Good Lord, this is essentially a schoolyard-level blame shift, and about as valid. So, am I right in taking your meaning to be that it’s fine to extract oil using methods that release approximate three times times the CO2 per barrel as conventional methods during their production, because in the end vehicles will burn the end-product fuel and also release further CO2? Even more ridiculous of an argument when you consider that the vehicles themselves release the same amount of CO2 regardless of the source of the fuel’s input – the “overall increase of emissions” is *entirely due to the difference in oil extraction method*!

    3) (Globe: “The activists could instead advocate a quicker development of electric-car infrastructure”) – Of course they could, though it would likely be futile in this context. You might end up with more electric cars, but that doesn’t mean the number of gasoline-powered vehicles wouldn’t rise even faster. Consider the parallel history of highway utilization. Highways are constructed and expanded in order to reduce congestion, but the smoother traffic flow makes this means of travel more attractive – leading to increased car use – until the congestion level returns, far ahead of the predicted timeframe for said levels. Similarly, if Environment Canada themselves forecasts a tripling of tar sands oil production between 2005 and 2020, you can spend all the money you want on electric car infrastructure, but the laws of supply and demand are going to make gasoline car travel comparatively more attractive in the future than at the present as a result. The *only* way to break this cycle is to either restrict supply (for example, by not approving additional pipelines), or to restrict demand (for example, by means of sufficiently-noticeable carbon pricing).

    4) (Globe: “no significant change in total life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, whether Keystone XL is built or not.”) – Way to go, in noting only one side of that issue. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates emissions from tar sands oil extraction to be over 80% greater than that of normal crude oil. The Department of State (DOS) however, gave its blessing to the project, hoping optimistically that greenhouse gases from the tar sands might stay flat or decrease over time – based on what you might ask, industry talking points? Far more likely is that any industry increases in extraction efficiency will be more than wiped out by the rapid expected increase in extraction over the next decade. The EPA, of course, remains highly critical of the DOS over this matter.

    5) (Globe: “Only when accompanied by other, extreme policies – namely, an immediate repudiation of oil as a fuel source generally – does opposition to the pipeline on climate-change grounds gain a measure of internal consistency. And that set of policies would be ruinous.”) – Ruinous for whom, the oil barons? Or ruinous simply because of your inclusion of the word “immediate” in the above? You know as well as we do that immediate changes are impossible thanks to the laws of momentum, and yes of course if the oil taps were to all be shut off tomorrow we’d be in a fine mess the day after. But you also know that nobody is calling for that, either – it requires planning and investment, infrastructure implementation, behavioural and purchase shifts, and lots of time for the turnaround to happen. You also must know that by taking up the advocacy cause for the ludicrously-monikered ethical oil (in a past editorial) and the constrction of Keystone XL in this one, you are doing your part to make any such turnaround that much more difficult.

    In that light, shall we give you the moniker “No Better Than Ezra” (Levant)?

    6) (Globe: “Given the diligence being exercised to minimize environmental damage along its route, it should go ahead.”) – Right. Or at least that’s what the DOE says, if not the EPA. And that’s also why even Nebraska’s Repiblican governor along the proposed pipeline route is asking for it not to be built, right?

    7) (Globe: “Peter Lougheed, the former Alberta premier, has expressed concerns about the pace of oil-sands expansion, and reservations about the pipeline because he wants bitumen to be refined in Alberta, not Texas. Those, too, are legitimate concerns. But those issues are not resolved by stopping the pipeline.”) – Explain to me the logic, if you will, that tells you stopping the pipeline would not moderate the pace of tar sands expansion? Or that stopping the pipeline would not keep those jobs in Canada rather than in Texas?

    Look, Globe, if we needed a paper to speak for the oil industry we’d simply be reading the Post instead, now wouldn’t we? Certainly you can find some other market niche that meshes with the interests of the rest of us in this country…can’t you?

  5. David Wilson says:

    worth noting that (so far) the comments on this editorial are mostly realistic

  6. Alan Burke says:

    McKibbon: The Sky Does Not Belong To Exxon

    Bill McKibbon addressed the crowd gathered in Washington Square this past Saturday as part of “Occupy Washington”. Here is the text of his speech, thanks to the crew over at It’s Getting Hot in Here:

    Today in the New York Times there was a story that made it completely clear why we have to be here. They uncovered the fact that the company building that tar sands pipeline was allowed to choose another company to conduct the environmental impact statement, and the company that they chose was a company was a company that did lots and lots of work for them. So, in other words, the whole thing was rigged top to bottom and that’s why the environmental impact statement said that this pipeline would cause no trouble, unlike the scientists who said if we build this pipeline it’s “game over” for the climate. We can’t let this pipeline get built.

    More … http://350orbust.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/mckibbon-the-sky-does-not-belong-to-exxon/

    See also “Pipeline Review Is Faced With Question of Conflict

    The State Department assigned an important environmental impact study of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to a company with financial ties to the pipeline operator, flouting the intent of a federal law meant to ensure an impartial environmental analysis of major projects.
    The department allowed TransCanada, the company seeking permission to build the 1,700-mile pipeline from the oil sands of northern Alberta to the Gulf Coast in Texas, to solicit and screen bids for the environmental study. At TransCanada’s recommendation, the department hired Cardno Entrix, an environmental contractor based in Houston, even though it had previously worked on projects with TransCanada and describes the pipeline company as a “major client” in its marketing materials.

    While it is common for federal agencies to farm out environmental impact studies, legal experts said they were surprised the State Department was not more circumspect about the potential for real and perceived conflicts of interest on such a large and controversial project.

    More … http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/08/science/earth/08pipeline.html?_r=3&pagewanted=1&ref=keystonepipeline

  7. Alan Burke says:

    From DeSmogBlog: Waxman Renews Request For Congress To Investigate Koch Industries Interest in Keystone XL Pipeline

    Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) today renewed his request to Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Ed Whitfield (R-KY) that the House Committee on Energy and Commerce investigate Koch Industries’ interest in the Keystone XL pipeline. Rep. Waxman’s letter cites the recent revelations in InsideClimate News that Koch subsidiary Flint Hills Resources Canada LP claimed “a direct and substantial interest” in the Keystone XL in front of Canadian regulators, while the Kochtopus continues to deny any interest publicly.

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