State Department rushes toward judgment on Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline
The State Department announced today that it will not take additional time to consider the risks of the Keystone XL tar sands oil project, and instead will release a final Environmental Impact Statement by mid-August.
Damon Moglen, climate and energy director at Friends of the Earth, responded with the following statement:
“This is a foolhardy rush to judgment. The State Department cannot possibly address the many glaring gaps in its environmental analysis in the next few weeks, let alone consider lessons from the worrying string of recent pipeline spills. Moreover, a University of Nebraska professor recently found that TransCanada is giving U.S. regulators a wildly optimistic picture of spills the Keystone XL pipeline is likely to cause. Will the State Department simply ignore this new information and the many concerns voiced by the EPA and communities whose water and land is at risk?”
The State Department is plowing ahead despite oil giant TransCanada encountering a number of new obstacles in recent weeks:
TransCanada pipeline explodes in Wyoming
TransCanada’s Bison natural gas pipeline, which has been operating for barely six months, exploded west of Gillette, Wyoming on Wednesday, July 20. The blast reportedly ripped a crater in the ground, opened a 60-foot chasm in the pipe, shook nearby homes, and blew a large, jagged section of pipe almost 70 feet away. The amount of gas spilled has yet to be determined.
The July 20 explosion is not the first problem with TransCanada’s brand new Bison pipeline. As reported by the Billings Gazette in April, landowners along the route of the pipe in southeastern Montana have found gaping trenches of collapsed soil, up to three-feet deep and 480 feet long, where TransCanada buried the pipeline. In interviews, landowners blamed the problems on TransCanada’s hurried construction and flawed attempts to backfill the pipeline trench.
TransCanada’s safety record on tar sands oil pipelines has already drawn scrutiny. The Keystone I tar sands pipeline has spilled 33 times in just over a year of operation — including 21 spills in Canada and 12 spills in the U.S.
Montana court halts tar sands megaloads
On July 19, a Montana judge upheld a request by Missoula County and three environmental groups to block Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil from moving convoys, or megaloads, of massive tar sands mining equipment across roads in Montana, agreeing that the state had not done a sufficient analysis of the environmental impacts.
Yellowstone spill linked to tar sands crude
Exxon revealed last week that the Silvertip pipeline that spilled oil into the Yellowstone routinely carried tar sands oil from Canada, crude that is heavier, more toxic and more corrosive than conventional oil. This revelation should prompt federal regulators to consider whether tar sands corrosion played a role in causing the Yellowstone spill.
Pressure increases on State Department to abandon fast-tracked deadlines
The oil spill into the Yellowstone River from Exxon’s Silvertip pipeline, as well as an independent study by a University of Nebraska professor indicating that the Keystone XL pipeline could spill far more frequently and with worse consequences than admitted by TransCanada, have amplified concerns about the Keystone XL proposal.
On July 15, seven senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling on the State Department to conduct a more rigorous analysis of the pipeline’s safety and alternative pipeline routes to bypass the Ogallala Aquifer before moving forward on a decision.
The editorial board of Nebraska’s most widely read paper, the Omaha World-Herald, echoed these concerns. In a July 18 editorial, the board wrote, “This proposed project should not go forward unless Nebraskans receive the needed information about every aspect of pipeline safety. … On this issue, the bar is quite high, and it just got higher.”
On July 21, the New York Times weighed in for the second time against Keystone XL, noting that the Environmental Protection Agency has twice “excoriated” the State Department for inadequately assessing the project’s environmental dangers. The Times editorial board concluded, “On the merits — economic and environmental — and in terms of future energy policy, this is the wrong pipeline for the wrong oil.”