Wednesday, September 07, 2011

State Department Releases Final EIS On Keystone XL Pipeline Project

Aug 26: At a press teleconference briefing the U.S. Department of State (DOS), Assistant Secretary Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs discuss the proposed Keystone XL project Final Environmental Impact Statement and details on the upcoming public meetings. In an announcement, DOS indicated that the final EIS does not represent a decision on TransCanada's permit application to build the 1,700-mile oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast. Rather, the final EIS is an environmental and safety analysis of the proposed project, developed to inform the decision. The data in the EIS will be used along with additional input to determine whether the Keystone XL project is in the national interest.

    DOS explained that it will now begin a 90-day consultation period with eight cooperating Federal agencies before making a decision on the Presidential Permit. During late September and early October, the Department also will host a series of nine public meetings around the United States to give individuals an opportunity to voice their views on whether granting or denying a Presidential Permit for the pipeline would be in the national interest. The Department will also be accepting public comments now through midnight on October 9, 2011. The meeting schedule includes meetings in: Port Arthur, TX; Glendive, MT; Lincoln, NE; Austin, TX; Pierre, SD; Midwest City, OK; and a final meeting in Washington, DC, on Friday October 7, 2011.

    At the press briefing, Dr. Jones said the final environmental impact statement "thoroughly examines and assesses the potential environmental impacts of this proposed project." She said, "I have been looking at the press, and I have noticed that some are touting that this statement is a victory and some are touting that it's a loss. And I would like to clarify at the beginning that these characterizations are wrong because we have -- this is not a decision document. This is a document that presents the analytical and the data information that we have regarding the environmental impacts. The process that was used to produce this impact statement looked to technical expertise across the U.S. Government and to engineering and technical experts outside of the U.S. Government, as well as extensive public feedback. We have listened to the comments received during this process and we have addressed the key issues raised in the final statement that we put out today."

    In response to a question regarding states' rights and for example: "could the state of Nebraska make a determination that the route needs to change or that the pipeline can't go through the state, or has that window passed?" Dr. Jones responded, "There are roles for the states in a lot of these different questions, but right now I'm really unable to comment on the specifics for what each of the states' actions may or may not do. I mean, the states – that's in the states' court to decide about that. And their future actions, I really can't comment on that."

    One question requested that in "plain English describe how you would characterize, as a result of this FEIS, what the potential environmental impact would be of this pipeline. . . if you had to say how extensive or not extensive you think you think the environmental impact of the construction and operation of this pipeline would be, it would be helpful to just get your characterization of that." Dr. Jones responded, "The FEIS does have a summary of findings, and what that summary states is that there would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed pipeline corridor. However, with that statement there are a lot of follow-on descriptions as to steps that the applicant is required to take and has agreed to take in terms of complying with all applicable laws and regulations, following some of the special conditions that I've already alluded to, and also following up on many of the other mitigation actions that they have agreed to. . . "

    Another question asked, ". . .the refining industry in the U.S. has said repeatedly, including those refiners in the Gulf Coast, that they're doing very well, they're making a lot of money exporting refined products overseas. And so I was wondering what assurances do we have that this – that this oil would be refined for products sold in the United States, and have you assessed how much of the tar sands crude would be used in the United States and how much of it might be exported?" Dr. Jones indicated, "What we have looked at is that certainly the refineries that would be receiving this oil do have the capacity and the demand to get this type of oil. . . DOE has also done a study -- a paper and a study that is in part of the FEIS that looks at the overall supply of crude oil and the market issues that you're raising and speaks to it. In addition . . . the broader kind of commercial energy security issue, and that's very much going to be dealt with in the national interest determination. So while there's some information in the FEIS regarding this. . . it will be further examined in the national interest determination."

    On the question of CO2 impacts, one question asked, "I just wanted to get clear exactly what you're saying about potential greenhouse gas and CO2 emissions increases as a result of the project going ahead." Dr. Jones responded, "Regarding the greenhouse gas emissions, I think there's a couple of different perspectives on that. One is the overall greenhouse gas emissions, sort of, life cycle from this type of crude oil. And the FEIS does say that this type of crude has a higher lifetime production of greenhouse gases relative to some others, but that really depends on what you're comparing it to. The other question is – I think you may be getting at is just in terms of whether or not this pipeline was built if the oil sands in Canada would be developed or not and how that may contribute to greenhouse gases. And we have – in the FEIS, there is a study that was commissioned by the Department of Energy to look at that issue, and the summary – that was the EnSys report, and the summary of that basically states that regardless of whether or not this pipeline would be built, there would be continued development of the oil sands, and there would be other methods for transporting that crude oil to refineries, and those would include such things as barges or tankers or rail."

    Regarding a question on routes and the Ogallalla Aquifer Dr. Jones said, "We analyzed a number of major alternative routes, I think about 14. Five of those in particular were looked at in order to avoid the Ogallalla Aquifer because we understand – we've had many comments about that. We are – recognize the importance of that. And we did analysis on those alternatives based on both the environmental conditions as well as some of the technical and economic considerations. And we've had a lot of feedback on that, and we feel that the proposed route of the applicant is the preferred route at this point, because there's – the environmental alternative seemed to all be rather worse or similar."

    American Petroleum Institute (API) issued a statement welcoming the DOS final EIS on the Keystone XL project and urged the agency to complete its national interest determination and issue permits for the pipeline without delay. API Refining Manager Cindy Schild said, "The nation's quintessential shovel-ready project is a step closer to reality. That's good news for tens of thousands of Americans who stand to find new jobs when this pipeline project is finally approved. If the State Department gives the final okay, hiring could begin immediately in hundreds of American companies in the Midwest and across the country. The President should support our biggest trading partner and number one importer of oil. More energy from a friendly ally makes sense. We need this critical project because more jobs and a move to secure energy equal a stronger economy."

    The timing of the release coincided with an ongoing civil disobedience campaign at the White House, where 275 peaceful protesters were arrested. In a release the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) said, "From Alberta to the Gulf, tar-sands oil will hurt endangered species and sensitive habitats and have an inordinate impact on global climate change. Extraction of oil from tar sands generates from two to four times the amount of greenhouse gases as conventional oil production." Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at CBD said, "The Keystone XL Pipeline is an environmental disaster in the making. The pipeline threatens the survival of at least 20 endangered species, risks contaminating the drinking water of millions of Americans, and spirals us further toward catastrophic climate change. It is outrageous that the final environmental impact statement was issued before U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has had time to issue a biological opinion on the many impacts of the pipeline on endangered species -- a gaping hole that highlights the inadequacy of this hasty environmental impact statement."

    Nebraska's Republican Governor Dave Heineman sent a letter to President Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging the Federal government to deny the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline. Governor Heineman said, "I want to emphasize that I am not opposed to pipelines. I am opposed to the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline route because it is directly over the Ogallala Aquifer." In his letter the Governor said, "Of the current proposed route, 254 miles of the pipeline would come through Nebraska and be situated directly over the Ogallala Aquifer. The aquifer provides water to farmers and ranchers of Nebraska to raise livestock and grow crops.  Nebraska has 92,685 registered, active irrigation wells supplying water to over 8.5 million acres of harvested cropland and pasture. Forty-six percent of the total cropland harvested during 2007 was irrigated. Maintaining and protecting Nebraska's water supply is very important to me and the residents of Nebraska.  This resource is the lifeblood of Nebraska's agriculture industry. Cash receipts from farm markets contribute over $17 billion to Nebraska's economy annually. I am concerned that the proposed pipeline will potentially have detrimental effects on this valuable natural resource and Nebraska's economy."

    On the question of groundwater contamination, the final EIS states, "DOS recognizes the public's concern for the Northern High Plains Aquifer System, which includes the Ogallala aquifer formation and the Sand Hills aquifer unit. The Northern High Plains Aquifer system supplies 78 percent of the public water supply and 83 percent of irrigation water in Nebraska and approximately 30 percent of water used in the U.S. for irrigation and agriculture. Of particular concern is the part of the aquifer which lies below the Sand Hills region. In that region, the aquifer is at or near the surface. DOS assessed the potential impacts of the proposed Project on many aquifer systems. The aquifer analysis included the identification of potable groundwater in water wells within 1 mile of the proposed centerline of the pipeline. More than 200 Public Water Supply wells, most of which are in Texas, are within 1 mile of the proposed centerline, and 40 private water wells are within 100 feet of the centerline. No sole-source aquifers, or aquifers serving as the principal source of drinking water for an area, are crossed by the proposed pipeline route."
    Access the lengthy full text of the press teleconference (click here). Access a DOS announcement and details on the meetings (click here). Access a fact sheet and map of the proposed pipeline (click here). Access a 27-page Executive Summary of the final EIS (click here). Access complete details and background from the DOS Keystone XL Pipeline Project website (click here). Access a comment form on the project website (click here). Access the statement from API (click here). Access the statement from CBD (click here). Access the release and letter from Gov. Heineman (click here). [*Energy/OilSands, *Energy/Pipeline]