Monday, March 04, 2013

State Department Issues Draft EIS For Keystone XL Pipeline

Mar 1: The U.S. Department of State (DOS) released a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) late Friday afternoon in response to TransCanada's May 2012 application for the Keystone XL pipeline that would run from Canada to Nebraska. The document is a draft technical review of potential environmental impacts associated with the proposed Project, including: impacts from construction, impacts from potential spills, impacts related to climate change, and economic impacts.
    A 45-day public comment period will begin when U.S. EPA posts the Draft SEIS on its website, a process that generally takes about one week following today's submission of the document to that agency. Specific instructions about how to submit comments will be provided via the Federal Register and on the State Department Keystone XL website. After the end of the public comment period, the Department will consider comments received and prepare a Final SEIS. The National Interest Determination period will begin following the release of the Final SEIS, during which time the Department will obtain the views of other agencies about whether to grant or deny the permit.
    In releasing the draft SEIS, Kerri-Ann Jones the Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at DOS conducted a press briefing teleconference to explain the release and the process going forward. The pipeline crosses the U.S.-Canada border near Morgan, Montana, passes through Montana then South Dakota and Nebraska, and terminates in Steel City, Nebraska.
    The first question from the press related to one of the major issues raised by environmental organizations in opposition to the pipeline -- i.e. about the greenhouse gas emission impacts of the tar sands in the pipeline. DOS responded:
". . .the greenhouse gas question and the relationship to climate is a very important topic, and what we have done in the draft supplemental is we have looked at the greenhouse gas impact from a number of ways, both the overall lifecycle of greenhouse gas emission related to the oil that would be moving through this pipeline, as well as how the construction of the pipeline might influence the overall development of the oil sands.
"And I think that this has been an area of great interest, and as I said in my opening comments, this is a draft SEIS, and it's a preliminary document. We're very anxious to have a lot of public comment. But with this preliminary analysis, we find in this draft that the approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including this proposed project, really remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of development of the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil in the U.S. But let me reiterate that this is a draft document, and we're anxious to get a lot of comments from the public and to have a lot of discussion about this document. . ."
    The second question indicated that according to the DOS analysis it looks like "part of what the analysis is showing is that, in fact, in terms of the next decade, we would not need this pipeline to get the 830,000 barrels of oil a day to the United States." DOS responded:
"You raise a good question. Certainly, that is one of the areas we look at in the draft and that's sort of in the discussion where we look at alternatives. We have a very robust discussion of alternatives, including the no-action alternative, where what we look at is what would happen if this pipeline were not to be built, what would happen with other forms of transport, not just pipelines, but rail and barge. And also we look at what would happen to -- with the existing pipeline structure. Would there be other changes or modifications for that? So there is a tremendous amount of analysis in this draft on that very issue, and I would refer you to that. . ."
    Considering the fact, that the document was just release and very few people had a chance to even begin review it, a question was asked, "We literally have only just opened this report up and it's very dense and very comprehensive. But could you tell us, overall, if you found the environmental impact of the pipeline would be significant or would it meet the standards that you need for an eventual approval to go ahead?"
Well, as I said in my opening remarks, again, this is a draft. And so while there is a section where there is a summary discussion, I don't think it's -- I think it's somewhat premature to get into that, because we feel that we need to have a public debate. We covered a range of issues regarding what could be environmental impacts, covering what's been already mentioned on this call -- greenhouse gases and climate considerations -- as well as groundwater, as well as the ability when you're passing through somewhat fragile areas, the effects on threatened and endangered species. So I would just refer you to the summary piece and just say I think it's premature at this point to really try to come down with strong conclusions, as we want to make sure we get a lot of comments on this and we have a full public debate about the document.
    Section 4.15, Cumulative Effects Assessment of the SEIS, presents information and analysis regarding indirect cumulative impacts and life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions including the potential impact of further development of the oil sands on climate change. Environmental groups have argued that Keystone XL tar sands project would pipe some of the dirtiest oil on the planet through the breadbasket of America to be shipped overseas through the Gulf of Mexico. It would be a disaster for our climate, producing tar sands crude that kicks out two or three times as much carbon pollution as producing conventional crude oil [See WIMS 2/19/13].
    DOS indicates in the SEIS, that previous comments received included requests for analysis of the potential climate impacts of increasing development of the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) oil sands associated with the proposed Project. DOS says, "While such a broad review is typically beyond the scope of NEPA, this Supplemental EIS nonetheless presents information and analysis related to the proposed Project's potential life-cycle climate impacts." Among some of the findings, the SEIS concludes:
  • it is unlikely that the proposed Project construction would have a substantial impact on the rate of WCSB oil sands development
  • Producing a barrel of premium fuels (i.e., gasoline, diesel, and kerosene/jet fuel) from bitumen produces roughly the same amount of petroleum coke as a barrel of premium fuels refined from heavy crudes, such as Venezuelan Bachaquero or Mexican Maya.
  • The relative GHG-intensity of both reference crudes and oil sands-derived crudes will change differently over time. Conventional (deep) crude reservoirs require higher energy intensive secondary and tertiary production techniques as the reservoirs deplete and as water cut of the produced reservoir fluids increases. Oil sands surface mining is expected to have a relatively constant energy intensity long into the future.
    Obviously, many groups, organizations and legislators are reacting to the draft SEIS release -- too many to cover in-depth here. The following are a few representative reactions:
    TransCanada Corporation, the project developer responded to the draft SEIS saying in a release, "While TransCanada is still reviewing the DSEIS, it builds on more than 10,000 pages of review already completed for Keystone XL. The DSEIS reaffirmed that 'there would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed Project route.' It noted that Keystone XL would result in no 'substantive change in global GHG emissions' and it is 'unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast area.' Finally, it also noted that 'the denial of a Presidential Permit would likely result in actions by other firms in the United States (and global) petroleum market, such as use of alternative modes to transport WCSB and Bakken crude.'"

    Russ Girling, TransCanada's president and chief executive officer said, "Completing the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Keystone XL is an important step towards receiving a Presidential Permit for this critical energy infrastructure project. No one has a stronger interest than TransCanada does in making sure that Keystone XL operates safely, and more than four years of exhaustive study and environmental review show the care and attention we have placed on ensuring this is the safest oil pipeline built to date in the United States."

    The House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) issued a statement saying, "The SEIS findings confirm what we already knew --   this pipeline is safe and in the best interest of the American people. There are no legitimate reasons not to move forward on the landmark jobs project. The president should stand up for families and immediately approve the Keystone XL pipeline.  It has been over four years since TransCanada first applied for a permit to build this pipeline that will bring jobs and energy security to America. At a time when gas prices are rising toward $4.00 a gallon, we must use every available tool we can to increase America's access to affordable and secure energy supplies. It should be a no-brainer to approve Keystone and accept Canada's oil. The Obama administration's unnecessary delays have prevented the pipeline's construction from moving forward, and in turn, put the project at risk. As China covets Canada's abundant oil resources, we can't afford to wait any longer.

    "The SEIS findings suggest the president should approve the pipeline's permit, but we were in a similar situation last year and the president chose to ignore the evidence and reject the middle class jobs project. Sadly, there is still no guarantee this pipeline will be approved absent an act of Congress. We fear the delays have allowed the opposition to grow so out-of-control that congressional action is still necessary to get the pipeline built."

    E&C Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) issued a brief statement saying, "The draft impact statement appears to be seriously flawed. We don't need this dirty oil. To stop climate change and the destructive storms, droughts, floods, and wildfires that we are already experiencing, we should be investing in clean energy, not building a pipeline that will speed the exploitation of Canada's highly polluting tar sands."  

    The American Petroleum Institute (API) issued a statement saying, "No matter how many times KXL is reviewed, the result is the same: no significant environmental impact. The latest impact statement from the State Department puts this important, job-creating project one step closer to reality. Nebraska has finished its final Keystone XL assessment and the governor has given it his full support. The last approval needed is by President Obama, and we urge him to do so as soon as possible. The president could truly implement his 'all of the above' energy strategy by approving Keystone XL. We hope the president will choose to side with the American people who strongly support the pipeline in poll after poll. The project will create thousands of good paying jobs for the safest, most highly trained workers of the building trades at a time when construction workers have an unemployment rate higher than the national average. Keystone XL will also enhance our energy security. It would be a win win for the U.S."

    Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for 21st Century Energy, issued a statement saying, "The Environmental Impact Statement released today is long overdue, and continues to build a strong case supporting the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The Keystone XL project has become one of the most closely examined infrastructure projects in our nation's history -- and it continues to pass with flying colors. Once again, the State Department has confirmed that this project is environmentally sound. The Keystone XL pipeline will make more Canadian and U.S. oil available to us—oil that will not need to be imported from unfriendly places.  It will create thousands of jobs and generate millions in revenue for state and local governments that badly need them. We'll be working over the next 45 days to ensure that the voice of the majority of American people, who favor this project, is heard loud and clear by the Obama Administration."
    The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) indicated that its experts have begun analyzing the draft SEIS and indicate that they have found numerous major flaws, including:
  • Climate Impacts:  The analysis minimizes the climate impacts of up to 830,000 barrels per day of tar sands -- which has been termed "the dirtiest oil on the planet" due to its high-carbon liabilities. Building this pipeline would be the same as putting 6 million new cars on the road. And that doesn't even account for emissions that come from petroleum coke, which would increase carbon pollution from Keystone XL by an additional 13 percent. But the draft SEIS discounted this carbon pollution. 
  • Tar Sands Development: The State Department analysis specifically avoids the impact that this project would have in empowering a tripling of tar sands oil production by noting that the oil would be delivered in other ways, despite very clear evidence and press reporting in Canada to the contrary.
  • Water Impacts: In a significant change from the first environmental impact study, the State Department now acknowledges that the acidic and corrosive properties of diluted bitumen (a rawer form of tar sands oil that would flow through the pipeline) has elevated safety risks compared to conventional oil, and requires new response strategies to deal with spills in water. The ongoing cleanup of the nation's biggest inland oil spill two and a half years ago -- in Michigan's Kalamazoo River -- illustrates the danger underplayed in the draft report.
    Access the DOS press briefing (click here). Access a DOS brief fact sheet on the draft SEIS (click here). Access the detailed draft SEIS with executive summary, each section and appendices (click here). Access the DOS Keystone XL New Application website for updates and links to information (click here). Access a release from the E&C Committee Republicans (click here). Access a release from the E&C Committee Democrats (click here). Access a release from TransCanada (click here). Access the TransCanada KXL website for more information (click here). Access a release from API (click here). Access a release from the U.S. Chamber (click here). Access a release from NRDC with links to further analysis (click here).  [#Climate, #Energy/KXL]
You can review recent issues of eNewsUSA (click here)
Access subscription information (click here)
Want to know more about WIMS? Check out our LinkedIn company website (click here).
33 Years of Environmental Reporting for serious Environmental Professionals

No comments: