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Another flawed environmental review on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

Danielle Droitsch

Posted March 1, 2013

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A draft environmental review just released by the U.S. State Department for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline ignores mounting evidence the pipeline is not in the national interest.  NRDC has completed a preliminary review of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and concludes that the State Department failed to account for the pipeline’s impact to water and climate.  There is now significant evidence the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would help trigger a major expansion to tar sands development leading to a sizeable increase in greenhouse gas emissions. And we know that a spill of tar sands oil from Keystone XL would pose much greater risks to precious waterways across America’s heartland.   Despite this evidence, the State Department found there would be no significant impact to the environment if the pipeline were approved.  We disagree.  President Obama should reject this draft environmental review and tell the State Department to re-examine the evidence that shows the pipeline isn’t good for the climate, or water protection, or energy security.

In this latest review, the State Department’s ignored  evidence that the pipeline would lead to a significant increase in carbon pollution that would be equivalent to adding 6 million new cars on the road.  And that doesn’t even account for additional carbon emissions that weren’t accounted for by the State Department from petroleum coke which would increase the climate impacts from Keystone XL by another 13 percent. 

Keystone XL would help to expand the dirtiest fuel on the planet because it is a fundamental element in the oil industry’s plan to triple production of tar sands oil from 2 to 6 million barrels per day by 2030, and in the longer term to hike production to more than 9 million bpd. Keystone XL would enable a significant amount of tar sands expansion that otherwise would not occur.  In other words, if we are serious about fighting climate change then you need to take actions that stop making things worse.

President Obama in his recent State of the Union address has said the United States will make tackling climate change a major goal of his second term.  In fact, a sizeable majority of Americans want the President to take action on climate.  To fight climate change, we need to be taking measures that reduce climate pollution that brings dangerous and costly extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy. Building Keystone XL which helps to expand the tar sands industry takes the U.S. in the wrong direction. It is not in our best interest to expanding America’s dependency on tar sands which undermines our efforts to move to clean energy. 

The review also failed to recognize the dangerous nature of tar sands spills.  This isn’t an ordinary oil pipeline.  The Keystone XL pipeline will carry tar sands, a uniquely corrosive and acidic mixture, more risky than most of the pipelines across the country.    Tar sands spills are difficult to impossible to clean up.  After more than two years and nearly a billion dollars in cleanup cost, officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have found that nearly 40 miles of the Kalamazoo river is still contaminated by submerged tar sands.

The State Department’s environmental review of the pipeline safety risk of Keystone XL now recognizes the unique risks associated with diluted bitumen tar sands spills and  that spill responders have yet to develop methods to address those risks.   But despite recognizing those risks, the environmental review did not find the pipeline would have a significant impact on the environment.  Additionally, the review did not adequately consider the demonstrated higher risk of pipeline failure due to external corrosion in high temperature pipelines like Keystone XL.

The environmental review also failed to take into account TransCanada’s poor operating record. TransCanada is currently under a sweeping audit for systematic violations of minimum safety regulations in the construction of its pipelines.  The two pipelines TransCanada constructed in the United States in recent years have been plagued with problems. The first Keystone pipeline, already operating, has spilled 14 times and had to be shut down twice due to safety concerns and another one of its pipeline exploded. 

Finally, the environmental review document fails to acknowledge that Keystone XL is an export pipeline going through the United States for the delivery of oil to Gulf Coast refineries that are shipping most of their oil for export.  Keystone XL is designed to export tar sands out of United States.  What the tar sands industry doesn’t want Americans to know is that Keystone XL will not bring additional oil into the United States. Industry has made it clear that Keystone XL is a part of a larger plan to send tar sands oil offshore. Unfortunately the State Department’s analysis did not consider this reality.

If the Obama Administration considers all the environmental issues associated with the pipeline including the climate impacts the risks that tar sands pipelines pose to the land and water they traverse, it will be clear that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline should be rejected as not in the national interest.  The State Department under the new leadership of Secretary John Kerry can rectify these major flaws and there will certainly be a major response from the millions of people from across the country to revisit these fundamental issues. Once all of the evidence is taken into account, it will be clear to the Obama administration that Keystone XL is bad for the climate, bad for protecting water, bad for promoting U.S. energy security, and not in America’s national interest.


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Louisette LanteigneMar 1 2013 10:28 PM

The report calls it a type of crude oil but technically you can't call it oil if it isn't extracted at NORMAL temperatures. Also, the report fails to recognize that the pipe is being used as a buik water export! At the refineries in Texas or China, where there has been drought, the water is extracted during the refining process and reused in refineries or possibly for fracking. I have yet to see how much water Canada is sending with this product or how that water will be handled after the fact.

Deborah J BernsteinMar 2 2013 01:10 PM

In view of the fact that we are seriously running out of time on climate change, approval of the Keystone pipeline would be a dangerous set back for climate change mitigation. It is by no means certain that the petroleum from the tar sands would be exploited in any case. The western route to the sea has encountered major resistance and we, in New England, have sent "a shot over the bows" of Exxon Mobil to let them know that, should they decide to go east, we will fight them with all the non-violent means at our disposal. The tar sands companies are taking pipeline resistance very seriously (see
There are already pipelin actions and demonstrations being planned. Others will undoubtedly be inspired by the new report. the NRDC (and other mainstream environmental organizations) should give full-throated support to these events. While a majority of Americans think that we should act on climate change, until they loudly demand action on climate change, it will not happen. Activism can mobilize the wider public. We need a movement, not just people who agree with us. Help us get there.

arid ericsonMar 11 2013 07:48 PM

kill the pipeline (n.f.g.)

Michael KamenMar 11 2013 08:12 PM

I need information: Are taxpayer dollars going into the pipeline, or will there be a net gain in tax revenue from building it? Is it possible that big oil will develop the tar sands with or without the pipeline, but they are waiting for it since it is the most efficient distribution method for them? In other words, if the pipeline is not deployed they will invest in whatever other transport methods are available to them, possibly with greater net impact to the environment by burning fossil fuels to do the transport?

If so, blocking the pipeline seems like misguided zeal, well intended but short sighted. Would this effort be more impactful if channeled into positively encouraging development of alternative energy?

Alice McKennaMar 12 2013 10:23 AM

I am opposed to the Keystone Pipeline. Our fragile environment can not be further compromised.

dennis bakerMar 12 2013 11:30 AM

In my opinion

We need to replace the fossil fuel power plants, the primary source of GHG. Now!

At a scale required to accomplish this task :

Ethanol starves people : not a viable option.

Fracking releases methane : not a viable option.

Cellulose Bio Fuel Uses Food Land : not a viable option

Solar uses food land : Not a viable option

Wind is Intermittent : Not a viable option

All Human and Agricultural Organic Waste can be converted to hydrogen, through exposure intense radiation!

The Radioactive Materials exist now, and the Organic waste is renewable daily.

Ending the practice of dumping sewage into our water sources.

Air, Water, Food and Energy issues, receive significant positive impacts .

Reducing illness / health care costs as well !

Dennis Baker
Penticton BC V2A1P9
cell phone 250-462-3796
Phone / Fax 778-476-2633

Melanie HirisMar 12 2013 12:24 PM

A thorough impact assessment should be complete PRIOR TO DECISION(otherwise review NOT COMPLETE); one that includes potential or likely impacts to PRIMARY RESOURCES; like water which should be identified and protected #1. Cost estimates included in the impact assessments to primary resources being polluted and cost to completely reconstruct them again to an equal or more improved chemical balance at the cost of the applicant (company) PRIOR to DECISION. PART of doing business. WHY Should TAX payers PAY for Companies mistakes and faults?!! THATS JUST STUPID! By-the-way- its happening.

James SteffensMar 14 2013 01:34 PM

Where Canada was once one of the few countries on a path to significantly decrease its greenhouse gas emissions, it is now doing exactly the opposite, due solely to the process of extracting tar sands crude. The petroleum in the sand is exactly what it's called--tar--and it doesn't flow. It can only be made to flow by heating it. Vast amounts of natural gas are used to do that, which has led Canada to vastly increase that nation's emissions. Once delivered to refineries, the refining process will further increase emissions even before the final product is burned. The United States should not be an enabler of Canada's efforts to destroy the world's environment for future generations.

johanna cooperMar 14 2013 07:39 PM

We should not be adding to tha already growing threat of climate change, air pollution, water problems and emissions. please, please say no to XL pipeline. The world will thank you

Janet BroughtonMar 15 2013 09:26 AM

I am oopposed to the Keystone Pipeline. There are too many known risks to the environment that are not being seriously evaluated. Please use our resources wisely.

Dan LassleyMar 18 2013 01:20 PM

If we are going to stop importing oil from other nations and become more self sufficient then we need to keep devoloping our own sources. You cannot stop trains, buses, trucks, ships, airplanes, etc. from running on oil. We need it. And we need time to develop alternatives but we cannot just halt oil usage. If you really want to stop the "carbon footprint" then we really need to stop the population explosion.

Elizabeth WhiteApr 20 2013 08:31 PM

It is evident to me that the building of the pipeline for tar sands would be an environmental disaster. the President and State Department must not let this happen.
Oil companies have no sense of responsibility for the environment and are known for every kind of underhanded tactic to pressure and misinform the government and citizens.

Rhonda Warmack HoustonMay 29 2013 06:17 PM

I reside in Texas and can't believe what I'm hearing, although no permit has yet been given by the President. Through the use of the law 'eminent domain' the government can be used by Canada via a Texas judge to take away property of two Americans' land whose land was need to transverse the pipeline. This is outrageous and arrogance use of a law against Americans.

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