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EPA Rates Environmental Review for Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline as "Insufficient," Environmentally Objectionable

Elizabeth Shope

Posted April 22, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming

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Today, the Environmental Protection Agency released its comments on the deficient environmental review for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that the State Department published on March 1, 2013. EPA rates the environmental impact statement with a 2 – meaning “insufficient” – and rates the environmental impact of Keystone XL as “EO” for “environmental objections.” EPA expresses serious concerns about the State Department’s markets analysis – which State uses to claim that there would be no significant effect on greenhouse gas emissions. EPA also writes that the differences in tar sands diluted bitumen spills and conventional oil spills should be more fully addressed, and that they are “concerned… that the DSEIS does not provide a detailed analysis of the Keystone Corridor Alternative routes.” These findings by EPA help confirm what we have been saying all along: the environmental review by the State Department is inadequate, and a proper environmental review for the risky Keystone XL tar sands pipeline showing the full risks to our land, air, water and climate from extracting, transporting and refining up to 830,000 barrels per day of dirty tar sands oil from Canada is not in our national interest.

EPA writes, “Although the DSEIS describes the GHG intensity of oil sands crude, the DSEIS nevertheless concludes that regardless of whether the Project permit is approved, projected oil sands production will remain substantially unchanged.” It goes on to criticize the assumptions that the DSEIS relies on to come to this conclusion. Specifically, EPA commends the DSEIS for acknowledging that there is uncertainty about if other pipelines will be built, but notes that State’s markets analysis is “not based on an updated energy-economic modeling effort” and writes that State should “provide a more careful review of the market analysis and rail transport options. This analysis should include further investigation of rail capacity and costs, recognizing the potential for much higher per barrel shipment costs than presented in the DSEIS.” This is one of the key flaws of the Keystone XL environmental review. In fact, a critical investigative piece in Reuters was published just last week debunking the argument that rail could serve as a substitute for Keystone XL – and all the climate emissions associated with it – if Keystone XL is rejected. As my colleague Anthony Swift wrote about the Reuters piece, “Keystone XL is the primary driver to expand tar sands production in Canada and the U.S. State Department must consider how building this pipeline will lead to a substantial increase in US climate emissions.”

Regarding pipeline safety, EPA writes that following the rupture of Enbridge’s pipeline in Marshall, Michigan:

[O]il sands crude sank to the bottom of the Kalamazoo River, mixing with the river bottom's sediment and organic matter, making the oil difficult to find and recover. After almost three years of recovery efforts, EPA recently determined that dredging of bottom sediments will be required to protect public health and welfare and the environment. This determination was based in large part on demonstrations that the oil sands crude associated with the Enbridge spill will not appreciably biodegrade. We recommend that the Final EIS more clearly acknowledge that in the event of a spill to water, it is possible that large portions of dilbit will sink and that submerged oil significantly changes spill response and impacts.

EPA’s comments also request that the State Department address the additional risks that tar sands releases pose to public health – such as high levels of benzene in the air that could require evacuation as was required following the Kalamazoo spill. Tar sands pipelines are riskier than conventional oil pipelines, and we are unfortunately seeing the damage that can be done yet again as the Pegasus Pipeline ruptured and sent a river of tar sands crude flowing through people’s yards in Mayflower, Arkansas.

In addition to the serious concerns of EPA, concerned citizens have sent more than one million comments opposing Keystone XL and asking for better environmental review to President Obama and Secretary Kerry since the publication of the draft environmental review in March. It’s time for the State Department to do a thorough analysis of the environmental risks of Keystone XL, showing that Keystone XL is not in the national interest. 

Ruptured Enbridge Pipeline from Kalamazoo Spill credit NTSB.JPGRuptured Enbridge Pipeline from Kalamazoo Spill, credit: NTSB.

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Comments

J BrooksApr 22 2013 07:57 PM

I certainly hope this article is true because it gives me a little bit of hope that the EPA is becoming enlightened and actually might be beginning to "work for the people".

George TrembathApr 28 2013 04:50 AM

As with pretty much all articles on this topic, there are some glaring omissions that, were they included, would provide foundations for a much more comprehensive and ultimately more effective discussion. Those omissions involve practical, social and cultural aspects of our oil addiction and include;

1. Accepting tar-sands oil as a long term energy source detracts from the momentum of change to renewables;
2. Choking down fossil fuel supply, as rejection of KXL and tar-sands oil would represent, maintains pressure on the end consumer to focus on energy efficiency.
3. Given that the majority of fossil fuels must be left in the ground to avoid triggering unmanageable global warming, it is more sensible to draw our remaining budget from the least environmentally damaging sources.
4. And it doesn't hurt to point out to the consumer that the commercial market pressure to bring KXL on line is driven by the profitability that arises from growing consumption. Reduce oil consumption - reduce the commercial attraction of KXL.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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