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U.S. will do new studies on Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

Keystone pipeline map NRDC The U.S. State Department will require additional environmental studies before granting a permit for the 1,660-mile Keystone XL pipeline, proposed to carry oil from the tar sands of northern Canada through the U.S. heartland and on to south Texas.

In an announcement Tuesday, department officials said they would open a new round of public comments on a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, to be released in mid-April, with a decision on whether to grant a permit for the controversial pipeline now expected by the end of the year.

Pipeline opponents have long called for new environmental reviews, looking especially at the ability of a standard oil pipeline to safely carry the diluted bitumen found in the tar sands of northern Alberta.

A study last month by three of the nation's biggest environmental organizations and the Pipeline Safety Trust warned of a higher risk of corrosion-related spills linked to higher levels of abrasives, temperature and acidity in tar sands oil -- claims that TransCanada, the pipeline builder, has rebutted. Download Keystone XL Fact Sheet TransCanada

Ranchers in Nebraska and surrounding states are also calling on the State Department to look at the possibility of a new pipeline route that would avoid a sandy, vulnerable area above the Ogallala Aquifer, a key source of farmland irrigation and drinking water that underlies eight states in the Great Plains.

Now that the State Department has announced the new studies, opponents are worried whether the  month before release of the new draft EIS will be enough to do them right.

"I hope this is not a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement in name only. To do this job right, the State Department must analyze the air pollution and oil spills that can be expected from this pipeline, as well as explore alternative routes that avoid the Ogallala Aquifer. If they don’t, they will have a lot of angry ranchers to deal with," said Alex Moore, dirty fuels campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

Moore said a spill last July of tar sands oil from a pipeline on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan provided evidence of the difficulty of cleaning up the thick, heavy material, especially in water. "The lesson we learned in the Kalamazoo River is that even six months later, they're nowhere near close to completing cleanup of that oil spill," he said.

Officials at TransCanada have insisted that similar oil has long been safely transported to U.S. markets.

"This oil product has been shipped into the U.S. for decades," TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said. "It's very similar in its chemical properties to some of the heavier crudes being moved around the U.S. on a daily basis."

Contrary to the study prepared by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups, he said, "the continued claims about this being some kind of highly corrosive product just aren't true."

"We're prepared to invest $13 billion in a pipeline to carry oil from Canadian and American oil fields, and these groups continue to claim that we're going to put something in it that will destroy and eat away at the pipeline? Does that make sense from a business standpoint?"

He said about a quarter of Keystone XL's oil would be domestic U.S. production of lighter conventional crude from oil fields in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.

Howard said demands for rerouting the pipeline around parts of the Ogallala Aquifer fail to consider that "hundreds" of pipelines already cross above the underground waterway. Restudying the route now, he added, would mean forfeiting a large amount of money the company has spent for easements on the present proposed right-of-way and ultimately lead to new environmental problems by making the pipeline longer.

The Texas-based Consumer Energy Alliance, a group which promotes greater domestic energy security, questioned the need for more environmental reviews, saying the pipeline has already been thoroughly studied. "It’s good that we can finally see the goal posts, but at the same time it’s frustrating that they have been moved again," spokesman Michael Whatley said.

In addition to looking at corrosion and routing issues, the State Department should be examining the impact of boosting reliance on tar sands oil, the production of which results in the emission of a much larger proportion of greenhouse gases than conventional oil, along with the impact of the pipeline on air pollution in Gulf Coast refining communities, said Liz Barratt-Brown, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"We think that an honest review will show that the Keystone XL pipeline is not needed and is too risky to permit,”  she said.

The State Department in its announcement said the public would have an additional 45 days to comment on the new Supplemental EIS. The department will hold a public meeting in Washington, D.C., before making a final decision, required before any pipeline can cross into the U.S. from a foreign country.

-- Kim Murphy

Map: Route of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, in dotted yellow. Red line shows existing Keystone pipeline. Credit: Natural Resources Defense Council

Related: One oil pipeline too many for Texas?


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The fact that there have been recent oil pipeline leaks, and the fact that PHMSA failed to peform an industry wide investigation on pipelines that may have received defective pipe made in India by the Welspun company, including the Enbridge pipeline and the TransCanada Keystone pipeliine, and the fact that PHMSA failed to test the pipe used on the TransCanada Keystone pipeline are important reasons for the denial of the Presidential Permit for the TransCanada XL Pipeline. The steel and pipe that TransCanada is planning on using for the XL Pipeline is from China which only has 75% the strength of US Steel, and that even though TransCanada has backed off on their request to pump at higher pressures than allowed by PHMSA, TransCanada still insists on their request to waiver the PHMSA requirement regarding pipeline thickness so they can use thinner pipe than the law allows. It is insane to risk the Ogallala Aqiufer to a company that uses weak and or defective steel pipe made in a foreign country which is not tested by the PHMSA. Those that are in favor of the pipeline because of the few temporary jobs that will be created are not insisting that the pipeline be made out of strong US steel made in the United States and tested by the PHMSA which obviously would create a significant number of jobs and make us all feel a bit more secure. Deny the Presidential Permit for the XL Pipeline. This is not a "knee jerk" reaction. It is a reaction from what we have learned from TransCanada when they built the first Keystone pipeline. We took photos of the pipe before TransCanada buried the Keystone pipeline on our farm, and indeed, the name "Welspun" is on the pipe. Still, TransCanada continues to advertise that they will build the safest pipeline ever in the history of the United States, and that the pipeline is good for Nebraska, and good for the United States. Deny the Presidential Permit for the XL Pipeline. TransCanada has been bullying landowners into easement agreements threatening eminent domain before the Presidential Permit has been determined. The oil in the Keystone XL pipeline is headed for China. The Keystone XL pipeline is not needed--the first Keystone pipeline is running half full.

Other examples of conventional concern:

Where are the Canadians going to pump all that dirty water to 'get at' the tar in the mining operation?

Unlike natural gas, which is mostly hydrogen; tar is nearly pure liquid carbon; so the main combustion product is CO2.

The massive energy inputs required by the tar mining-refining-transportation operations must come from somewhere. Is that somewhere from burning tar, hydroelectric or nuclear reactors? Only the last option would improve the project energy balance to anything remotely like 'feasible'.

Just curious, have you guys ever considered the conventional concerns with this 'tar baby' project versus conventional O&G

For example,

The extremely LOW energy yield of tar

The uncompetitive cost of mining and refining tar sands

US federal loans & guaranties for the project

Negative economic impact on US refineries, O&G producers and consumers from 'take or pay' tarbaby terms and conditions

Just curious...

What could possibly go wrong???!!!

We best be keeping and using all the natural resources on this continent rather then letting them go to China, Japan or elsewhere. An oil spill cannot compare to the nuclear mess Japan has. Remember Three Mile Island and Chernobyl?? It don't take an earthquake for a nuclear spill though California could have one any time. America's nuclear facilities are all getting some age on them and something unsuspected can happen any day.

So here comes Keystone XL and you all shout 'Down with the oil sands!' Then the BP spill in the Gulf Coast 'Down with offshore drilling!' Then the political unrest in Libya making the cost of fuel sky rocket 'Down with foreign oil!'

The only thing I'm not hearing, which is the only thing that will make a difference, is 'Down with excessive consumption!'

As Leptoquark points out, the bigger issue is the scale and pace of the tar sands developments. The data now supports those who fear that the carbon released by the heavy oil projects may take the planet's climate past the tipping point. And the massive destruction of the landscape - the boreal forest, the habitat for endangered animals, the water - is viewed by many as an environmental crime. That's why many First Nations are fighting against the tar sands. The Beaver Lake Cree Nation has launched a massive legal action against the Canadian and Alberta governments to both protect their homeland and traditional way of life, and to prevent the unmitigated expansion of the climate-destroying tar sands developments. The law is clearly on their side in Canada - the only barrier to justice is the high cost of the Canadian legal system. That's why groups like RAVEN ( have taken up their cause to help with raising awareness and funds... because the time to act on this is now while there is still something left to save.

For me, the pipeline isn't really the issue. The issue is should we be using tar sands crude at all? The pipeline is just the messenger. I'm more concerned about the message.

If the US starts massively using tar sands crude, the huge carbon emissions involved in making the stuff will be just as much our fault as the Canadians fault.


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