« To Thine Own Self Be True: The President, the Pipeline, and the Principle | Main | New Solar Farm Shows Clean Energy Can Be Compatible with Conservation Values »

April 26, 2013

EPA Issues Blow to State Department's Review of Keystone XL


By Lena Moffitt, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Representative

On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a sharp blow to the State Department's review of the Keystone XL pipeline, undermining State's claim that the pipeline would have little environmental impact.[1] Of particular note was the EPA's critique of State's assumption that the tar sands will be developed regardless of Keystone XL, and shirking the responsibility to consider the significant greenhouse gas emissions generated by tar sands mining. The EPA challenged State Department's assertion that an alternative mode of transporting tar sands to market would materialize if Keystone XL were to go away. They note that State's analysis was "not based on an updated energy-economic modeling effort" and that a "more careful review is needed."[2]

EPA specifically instructs the State Department to consider the fact that rail transport is significantly more expensive than pipelines -- a fact that undermines the viability for rail to serve as an easy alternative to pipelines.[3] EPA also points out the uncertainty of the other major pipeline proposals in Canada, which have been consistently, vehemently, and successfully opposed by First Nations groups and environmental organizations in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec. The State Department's job now is to listen to the EPA and include a more "careful" analysis of just how important Keystone is to expanding this polluting industry, and include a full accounting of the pollution that would come with this growing industry.

In addition to the pipeline's role in expanded tar sands mining, the EPA identified several other areas where State needs to take a second look. In fact, they said they have identified "significant environmental impacts that must be avoided… to provide adequate protection for the environment," and that the draft SEIS "does not contain sufficient information to fully assess environmental impacts."  To craft a more robust picture of what this pipeline would mean for our planet, the EPA issued a series of recommendations, in several categories:

Greenhouse gas emissions

1. Include an economic assessment of the impacts of the 935 million metric tons of carbon pollution Keystone XL would add to our atmosphere. Note - while this is a big number, it's likely an underestimate, and only captures the incremental carbon pollution that would be generated by replacing 830,000 barrels a day of conventional crude with tar sands, using State Department's own assessment that tar sands are 17% more carbon-intensive on a lifecycle basis. Studies have shown that tar sands may be 37% more carbon-intensive, on a lifecycle basis, than conventional crude,[4] and potentially even more, if you count the burning of the pet-coke produced as a by-product of the refining process.[5]

2. Include a "more careful review" of the market analysis and rail transport options. State should "recognize the potential for much higher per barrel rail shipment costs than presented in the DSEIS."

3.Explore specific ways the US can work with Canada to reduce GHG emissions associated with the production of tar sands crude, including a join focus on carbon capture and storage and energy efficiency.

4. Explore specific commitments TransCanada could make to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the construction and operation of the pipeline, particularly from the electricity needed to power the pumping stations.

5. EPA recommends focusing on pumping station energy efficiency and use of renewable energy, as well investment in other carbon mitigation options.

Pipeline safety

6. More fully address the differences between conventional oil and diluted bitumen, especially as they relate to spills and cleanup.

7. More clearly acknowledge that bitumen sinks, and in the event of a spill into water, unique cleanup technologies and resources will likely be needed.

8. Include means to address the additional risks posed by spills of diluted bitumen, which may be greater than risks posed by conventional oil spills. These risks include public health threats from high levels of airborne carcinogens.

9. Publish the 3rd party review (by an independent engineer) of TransCanada's risk assessment on the potential impacts of a tar sands spills into water, as well as the the 3rd party review of TransCanada's proposal for leak detection equipment installations.  This should include an opportunity for the public to comment on both the scope of the analysis and the draft of the analysis.

10. Consider requiring TransCanada to establish a network monitoring wells along the length of the pipeline, to provide a practical means for early detection of leaks.

Including the following permit conditions:
    - Require the emergency response plan to addressed submerged oil, including in cold weather;
    - Require pre-position clean-up technology that can address sunken oil;
   -  Require spill drills and exercises;
    - Require the emergency response and oil spill response plans be reviewed by EPA.

More clearly recognize that dissolved components of dilbit, including carcinogens like benzene and heavy metals, could be slowly released back into the water column for years following a spill into water, causing long-term chronic toxicological impacts to organisms in the area, an impact that is different from a spill of conventional crude or refined product.

13. Require TransCanada, as a permit condition, to develop a plan for long term monitoring/sampling in the event of a spill, to asses and monitor these impacts in the water column.

14. Require TransCanada, as a permit condition, to provide detailed information on the content of the diluent (the material they mix the heavy bitumen with) and the source of each batch of crude sent through the line, to support response preparations.

Alternative Pipeline Routes

15. Provide more detailed information as to why alternative routes were not considered reasonable, particularly the I-90 corridor route that would avoid the Ogalalla aquifer, or analyze these routes in more detail as viable options.

Community and Environmental Justice Impacts

16.Include as permit conditions TransCanada's commitment to conduct cleanup and restoration and to provide alternative water supplies to affected communities in the event of an oil spill (affecting surface or ground water).

EPA gave the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) a negative rating of "Environmental Objections - Insufficient Information." This means that the State Department is now on the hook to provide EPA with the additional information they have requested. But complicated federal procedure aside, Secretary Kerry must know that the EPA wouldn't raise these concerns, wouldn't challenge a sister agency, and wouldn't issue a failing grade if it didn't see major flaws in the environmental review.  Secretary Kerry and his staff at the State Department need to take this failing grade to heart and finally conduct a thorough, unbiased assessment of this proposed pipeline. And once they do, we know it will have to be rejected. Greenlighting the expansion of the most carbon-intensive fuel on earth, via a pipeline that will threaten our most important aquifer and drinking water or millions of Americans, all so that Big Oil can export their extreme oil? That simply isn't in our national interest. Thank you, EPA, for once again standing on the side of public health and the environment. And this time, thank you in advance, Secretary John Kerry and US State Department, for heeding EPA's wisdom and experience.


[1] US EPA comments to Keystone XL draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement

[2] Ibid., p.3

[3] On the Wrong Track: Rail is not an alternative to the Keystone XL pipeline, Natural Resources Defense Council

[4] Setting the Record Straight: Lifestyle Emissions of Tar Sands, Natural Resources Defense Council

[5] Petroleum Coke: the coal hiding in the tar sands, Oil Change International


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference EPA Issues Blow to State Department's Review of Keystone XL:

User comments or postings reflect the opinions of the responsible contributor only, and do not reflect the viewpoint of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club does not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of any posting. The Sierra Club accepts no obligation to review every posting, but reserves the right (but not the obligation) to delete postings that may be considered offensive, illegal or inappropriate.

Up to Top

Find us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Rss Feed

Sierra Club Main | Contact Us | Terms and Conditions of Use | Privacy Policy/Your California Privacy Rights | Website Help

Sierra Club® and "Explore, enjoy and protect the planet"® are registered trademarks of the Sierra Club. © 2013 Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club Seal is a registered copyright, service mark, and trademark of the Sierra Club.