EPA Criticizes State Department Keystone XL Draft EIS

June 2013, Vol. 68, No. 6

The EPA says it has some fairly significant problems with the State Department's draft environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL Pipeline. The State Department draft supplemental EIS (DSEIS) was based on assessment of a new alternative route proposed by TransCanada.

That route now avoids the environmentally-delicate Sand Hills region of Nebraska but does still pass through the Ogallala Aquifer, which critics claim could be badly fouled in the event of a pipeline spill. The EPA wants the State Department to take a closer look at alternative routes which parallel the existing Keystone Pipeline.

The letter from Cynthia Giles, assistant EPA administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance at the EPA, on April 22 to the two state department officials running the EIS, says the State Department strengthened past analyses but that three areas in the draft EIS needed work. The State Department's central thesis in the DSEIS is the Canadian tar sands would be carried to the U.S. by railroad if not by pipeline, and therefore no greenhouse gas emissions would be achieved by scuttling the XL project. The EPA questioned the accuracy of that conclusion and said the draft SEIS needed "a more careful review of the market analysis and rail transportation options."

The EPA also underlined the potential environmental dangers to public health and safety from a pipeline spill, differentiating between an oil spill and a diluted bitumen spill such as the Enbridge oil pipeline spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2010. The diluted bitumen, called dilbit, sank to the river bottom and mixed with the soil there. The river has not come clean in the last three years. The EPA said dredging the river is now required.

Lastly, the EPA argued that the DSEIS did not contain a detailed analysis of Keystone Corridor Alternative routes, which would parallel the existing Keystone pipeline and would "likely reduce further impacts to groundwater resources."

The State Department, which has the final say on Keystone XL approval, has already said the risks of an environmental disaster along the latest route are minimal, especially given the extra safety steps TransCanada has committed to take. State is probably leaning even more towards approval after a vote of 62-37 by the U.S. Senate in late March in support of the project.

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