NTSB Recommendations On San Bruno Put Pressure On Congress, Administration; Keystone XL Decision Coming

October 2011, Vol. 66 No. 10

The NTSB investigation also determined that a sewer line installation in 2008 near the rupture did not damage the defective pipe. Nonetheless, the House Transportation bill requires PHMSA to conduct a study of third-party excavation damage, a provision missing from the Senate bill. Both bills eliminate current exemptions for local government civil works arms from state "one-call" notification systems.

National Interest Determination On Keystone XL Upcoming
The U.S. State Department held hearings in Montana, Nebraska, Kansas and Texas in late September as the last step before deciding whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. That is the controversial 1,661-mile tar sands pipeline TransCanada wants to build in stages from Hardisty in Alberta to Houston and Port Arthur, TX, in the Gulf region. Environmentalists have opposed it because of concerns about the way tar sands are produced, their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and potential groundwater contamination in the Ogallalla aquifer in Nebraska.

But the State Department's final environmental impact statement (EIS) issued on Aug. 26 said the proposed route would have "limited environmental impacts" and was better than any of the 14 alternative routes the department looked at.

When she announced the environmental approval, Kerri-Ann Jones of State's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, noted TransCanada has agreed to take a number of steps to lessen environmental damage along the pipeline's route. More importantly, she pointed out that before State would make a "national interest determination," which is the final regulatory approval step, State will "look at other topics, including economic impacts, energy security questions and foreign policy concerns."

Given Keystone XL's assumed contribution to U.S. jobs and energy independence, its final approval by the Obama administration seems a foregone conclusion. However, Jones was unable to comment on whether any state had the authority to stop the pipeline within its border. "I mean, the states – that’s in the states’ court to decide about that. And their future actions, I really can’t comment on that," she said.