On Earth Day EPA sends its objections to Keystone XL environmental impact statement (and more)

EPA Continues its Critique of State Department analysis of controversial pipeline from the Alberta tar sands-

A million objections were sent to the State Department’s Draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement analysis (SEIS) of the environmental effects of the Keystone XL pipeline. Perhaps it was portentous that the due date for comments about the SEIS was Earth Day.  Aside from the million or so objections, the most important political fact was that the EPA weighed in (again) with objections to the State Department’s analysis. The EPA has objected to State’s preliminary analyses twice before, explaining why this is a supplementary statement.

EISs formally come in two stages, a draft EIS and a final EIS several months to even years later. The draft EIS is preceded by preliminary analysis called Environmental Assessment or EA.  Complex and controversial projects often go through multiple drafts and supplements to drafts, or even to final EISs. The current document is a draft supplementary statement.

EIS findings are a procedural requirement only. If the analysis done is “adequate,” even a project whose EIS says will have a terrible impact cannot be stopped by the document alone, only by the political furor that might be raised by it.

The State Department is writing the EISs and maybe issuing an approval or denial of the pipeline itself because it is an international project. Unlike an EIS from the U.S. Forest Service, from DOI, or Agriculture, DOE, or any other agency, the State Department also makes a “national interest determination.”  After that, State can go ahead unless the EPA objects. If EPA objects to the national interest determination, the President cannot duck. He has to make the final decision.

EPA’s criticisms

There were a number of criticisms from the EPA, but most importantly it challenged the DEIS’s contention that the carbon impact of the pipeline would actually be approximately neutral. The EIS argued that if the pipeline wasn’t built, the heavy oil like substance (bitumen) it carries would be shipped anyway, but by rail. This fragmented approach to delivering the stuff would release CO2 on top of the heavy emissions from the extraction of the bitumen from the tar sands.

You should note that the product, the intermediate fossil fuel of bitumen, is extracted by heating (with fossil fuels) the tar sands that are pit mined in  Alberta’s boreal forest.

The EPA argued that delivery by railroad was largely not feasible due to lack of rail and train capacity and the high cost. Therefore, there would be little railroad emissions of CO2 and, more importantly, little new emissions from tar sand extraction and processing.

Bitumen won’t flow on its own. It is diluted to make it flow down a pipeline. This diluted material is nicknamed “dilbit.” Spilled dilbit is much harder to clean up than the EIS says. EPA used the 2010 example of a Michigan dilbit spill that has been very difficult with final costs estimated at a billion dollars! As if to underscore, during the comment period on the DEIS an old Arkansas pipeline carrying dilbit ruptured. Although various government agencies have allowed Exxon to virtually shut down public inspection of the spill (hide), the political impact remains.

The EPA also analyzed the rapid expansion of alternative energy whose price and volume will undercut the bitumen and so making the project less feasible. State Department was also taken to task for wrongly downplaying alternative pipeline routes, although the proposed route now avoids the very sensitive Nebraska Sandhills.

Keystone XL has perhaps become the number one specific issue for the environmental movement, and if critics are right, “ground zero” for the fight to limit the Earth’s changing climates. The approval or not of the pipeline will also impact the 2014 and maybe 2016 elections and future of the parties.

Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline (symbolic, just a resolution) and adding air traffic controllers are about the only legislative measures Republicans have tried to move in this Congress.

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April. 26. Recent News.  This dilbit from the recent Exxon pipeline rupture at Sunflower, Arkansas appears to be spreading, and somehow Exxon has been able to keep a tight lid on public inspection of disaster.  The “oil” has probably entered wildlife and fish rich Lake Conway reservoir. Dilbit is so hard to clearn up because unlike real crude oil which floats, dilbit both floats and sinks.

Arkansas town in lockdown after oil spill nightmare. By Suzi Parker. Grist.
Spilled tar-sands oil could be creeping toward the Arkansas River, By Suzi Parker. Grist.

Keystone XL Spill Risk: A Reanalysis of the Environmental Impact Statement. by David Malitz. NRDC SWitchboard.
“. . . based upon reported historical industry experience, we would expect about 1.9 spill incidents per year from the 875 mile proposed pipeline, with an average total spill volume per year of 805 barrels (almost 34,000 gallons).  About 1/8 of these incidents on average (0.126) would be ‘large’ (the SEIS classified spills of 1,000 to 20,000 barrels as “large). ”







  1. Richie G. Avatar
    Richie G.

    The article was great Ralph and the oil which all news stations left or right will not tell the public that the oil is sold on the open market. Just a side note about the ranchers, as WATCHED DRAG RACING a team with Kenny Bernstein and son Brandon as the driver had a strange advertisement on the side of the dragster or rail as it is called. It had a cow and stated protect
    the homeland, what it stands for I can only guess. I think it is for the ranchers and their cattle to open graze on the wide open west ? So now they are have their hands in racing?


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan