Here we go again: TransCanada applies again for Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

TransCanada is back at it again.  They have re-applied to the U.S. State Department for a Presidential Permit to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline but this time for an approximately 1200-mile segment that will take tar sands from Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska.  What was true in January when President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline is still true today.  The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline still introduces significant risk of a tar sands oil spill to America’s heartland, is designed to export tar sands out of United States, and will increase gas prices.  The Obama administration should reject this pipeline soundly because it is clearly not in America’s national interest.  But since the Canadian company TransCanada has offered up a new application it is imperative that the State Department take a completely fresh look at this project, including the impact on climate change, which got short shrift in the go-round on the previous proposal.

In its announcement on Friday, the State Department said it would conduct a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.  What this means is that the State Department intends to rely on the environmental impact statement (EIS) that was issued by the State Department for the original pipeline scheme in August 2011.  The problem is that the environmental analysis conducted by the State Department 10 months ago was sorely deficient in a number of respects.  The detailed studies needed to fully demonstrate the need for and evaluate risks of this tar sands  pipeline have not been completed.  In fact, the EIS conducted by the State Department in 2011 points more to how the pipeline will cause increased air pollution, greater greenhouse gas emissions and a higher potential for oil spills threatening drinking water resources.  Ultimately, completing a Supplemental EIS for the newest application doesn’t make a lot of sense when the original effort was so deficient.

Here are just a few reasons why we need a completely new environmental review for this project.

Tar sands pipelines pose much greater safety risks risks than conventional oil pipelines.  This is especially critical given there were 12 leaks in the first 12 months from TransCanada’s first Keystone tar sands pipeline. The Keystone XL pipeline will carry tar sands, a uniquely corrosive and acidic mixture, more risky than most of the pipelines across the country.   This blend of tar sands bitumen makes pipes more susceptible to corrosion, bringing a higher chance of oil spills that are more difficult to clean up once they happen. In fact, the largest tar sands spill in U.S. history near Marshall, Michigan is still being cleaned up almost two years after the spill because tar sands is a much more difficult substance to clean up than conventional oil.   Between 2007 and 2010, pipelines transporting tar sands oil in the northern Midwest have spilled three times more per mile than the U.S. national average for conventional crude.

There is no need for this pipeline which is being built to export tar sands oil outside the United States.   What the tar sands industry doesn’t want Americans to know is that Keystone XL will not bring additional oil into the United States. Keystone XL is an export pipeline through the United States, not to it.   Existing crude pipelines from Canada are half empty right now meaning another tar sands pipeline isn’t needed. Even if Canadian tar sands oil production increases at the highly aggressive pace that its oil industry predicts—reaching 3.7 million bpd by 2025—it would take more than 15 years to fill the existing pipelines to the United States. The real story is Keystone XL would skip over refineries and U.S. consumers in the Midwest, allowing tar sands producers to send Canadian crude to Gulf Coast refineries from where it can be exported anywhere in the world.

Building this tar sands pipeline would hinder progress to combating global warming.  According to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, building Keystone XL would be the equivalent of adding at least 4 million new cars to the road.  The EPA estimates that Keystone XL will increase carbon pollution by the equivalent of several coal-fired power plants operating continuously.  Keystone XL would expand dirty tar sands mining practices and lure  the U.S. into a long-term commitment to an energy infrastructure that relies on extra-dirty oil.  For example, building Keystone XL would wipe out the benefits of new standards that would have cut greenhouse gas emissions from medium to heavy duty trucks announced by the Obama administration.

Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will increase U.S. gas prices.  This is one of the most misunderstood issues surrounding the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  A recent NRDC study finds that Keystone XL is likely to both reduce the amount of gasoline produced in U.S. refineries for domestic markets and increase the cost of producing it, leading to even higher prices at the pump.  Because the Keystone XL pipeline will divert crude oil from the Midwest, it will reduce the amount of gasoline available to U.S. consumer by about 1.2 billion gallons a year.  The State Department should look at this issue in depth as part of its determination whether the pipeline is in the national interest, a requirement for permitting.

These are just a few issues that deserve a completely fresh and in depth review by the State Department.  And there are many more.  Fully understanding the risks of the pipeline to our water supply and climate, how the pipeline undermines our energy security, and the impact to gas prices are nothing to gloss over.   The agency will be conducting a scoping period over the next six weeks soliciting comments through July 30 on what issues they should evaluate.   NRDC and many other organizations will be asking the State Department to set up a process that is thorough, comprehensive, and fully engages the public.  The evidence continues to mount that this pipeline isn’t in the national interest and the State Department must look closely at all of the issues.