Another flawed environmental review on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

A draft environmental review just released by the U.S. State Department for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline ignores mounting evidence the pipeline is not in the national interest.  NRDC has completed a preliminary review of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and concludes that the State Department failed to account for the pipeline’s impact to water and climate.  There is now significant evidence the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would help trigger a major expansion to tar sands development leading to a sizeable increase in greenhouse gas emissions. And we know that a spill of tar sands oil from Keystone XL would pose much greater risks to precious waterways across America’s heartland.   Despite this evidence, the State Department found there would be no significant impact to the environment if the pipeline were approved.  We disagree.  President Obama should reject this draft environmental review and tell the State Department to re-examine the evidence that shows the pipeline isn’t good for the climate, or water protection, or energy security.

In this latest review, the State Department’s ignored  evidence that the pipeline would lead to a significant increase in carbon pollution that would be equivalent to adding 6 million new cars on the road.  And that doesn’t even account for additional carbon emissions that weren’t accounted for by the State Department from petroleum coke which would increase the climate impacts from Keystone XL by another 13 percent. 

Keystone XL would help to expand the dirtiest fuel on the planet because it is a fundamental element in the oil industry’s plan to triple production of tar sands oil from 2 to 6 million barrels per day by 2030, and in the longer term to hike production to more than 9 million bpd. Keystone XL would enable a significant amount of tar sands expansion that otherwise would not occur.  In other words, if we are serious about fighting climate change then you need to take actions that stop making things worse.

President Obama in his recent State of the Union address has said the United States will make tackling climate change a major goal of his second term.  In fact, a sizeable majority of Americans want the President to take action on climate.  To fight climate change, we need to be taking measures that reduce climate pollution that brings dangerous and costly extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy. Building Keystone XL which helps to expand the tar sands industry takes the U.S. in the wrong direction. It is not in our best interest to expanding America’s dependency on tar sands which undermines our efforts to move to clean energy. 

The review also failed to recognize the dangerous nature of tar sands spills.  This isn’t an ordinary oil 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.    Tar sands spills are difficult to impossible to clean up.  After more than two years and nearly a billion dollars in cleanup cost, officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have found that nearly 40 miles of the Kalamazoo river is still contaminated by submerged tar sands.

The State Department’s environmental review of the pipeline safety risk of Keystone XL now recognizes the unique risks associated with diluted bitumen tar sands spills and  that spill responders have yet to develop methods to address those risks.   But despite recognizing those risks, the environmental review did not find the pipeline would have a significant impact on the environment.  Additionally, the review did not adequately consider the demonstrated higher risk of pipeline failure due to external corrosion in high temperature pipelines like Keystone XL.

The environmental review also failed to take into account TransCanada’s poor operating record. TransCanada is currently under a sweeping audit for systematic violations of minimum safety regulations in the construction of its pipelines.  The two pipelines TransCanada constructed in the United States in recent years have been plagued with problems. The first Keystone pipeline, already operating, has spilled 14 times and had to be shut down twice due to safety concerns and another one of its pipeline exploded. 

Finally, the environmental review document fails to acknowledge that Keystone XL is an export pipeline going through the United States for the delivery of oil to Gulf Coast refineries that are shipping most of their oil for export.  Keystone XL is designed to export tar sands out of 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. Industry has made it clear that Keystone XL is a part of a larger plan to send tar sands oil offshore. Unfortunately the State Department’s analysis did not consider this reality.

If the Obama Administration considers all the environmental issues associated with the pipeline including the climate impacts the risks that tar sands pipelines pose to the land and water they traverse, it will be clear that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline should be rejected as not in the national interest.  The State Department under the new leadership of Secretary John Kerry can rectify these major flaws and there will certainly be a major response from the millions of people from across the country to revisit these fundamental issues. Once all of the evidence is taken into account, it will be clear to the Obama administration that Keystone XL is bad for the climate, bad for protecting water, bad for promoting U.S. energy security, and not in America’s national interest.

About the Authors

Danielle Droitsch

Senior Policy Analyst, Canada Project

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