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Native Sun News: Pipeline proposal back to the drawing board

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman. All content © Native Sun News.

WASHINGTON, DC — Calling for more public input, the Obama Administration sent TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL Pipeline proposal back to the drawing board on March 15, but it promised a decision on the permit application by the end of 2011.

The tar-sands crude-oil pipeline would run 2,000 miles from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast. It would span Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, before connecting with the Keystone I Pipeline in Kansas, then proceeding on to the Gulf of Mexico through Oklahoma and Texas.

“In order to provide interested parties and the public the maximum opportunity to comment on this important project, the department will continue to solicit public comment,” the U.S. State Department said in a written statement announcing that it must prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement before the project can move forward.

Because the Keystone XL Pipeline would cross the international border from Canada into the United States, the State Department is the lead agency in charge of preparing environmental impact statements to obtain EPA approval, as well as in issuing permits for the foreign company’s projects.

EPA’s Region 6 last year commented adversely on the original Environmental Impact Statement, classifying it as “environmentally unsatisfactory and inadequate.”

“Environmentally Unsatisfactory (EU) indicates that our review has identified adverse environmental impacts that are of sufficient magnitude that EPA believes the proposed action must not proceed as pro-posed,” the Region 6 Compliance Assurance and Enforcement Division 2010 Annual Report said.

“The topics on which EPA believes additional information and analysis is warranted include: purpose and need, potential greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutant emissions at receiving refineries, pipeline safety/spill response, potential impacts to environmental justice communities, wetlands and migratory birds,” it said.

“If [the State Department is] unable to resolve our concerns, this matter may be a candidate for referral to the Council on Environmental Quality for resolution,” it said.

Tar-sands oil, also known as crude bitumen, is a high-carbon fuel that causes more environmental destruction and health risks than conventional oil, according to scientists. Because it is solid and heavy, it must be combined with toxic chemicals in order to run through pipelines in a liquid slurry resistant to temperatures.

TransCanada President and CEO Russ Girling said the project will not increase greenhouse gases and the risk is low.

“It will be a safe, modern and leading-edge pipeline and we have provided the Department of State and other agencies with the facts regarding Keystone XL’s design, safety, operating procedures and limited environmental impact,” he stated in a news release March 15.

The declaration welcomed the State Department’s commitment to fortify the impact statement and make a permit decision by December 2011.

“Keystone XL has been under review since 2008 and we are confident we have addressed the major questions raised by regulators and government agencies,” Girling said. “The Keystone expansion is expected to be operational in 2013,” he added.

In South Dakota, the Keystone XL would stretch in a southeasterly direction across 313 miles through Harding, Butte, Perkins, Meade, Pennington, Haakon, Jones, Lyman, and Tripp counties.

Its predecessor, Keystone I, runs across more than 1,000 miles from Canada through North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, where it turns east to Missouri and Illinois. Built through South Dakota in 2008 and 2009, it proceeds north-south through the counties of Marshall, Day, Clarke, Beadle, Kingsbury, Miner, Hanson, McCook, Hutchinson, and Yankton.

The State Department said it has held at least 20 public comment meetings in all the states along the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline route, as well as in Washington, D.C. TransCanada said it has held at least 90 open houses and public meetings along the route. “The Supplemental EIS will seek public comment on issues that will benefit from further public input,” the State Department said. A Federal Register notice in the mid-April is slated to provide details on a new 45-day comment period, the department said.

Last month, the South Dakota Senate Commerce and Energy Committee tabled a bill for a two-cent per-barrel fee on the crude oil shipments, which would have created a state-run compensation fund for spills from TransCanada Corp.’s new Keystone I Pipeline in the eastern part of the state and its proposed Keystone XL pipelines in the western part.

The bill had failed by one vote in the 2010 legislature, having died in committee during previous congressional sessions. State law continues to hold landowners liable for cleanup and legal costs resulting from accidents or spills where pipelines cross their property.

Sisseton Wahpeton Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Dianne Desrosiers had urged tribal governments to support the state bill after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton successfully filed for dismissal of four Sioux tribes’ federal lawsuit to stop the Keystone I Pipeline.

The case brought by the the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska, and the Yankton Sioux Tribe charged former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and her staff with breaking treaty obligations, violating trust relationships and ignoring religious cultural protections in permitting the first pipeline.

Foreign, Domestic Controversy Mounts
The State Department decision to forge ahead with the Keystone XL proposal followed intensive lobbying efforts by foreign, national and local players.

The National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and Bold Nebraska sponsored a delegation visit to Capitol Hill March 8 and 9 to request the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and further project analysis. The delegation members also sought consideration for an alternate route, avoiding the Ogallala Aquifer and the delicate Sandhills ecosystem in Nebraska, they said in a March 15 statement.

Delegation members noted that State Department approval would result in a presidential permit that would grant the right of eminent domain to pipeline owner-operators.

Landowners from Nebraska, South Dakota, and Texas, gave testimony about difficult encounters with TransCanada representatives in the leasing process.

In its first year of operation, the Keystone I Pipeline had nine confirmed leaks, according to the National Response Center, the sole federal point of contact for reporting oil and chemical spills in the United States, delegation member Cindy Myers testified.

“This pipeline is very high pressure and high capacity,” she said. “The monitoring systems do not detect leaks less than 1 percent, and so when you have a pipeline with a capacity of 900,000 barrels a day, that means 9,000 barrels per day could potentially leak undetected,” she said.

“Oil infiltrating our ground water at 4-7 feet can easily leach through our sandy soil to the level of our drinking water source. The Ogallala Aquifer that took eons of geological years to form could be permanently decimated in a glimpse of history,” she warned.

TransCanada’s Girling said there is a tradeoff: “Instability and unrest in Libya and other parts of the Middle East demonstrate the need for the U.S. to receive a safe, secure, stable supply of oil. Keystone XL will provide that,” he said. “The project will help put America back to work, creating 20,000 jobs and injecting billions into the U.S. economy.”

Last month, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper personally promoted the pipeline permit in a White House meeting with President Barack Obama. During the meeting on Feb. 4, some 86 environmental organizations representing millions of constituents delivered a letter to Obama insisting his administration deny the permit.

Simultaneously, activists staged a rally in the capital’s Lafayette Park to emphasize the letter’s demand. Protestors planted posters on the lawn, depicting South Dakota and each of the states along the Keystone XL Pipeline’s proposed right-of-way. Meanwhile, TransCanada secured a letter to Rodham Clinton from 30 U.S. House of Representatives Republicans and Democrats in 18 states, supporting a permit.

Their argument backed TransCanada’s contention that the Keystone XL could reduce U.S. dependence on oil from Venezuela and the Middle East by up to 40 percent. In addition, a TransCanada statement noted, “As the American GI Forum of Texas recently pointed out, the oil that the Keystone system will deliver is ‘conflict free’.”

The March 8-9 delegation noted that Assistant Deputy Secretary Daniel Clune informed members the tar-sands crude is not committed to the United States; rather it is an international commodity.

South Dakota Plant Obtains Extension to Refine Canadian Crude
The Texas-based Hyperion Refining, which proposes to build a refinery at Elk Point in Union County, South Dakota, hopes to process 400,000 barrels a day of the Canadian tar-sands crude. Most refineries in the United States do not have the technology to handle the heavy oil.

On March 11, the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) announced it has extended Hyperion’s Feb. 20 deadline for construction of the Hyperion Energy Center. Hyperion asked to extend the deadline until Aug. 20.

The public has until April 1 to comment on draft revisions to the air quality permit originally issued in 2009 as the precondition for construction.

The revisions respond to a new one-hour National Ambient Air Quality Standard for nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. They include installation of a coker quench water tank and analyses of the Best Available Control Technology for the permitted equipment and greenhouse gas emissions.

(Talli Nauman is co-director of Journalism to Raise Environmental Awareness. Contact her at

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