The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam
Route of proposed Keystone XL Pipeline
Indigenous leadership rejects federal report on Keystone XL pipeline
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor
FT. McMURRAY, ALBERTA, CANADA - No sooner had the U.S. government released a revised Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) on the Keystone XL Pipeline Mar. 1, than did indigenous leadership reject it.
“We cannot stress our extreme disappointment with this report,” said Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) Chief Allan Adam. “The fact that the Keystone XL pipeline is deemed as non-consequential and not connected to the unabated expansion of tar sands is simply not true,” he said.
His remarks came in response to the DSEIS conclusion that “there would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed project route assuming …” (the proponent observes a long list of compliance issues).
The Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. has been proposing for five years to build its second pipeline across the U.S. international border to slurry tar-sands crude from the mines of Athabasca aboriginal territory in Alberta Province through the Native American ancestral lands of the Great Plains states to the refineries and export markets on the Gulf of Mexico.
Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and CEO, welcomed the new DSEIS, calling it “an important step towards receiving a Presidential Permit for this critical energy infrastructure project.”
The new DSEIS provides the U.S. government’s first extensive examination of alternatives to the pipeline and a look at its projected climate change implications, as well as an economic analysis of the project revealing that permanent jobs would be twice as plentiful with some other type of transport for the fossil fuel source.
It includes “significant new information or new circumstances that are now available regarding the routes,” U.S Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones said in a telephone conference releasing the document.
Jobs are one of several concerns for the State Department, which must decide whether to grant a Presidential Permit for the cross-boundary proposal, based on the “national interest,” after the environmental impact statement is finalized.
First Nations in Canada are more interested in the risks to survival posed by expanding the tar-sands mining, which the pipeline could encourage.
“ACFN is currently looking to options to submit comments regarding our substantive concerns,” Adam said. “We hope that you all echo our struggle against expansion by continuing your fight against the Keystone XL pipeline,” he said in a written statement addressing the public.
The DSEIS will be open for public comments during a 45-day period starting from the date of its posting in the Federal Register, in about a week, according to Jones. The comments are for the purpose of elaborating the final Environmental Impact Statement, including a recommendation to the State Department on the best alternative.
The pipeline project proposed in the new draft replaces one that President Barack Obama’s administration nixed twice in his first term. The previous project was for the entire length of the underground route through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
When Nebraska landowners rallied their state government in 2011 to block the way through the sensitive Sandhills ecosystem overlying the Ogallala Aquifer, the Administration denied the permit to allow time to develop a different route with its corresponding new DSEIS.
Landowners’ concerns about spills affecting the aquifer were heightened by the performance of TransCanada’s previous Keystone I Pipeline, through all the same states, plus North Dakota. Keystone I spilled its contents of toxic tar-sands sludge, known as dilbit or synbit, 14 times in its first year of operations.
After the 2011 setback, TransCanada Corp. then chunked the Keystone XL construction project into two phases and proceeded to build on the southern section, while returning to the drawing board for the northern part addressed in the new DSEIS.
The stretch remaining to be built consists of 875 miles of pipeline and right-of-way from Alberta through Montana and South Dakota to pre-existing line connections in Steele City, Nebraska.
During the scoping process for completing the new DSEIS, the State Department said it already has taken into account comments contained in more than 400,000 emails, letters, and other communications submitted by individuals, tribal and other government agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations.
“Government-to-government consultation is underway for the current Supplemental EIS process for the proposed project, and tribal meetings were held in October 2012 in Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska,” the draft executive summary states.
The federal government is required to consult with tribes by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1986. The Oglala, Sicangu (Rosebud), Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribal governments along the proposed pipeline route in South Dakota have passed resolutions opposing the pipeline construction.
In the process of the previously denied Keystone XL application, federal authorities received more than 1 million e-mails, letters, and other communications, they said.
The DSEIS addresses favorable comments, which include the arguments that the new pipeline would provide jobs and would decrease dependence on overseas petroleum.
It also addresses negative comments, which include arguments that the project would facilitate increased production of the dirtiest fossil fuel known to humankind, boost the rate of global warming gas emissions, promote destruction of the boreal forest that sustains the indigenous people of South Central Canada, and auger toxic spills on land and water along its route.
Higher private profits for the oil industry and higher fuel prices for consumers are other concerns commenters address.
“Expansion of the tar sands in my people’s homelands means a death sentence for our way for life, destruction of ecosystems vital to the continuation of our inherent treaty rights and massive contributions to catastrophic global climate change, a fate we all share,” Adam argues.
“Without adequate roadways to markets, the tar sands would be locked in the ground. Industry simply cannot expand without pipelines,” he said.
However, the DSEIS “concludes that approval or denial of the proposed project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands,” the executive summary states.
“If all pipeline capacity were restricted, oil sands production could decrease by approximately 2 to 4 percent by 2030,” equivalent to 90,000 to 210,000 bpd,” it states.
“Fundamental changes to the world crude oil market, and/or more far reaching actions than are evaluated in this Supplemental EIS would be required to significantly impact the rate of production in the oil sands,” it says.
However, the existing capacity for transporting the tar-sands heavy sour crude has grown to the point where Keystone XL is not necessary, it adds: “Rail and supporting non-pipeline modes should be capable, as was projected in 2011, of providing the capacity needed to transport all incremental Western Canadian and Bakken crude oil production to markets if there were no additional pipeline projects approved.”
The new DSEIS is more specific than earlier documents of its ilk in addressing the pipeline’s potential use for shipping of U.S. light sweet crude from the Bakken Formation in Montana and North Dakota where fracking and horizontal drilling has created an oil boom.
Some 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) of the Keystone XL’s projected 830,000 bpd payload now is expected to come from the domestic wells in the Bakken.
According to the DSEIS, the Canadian tar-sands are “more greenhouse-gas-intensive than the other heavy crudes they would replace or displace in U.S. refineries, and emit an estimated 17 percent more GHGs on a life-cycle basis than the average barrel of crude oil refined in the United States in 2005.”
Therefore, it notes, “If the proposed project were to induce growth in the rate of extraction in the oil sands, then it could cause GHG emissions greater than just its direct emissions.”
If no pipelines were constructed the anticipated relatively minor decrease in tar-sands production would amount to a reduction in greenhouse gases in the range of 0.35 to 5.3 million metric tons CO2 equivalent annually.
The annual greenhouse gas emissions from the proposed pipeline project is equivalent to those from approximately 626,000 passenger vehicles operating for one year or 398,000 homes using electricity for one year, the DSEIS says.
The new proposed route would be approximately 21 miles longer in Nebraska to avoid sensitive Sandhills areas the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) identified.
However, residents protest that the state government proposed a detour that disregarded their concerns for the underlying Ogallala Aquifer. Also known as the Northern High Plains Aquifer, the water table underlies parts of eight states and provides irrigation for one-third of U.S. agricultural production.
“The area of the Sandhills the State Department is using in their most recent study comes from a shrunken map formally submitted by the Nebraska DEQ,” said Bold Nebraska Executive Director Jane Kleeb.
The spokesperson for the ad hoc non-profit group, Kleeb complains that the DEQ replaced TransCanada’s original map showing a larger Sandhills definition “to benefit TransCanada, who paid $5 million for the DEQ report and used a contractor they are working with on other projects as well, a conflict.”
The company estimates its investment for the entire pipeline to be $7 billion, with the proposed northern section costing it about $3.3 billion in the United States. If permitted, it would begin operation in 2015. The State Department has not provided an estimate of the cost to tax payers for the five years of the application process.
“Generally, the largest economic impacts of pipelines occur during construction rather than operations. Once in place, the labor requirements for pipeline operations are relatively minor,” says the DSEIS.
“Operation of the proposed project would generate 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs, primarily for routine inspections, maintenance, and repairs. Based on this estimate, routine operation of the proposed pipeline would have negligible socioeconomic impacts,” it says.
By contrast, shipping the tar-sands by railcar to an existing Stroud, Oklahoma pipeline station would create 65 permanent jobs, it says.
“Including direct, indirect, and induced effects, the proposed project would potentially support approximately 42,100 average annual jobs across the United States over a one- to two-year construction period (of which, approximately 3,900 would be directly employed in construction activities). This employment would potentially translate to approximately $2.05 billion in earnings,” the DSEIS continues.
“Direct expenditures such as construction and materials costs (including construction camps) would total approximately $3.3 billion. Property taxes on these camps would potentially generate the equivalent of one full year of property tax revenue for seven host counties, totaling approximately $2 million.
“Short-term revenues from sources such as sales and use taxes would total approximately $65 million in states that levy such a tax.
“Other construction-phase socioeconomic impacts would include minor increases in demand for utilities and public services (such as police, fire, and emergency medical services), and temporary traffic delays at public road crossings.”
According to the DSEIS, the Western Area Power Administration would repurpose and build new infrastructure between the Missouri River’s Ft. Thompson Dam and a proposed Big Bend Substation to meet TransCanada’s demands.
Basin Electric Power Cooperative would construct a new 76-mile, 230-kV transmission line from the Big Bend Substation to the existing Witten Substation, operating both substations to help TransCanada.
Comments on the DSEIS may be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to U.S. Department of State, Attn: Genevieve Walker, NEPA Coordinator, 2201 C Street NW, Room 2726, Washington, D.C. 20520.
(Contact Talli Nauman at email@example.com)
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Native Sun News: First Nations leaders slam Keystone XL study
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