The Keystone XL pipeline’s tortuous route to approval took another twist last week, when the U.S. Department of State released a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that seemed to go out of its way to downplay the impact of the pipeline on soil, water and wildlife along its route, to say nothing of the project’s contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. In the latest development, our friends at Grist.org have pointed out that the document was not produced by the State Department. It was written by a consulting firm under contract with TransCanada, the company that is pushing to build the pipeline.
TransCanada’s Draft Supplemental EIS
An EIS is a detailed, technical document that is beyond the scope of most government agencies to prepare in house, so generally speaking there is nothing particularly unusual about contracting out the work to a consulting firm.
In this case, according to Grist guest contributor Brad Johnson, the firm Environmental Resources Management was paid by TransCanada to write the Draft Supplemental EIS for the State Department.
That’s also not unusual, in terms of the level on which ERM operates. According to its website the company, which describes itself as “a leading global provider of environmental, health, safety, risk, and social consulting services,” has provided services to about half of the Fortune 500 companies over the past five years including a number of oil companies.
As for the document’s lame conclusions, the purpose of an EIS is not to decide whether or not a project should be approved, but to provide information to decision-makers.
In light of the 2010 Enbridge pipeline disaster that is still affecting 40 miles of the Kalamzoo River, ERM’s research should give plenty of pause to the decision-makers, if only when they get to the part where it says:
“The proposed Project route would avoid surface water whenever possible; however, the proposed Project route would still cross approximately 1,073 waterbodies, including 56 perennial rivers and streams, as well as approximately 25 miles of mapped floodplains.”
John Kerry and the Keystone XL Pipeline EIS
The State Department is involved in all this because the Keystone XL pipeline crosses an international border into the U.S., which it can’t do without federal approval. The situation got far more complex for both State and the pipeline recently, when former Massachusetts Senator John Kerry took the helm at the agency.
On the national stage Kerry is best known as the Democratic candidate for President in the 2004 elections, but he is also a lifelong environmentalist, passionate supporter of climate action and author (along with wife Theresa Heinz Kerry) of a book on environmental activists and leaders, This Moment on Earth.
That explains why the release of the EIS last Friday was received with such shock, at least in some quarters. However, as Johnson points out once you know that the EIS was not produced by the State Department but was written by a consulting firm that has done past work in the oil industry, the scope and conclusions of the document are not all that surprising (also keeping in mind that work on the EIS began long before Kerry’s confirmation).
What’s Next for the Keystone XL Pipeline
Opposition to the pipeline has been escalating, so it looks like the required comment period on the EIS will be a pretty busy one.
In the mean time, we noticed just yesterday that Andrew Ference, the Canadian-born star defenseman for the Boston Bruins, has embarked on a major sustainability promotion with the utility company National Grid and CBS Radio. Given Ference’s long history of opposition to tar sands oil development, that could prove to be a pretty interesting project.
For that matter, we also spotted an article over at TheHill.com by Ben Geman, who reported that Joe Oliver, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, has been positioning his country for a graceful exit from the whole mess. According to Geman, Oliver told attendees at a recent energy conference that rejection of the pipeline would not spoil the relationship between the U.S. and Canada.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.