Fossil Fuels Keystone pipeline faces another delay

Published on August 26th, 2013 | by Tina Casey


Another Delay Looms For Keystone XL Pipeline

August 26th, 2013 by  

It’s been another bad week for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. It began with the release of a slew of negative comments from the Department of the Interior on a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the project, and ended up with a report from our friends over at Bloomberg News, who received word that a State Department internal review of that same EIS contractor won’t be concluded until January.

Though Keystone is far from the only dubious fossil fuel project in the works, it has become the poster child for #fossilfuelfail partly because it is a Canadian project that crosses into the US, thus requiring approval from the Obama Administration through the State Department. It is State’s handling of the EIS that has fostered the current mess.

The Keystone XL Draft EIS

To recap the issues briefly, the Keystone XL pipeline will bring notoriously “dirty” tar sands oil from Canada, down through the US midwest to Gulf Coast refineries, where it is bound for the export market. Though touted as an essential job-creating project, the pipeline will create only a few dozen permanent positions in the US while potentially contributing to higher, not lower fuel prices in some states.

Keystone XL pipeline faces another delay

Slow going by tarotastic.

The pipeline would cross hundreds of waterways on its long route to the Gulf Coast. Lending credence to the environmental concerns of critics, the diluted bitumen or “dilbit” that the pipeline would convey has already proven to be a much thornier cleanup issue than conventional crude oil, as illustrated by a major 2010 Enbridge dilbit spill in the Kalamazoo River, and more recently by this year’s smaller but devastating Exxon dilbit spill in a residential community in Mayflower, Arkansas.

With that in mind, when the State Department released a strikingly mild draft EIS for the Keystone project for public comment earlier this year, the document was bound to come under intense scrutiny.

Problems With The Keystone EIS

Aside from numerous comments submitted by non-government groups, the US Environmental Protection Agency weighed in with an unusually harsh though politely worded assessment of the document, smacking it down for using outdated methodology, introducing off-topic arguments, and failing to address the unique nature of dilbit.

This week, the Department of the Interior became the second federal agency to issue a fail to the EIS, for its failure to address the impacts of Keystone on National Parks including habitat conservation as well as recreation.

Interior’s comments are highly detailed but can be summarized thusly: the EIS simply blows off any potential for long term or permanent impacts.

Who Prepared the Keystone EIS?

When the EIS was first released, word quickly spread through the blogosphere that the document was prepared by the consulting firm ERM, which apparently has financial ties to the oil industry in general and specifically to  TransCanada, the Canadian company that owns the proposed pipeline. Consequently a number of environmental groups asked State to investigate the contract for potential conflict of interest, which it did.

That brings us up to this week’s word from the State Department’s internal watchdog. On Friday, our friends over at Bloomberg News reported that State is also reviewing another EIS contract from February 2012, which will be combined in a report on the current one. Bloomberg received an email statement from an agency spokesperson to the effect that the report would not be concluded until January 2014.

Our friends over at The Hill followed up with a reminder that in theory at least, the State Department could go ahead and approve the pipeline before the report is completed and released to the public.

However, approval ahead of the report seems pretty unlikely, given that State is currently helmed by former Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who has a long record of forceful statements on the urgent need for climate action under his belt.

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About the Author

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. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Greg

    People need to realize that Pipelines don’t cause us to burn more fossil fuels, they just supply our addiction. If you are fighting the pipeline or even “Big oil” you are fighting the wrong battle since the energy industry is already starting to lean to alternative energy sources… just look at TransCanada’s portfolio as an example where a good portion of their focus and investment is into wind, hydro, and nuclear power. If things are gonna change, it’s the consumer that needs to make that happen in better ways than flying here and there to attend sit ins.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I somewhat agree with you. We won’t be able to stop people from burning oil by fighting oil. We have to give people an acceptable alternative.

      EVs and PHEVs are significantly cheaper to drive per mile. They are more convenient to drive and most people find them more enjoyable. Get ranges up and purchase prices down a bit and people will move away from oil.

      In the meantime do more to get people into more efficient oil burning cars and onto public transportation/bikes.

      That said, there are likely specific pipelines and projects which should probably be opposed. The danger of a blowout, and they happen far too often, in some areas is too great a problem to accept.

  • Moreboomplease

    How are supplies of this ‘conventional crude’ you are always comparing oilsands to? Since conventional is only about 35% of total reserves and these are located increasingly in unfriendly states it’s obvious that to rely only on them wouldn’t be practical. So why compare oilsands to them as if they could replace oilsands or other unconventional? They can’t.

    • Dan Hue

      Easy. Use less oil. Let the price of crude climb and adjust demand by substituting to other energy sources.

      • Moreboomplease

        I see you know little about economics neither.

  • JamesWimberley

    It´s becoming clear that the Obama strategy on Keystone is the death of a thousand reviews. Just as nobody is fired from government these days, just forced to resign, so Transcanada wil eventually read the tea-leaves and withdraw its hopeless project.

    • Moreboomplease

      The project will go eventually. In the meantime several avenues are open. One would be to complete the line as far as the Baker, Montana on-ramp and make additional capacity available here to Bakken crude which is currently railed. Use the freed up rail cars to move railbit from Alberta to Baker and further dilute it there with Bakken for piping to the Coast. More carbon would make it to the refinery gates than in the original KXL plan. Also the TransCanada Energy East project could deliver crude to Eastern Canada and replace Canadian crude currently re-imported from the US. This would amount to 600 kbpd which could be diverted to US refineries.
      These would be effective until a less obstructionist president comes to office. I’d also like to see a NAFTA challenge by Canada to eliminate these non-tariff trade barriers.

      • Dan Hue

        “non-tariff trade barriers”, LOL. Tell that to the land owners who get their property seized under eminent domain, all for a purely private project that is of no benefit to the US at large. Tell that also to those who will be affected when the pipeline leaks, like it inevitably will at some point. The bottom line is, there is no need for KXL and tar sand oil.

        • Moreboomplease

          This line will provide US Gulf Coast refiners with a more competitively priced feedstock which is from a secure source that allows guaranteed US access by virtue of NAFTA. The only threat to this access is the US government. There is a higher US content in oilsands production than any other foreign crude they import. From US companies and citizens working in Canada to parts suppliers, engineering services and financing, the US benefits from the production of this oil. But that will be reduced if the oil can’t be shipped down the most logical route.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Leave that crap in the ground where it belongs.

            Do another, larger ‘cash for clunkers’ and move a lot of people into EVs, PHEVs, and very efficient ICEVs.

            People can go to work building new cars rather than laying pipe.

          • Moreboomplease

            The oil will come from somewhere. Maybe Saudi Arabia. Or Venezuela, Mexico or Nigeria with a higher CO2 footprint.
            And if electric cars get built they it will probably be in China.
            And powered by coal fired plants. Enjoy.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Let’s see…

            The largest selling EV. That would be the Nissan LEAF. Nissan just opened a plant in Tennessee and makes the LEAF here.

            The most exciting EV. No question. The Tesla S, made in California.

            Then the best selling PHEV. GM’s Volt. American made. And they also make the EV Spark.

            Ford, are they in the game? Why, yes, then are. They’re making the Focus EV in the US.

            And what are we charging these electrics with? Oops, not all that much coal. At one time we got 57% of our electricity from coal. Last year it was down to 37%. And it’s going to be a lot less going forward since we’ve got over 100 coal plants scheduled to close over the next few years.

            Oil and coal? So last century….

          • Moreboomplease

            The Chinese will bring them out cheaper than their jeans. And the plants they produce them in will be coal powered. They’re not fools.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Could be they will. Nothing wrong with that. But so far US companies are in the lead. BYD (the major Chinese EV manufacturer) has plans to open a plant here in the US.

            You probably realize that due to the cost of shipping and the low labor inputs in modern car factories it’s getting to be common to manufacture close to the market, don’t you? US manufacturers are setting up shop in China to make their units sold in Asia and making the ones for domestic consumption here.

            As for coal powered. China will be capping their coal use at 2011 levels starting in 2015. That means that they will burn 6% less coal than they did in 2012 in 2016 and going forward.

            China is starting to back away from coal. Their leaders have no issues with climate change denial. They’re largely a bunch of engineers who can do the math.

            China just ditched plans for a new super-large coal plant last week due to local protests about air quality.

            And China has a real problem with water for cooling thermal plants. That’s part of the reason they cut back on the number of nuclear plants they intend to build and will build no more inland where water is getting scarce.

            China is greatly increasing their solar and wind installations. They seem to see that as their route forward.

          • Moreboomplease

            I’ll believe that when I see it. You’re free to.

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