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.
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Agency weighed in with an unusually harsh though politely worded assessment of the document, smacking it down for using outdated methodology, introducing off-topic arguments, and failing to address the unique nature of dilbit.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.