By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN – The EPA on Monday released a critical review of the State Department’s draft report on environmental impacts of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, calling it “insufficient.”
The State Department report, which was released in March, concluded the pipeline wouldn’t have a big impact on the rate of extraction of tar sands oil in Canada or demand for heavy crude oil at U.S. refineries. The report also said limitations on pipeline transport would force more crude oil to be transported through other means, such as rail, which would probably be more expensive.
It was a blow to opponents of the controversial pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Canada to Texas, but the EPA letter to State Department officials buttresses some of their concerns. The EPA report says the State Department review doesn’t contain sufficient information for the EPA to fully assess environmental impacts that should be avoided to fully protect the environment.
While the State Department concluded tar sands oil would find a way to market with or without the Keystone XL pipeline, thus the pipeline won’t affect emissions, the EPA said that analysis wasn’t based on up-to-date energy-economic modeling. The EPA recommended a “more careful review” of the market and rail transport options, including more investigation of rail capacity and the potential for “much higher” costs to ship the oil by rail than portrayed by the State Department.
“This analysis should consider how the level and pace of oil sands crude production might be affected by higher transportation costs and the potential for congestion impacts to slow rail transport of crude,” the EPA review said.
A coalition of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation, said the EPA report raises the same concerns voiced in more than 1 million comments submitted to the State Department.
The EPA also said it has learned from the 2010 Enbridge oil spill in Michigan that tar sands spills may require different responses and can have different impacts than conventional oil spills. The agency said those differences should be more fully addressed in the State Department’s final report, noting that the Enbridge spill involved a 30-inch-wide pipeline, and Keystone XL proposes a 36-inch diameter pipe. In Michigan, the oil sands crude sank to the bottom of the Kalamazoo River and mixed with the sediment and organic matter, making it difficult to recover.
After nearly three years of cleanup, the EPA recently decided the bottom sediments will need to be dredged to protect the environment and public, largely because the oil “will not appreciably biodegrade.” The EPA recommended the final report more clearly acknowledge that in the event of a spill in water, large portions of dilbit will sink and that “submerged oil significantly changes spill response and impacts.”
The final report should also include ways of addressing the additional risks of dilbit spills, the EPA said, noting that in Michigan, the local health department issued voluntary evacuation notices due to the levels of benzene in the air.
The EPA also recommended the State Department consider requiring pipeline company TransCanada to set up a network of monitoring wells along the pipeline, especially in “sensitive or ecologically important areas,” water supply wells or stream crossings to detect leaks below the proposed detection limit.
The EPA said while TransCanada’s revised route through Nebraska avoided most of the Sandhills, it still crosses the Ogallala Aquifer, although an alternative Interstate 90 route in the State Department report avoids the massive aquifer by largely following the path of existing pipelines. That route would significantly reduce the portion crossing the Northern High Plains Aquifer, the EPA said, reducing the potential for spills that would contaminate “critical groundwater resources.”
The EPA said it was “concerned” that the State Department didn’t do a detailed analysis of alternative routes parallel to the existing Keystone Pipeline because it deemed them unreasonable, primarily because they would be longer than the current proposed route and would require more pipeline to connect to the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and Montana. The final report should either provide more detailed information as to why those alternatives weren’t considered reasonable or analyze them in more detail, the EPA said.
A spokesman for TransCanada, Shawn Howard, said carrying the oil by other methods would create higher greenhouse gas emissions than by pipeline, and said the pipeline would displace as much as 40 percent of foreign sources of crude oil from Mexico and Venezuela.
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