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TransCanada defends Keystone XL report

Keywords: Tags  State Department, EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, Keystone XL, Ogallala aquifer, oil sands crude, environmental assessment, Thorsten Schier

NEW YORK — The U.S. State Department’s supplemental environmental impact statement (DSEIS) on TransCanada Corp.’s rerouted Keystone XL pipeline "strengthened the analysis presented to date" but did not adequately address potential risks, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

TransCanada called the remarks "somewhat surprising," noting that the EPA had been closely involved in the pipeline’s "four-year-plus" review process.

In a letter to the State Department, the EPA expressed doubts about the DSEIS conclusion that the oil sands in Canada would be developed regardless of whether the pipeline is built (, March 4). Shipment by rail, an alternative presented by the department as viable, might actually be substantially more expensive, the EPA said, calling for "further investigation into rail capacity and cost."

Environmentalists made a similar point in testimony before a House subcommittee earlier this month, with the head of one advocacy group arguing that it would cost nearly three times as much to transport a barrel of crude via rail (, April 11).

In response, TransCanada pointed to statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the Association of American Railroads indicating that rail shipments of crude oil had jumped by the middle of last year, and argued that pipelines represent a far safer option, a view recently expressed by one of its top executives (, March 15).

The EPA also claimed that the review did not sufficiently address the unique environmental risks posed by Alberta’s heavy crude as opposed to conventional oil, pointing to a 2010 spill of oil sands crude in Michigan in which the crude sank to the bottom of a river, leading to a difficult, years-long cleanup effort that will eventually include dredging.

Noting that the Keystone XL pipeline will be larger in diameter than the Michigan pipeline, which spilled 20,000 barrels at the time, the EPA called for TransCanada to expand its emergency response plans.

Calgary, Alberta-based TransCanada said the DSEIS provided a "comprehensive assessment of (the company’s) oil spill response capability, including a "state-of-the-art leak detection system," and noted that the company had voluntarily agreed to 57 nonrequired safety conditions.

The EPA proposed a more detailed analysis of alternative Keystone XL routes that would completely avoid the Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska, noting that a longer route that would parallel the existing Keystone pipeline would "further reduce risks to groundwater resources."

But TransCanada said the State Department had already considered the route and rejected in on the grounds that it "does not provide an overall environmental advantage."

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