DOS releases final say on Keystone XL environmental impact

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August 25, 2011 - 7:00pm

The U.S. State Department has released its final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline as more demonstrators head for Washington to call on the Obama administration to block the plan.

The project is controversial for its path through the Sand Hills and Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska. Although opponents have described the project a potential environmental disaster, the EIS suggested most potential impacts would be limited.

Clay Masters, NET News

NET News reporter Grant Gerlock talks with Lincolnite Marty Steinhausen after a roundtable discussion in Lincoln about the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.

In the document, the State Department acknowledged Nebraska's dependence on the aquifer for drinking water and irrigation, but said a spill into the Ogalalla would not likely have a widespread impact.

"Diluted bitumen and synthetic crude oil, the two types of crude oil that would be transported by the proposed Project, would both initially float on water if spilled," the report said. "Over time, the lighter aromatic fractions of the crude oil would evaporate, and water-soluble components could enter the groundwater."

The EIS does direct TransCanada to hire an independent consultant to review its leak detection and containment procedures in environmentally sensitive areas.

Opponents have called for the pipeline to be rerouted around the Sand Hills and Ogalalla Aquifer. The State Department calls for only minor adjustments in the route. The EIS states that placing the new pipeline along the previous Keystone pipeline would increase the cost by $1.7 billion and compromise a plan to link Keystone XL with the Bakken oil fields in Montana and North Dakota.

The EIS also says individual states have authority to approve pipeline construction and routing.

"Different states have made different choices in how or whether to exercise that authority," the report said. "Some states, such as Montana, have chosen to grant the authority to a state agency to approve pipeline routes through that state. Other states, such as Nebraska, have chosen not to grant any state agency such authority."

In a statement, Jane Kleeb of the anti-pipeline group Bold Nebraska called on Governor Dave Heineman to call lawmakers to Lincoln for a special session to further address the pipeline issue as has been suggested by State Senator Ken Haar of Malcolm.

The release of the final EIS puts TransCanada one step closer to a final decision on Keystone XL. TransCanada President and CEO Russ Girling called the EIS a reaffirmation of previous findings from the State Department.

"Today's Final Environmental Impact Statement continues to demonstrate the focus on safety and the environment that has gone into the development of this critical North American pipeline," Girling said. "The fundamental issue is energy security. Through the Keystone system, the U.S. can secure access to a stable and reliable supply of oil from Canada where we protect human rights and the environment, or it can import more higher-priced oil from nations who do not share America's interests or values."

Over the next 90 days the State Department will consult eight other federal agencies on the project before determining whether it is in the national interest and should be approved. In a conference call after the EIS was released, Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs said the environmental report is not the final word on the proposed pipeline.

"The final Environmental Impact Statement is a very important piece of the national interest determination, but it is not the only one," Jones said. Energy security, economic considerations, and foreign policy considerations are also taken into account at that time."

This week, opponents of the pipeline met in Lincoln. The group included people from Nebraska, Texas, California, and Montana and other states preparing to go to Washington, D.C. to join in on the protests in front of the White House. Hastings resident Tom Genung's mother-in-law lives along the pipeline route near Atkinson in north central Nebraska. He told NET News' Grant Gerlock he is not swayed by the potential economic benefits of the pipeline.

"The risk just isn' worth it, Genung said. "There's no amount of money that can replace the water supply and the damage that would be done to the Sand Hills."

Nine additional meetings will be held across the country to take input from the public. Two of those will be held in Nebraska:

  • September 27
    Lincoln, Neb.
    Pershing Center
    12 to 3:30 p.m.
    4 to 8 p.m.

  • September 29
    Atkinson, Neb.
    West Holt High School
    4:30 to 10 p.m.

Correction: The $150 million tax benefit to Nebraska counties from the existing Keystone pipeline referred to in the audio version of this story is the increase in valuation, not property tax revenues. Applying an average tax levy of $2 per $100 to this increase, Nebraska local governments would get additional property tax revenues of about $3 million from the pipeline.



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