EPA critiques Keystone XL draft supplemental EIS

The US Environmental Protection Agency urged the US Department of State to look closely at alternative routes, including one that would closely parallel the existing Keystone crude oil pipeline, before finalizing its draft supplemental environmental impact statement for the proposed Keystone XL project.

EPA found insufficient information in the draft SEIS for its reviewer to fully assess environmental impacts that should be avoided, or new reasonably available alternatives that could reduce such consequences, Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, said in comments filed on Apr. 22.

The agency believes the draft SEIS strengthens analysis to date in the National Environmental Policy Act process, she indicated. “While we appreciate this effort, we also have several recommendations for improving the analysis and considering additional mitigation as you move forward,” Giles said.

The recommendations included further investigations of the cost of using rail and other alternatives if the Keystone XL project isn’t built, commissioning an independent engineering analysis to review sponsor TransCanada Corp.’s assessments of potential impacts from accidental discharges, and requiring the pipeline operator to install monitoring wells along the pipeline’s route, especially in sensitive or environmentally important areas.

Giles said that considering of other routes, including an alternative which avoids crossing Nebraska’s Sand Hills, significantly improved the draft SEIS. “We are concerned, however, that the DSE1S does not provide a detailed analysis of the Keystone Corridor Alternative routes, which would parallel the existing Keystone pipeline and likely further reduce potential environmental impacts to groundwater resources,” she said.

Why it was omitted

This alternative was not considered reasonable because it was longer than the original Keystone XL route and would require a longer pipeline to bring Bakken Shale crude oil into the system, Giles said in EPA’s comment. But it also could reduce groundwater risks and consequently deserves further analysis or more explanation why the routes aren’t reasonable, she added.

Environmental organizations immediately said EPA’s comments mean the project should not be approved. “[It] determined that the Keystone XL pipeline would have significant negative environmental impacts,” Anthony Swift, an attorney in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s international program, said on Apr. 23.

“The EPA letter adds to more than 1 million comments calling on [DOS] to stop ignoring the environmental risks posed by Keystone XL,” he maintained. “It’s one more reason this misguided and dangerous project needs to be denied.”

A TransCanada spokesman said the company would study EPA’s comments closely, but added that it initially was somewhat surprised by them since EPA has been a cooperating agency during the more than 4 years that the project has been undergoing review under NEPA.

“As a result, EPA—as well as almost two dozen local, state, and federal agencies—has been intimately involved in the details of this review and are well aware of the four federal [EISs] that have already been published by [DOS] on this project,” he continued. “There are no ‘new issues’ identified in [its] letter.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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