FOIA Update: Dept of State Stonewalling Public Review

I have been told that the main obstacle to my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Department of State (DOS) for the milepost data for the Keystone XL is that the information is “politically sensitive.”

To say the least, this stonewalling is disconcerting. A foreign corporation is abusing common carrier status to declare eminent domain on the property of American citizens so that it can build a diluted bitumen pipeline through America’s heartland and expedite delivery of its product to world markets. While this project will threaten our groundwater, waterways, and general health, increase gas prices and world dependency on oil, and further forestall a necessary shift to a green economy (Read more: TransCanada: “Keystone XL National Security Risk”), President Obama is expediting pipeline construction and has remained mute on global warming.

Whose interest is the White House and the DOS representing?

On April 12th I filed a FOIA request for the release of the milepost location data (which, according to both federal and state agencies, is public information) for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. As FOIA requests with the DOS can take five to twelve months, I requested expedited service. This part of my request was rejected, I appealed, and am still waiting to hear back:

This email is to appeal your Denial of Expedition of FOIA request F-2012-XXXXX.

As you must be aware, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which will stretch through the American heartland from the Canadian border to Port Arthur, Texas, is of great interest to communities throughout the country. The release of the pipeline’s milepost (MP) marker longitude and latitude data and GIS information is of urgent importance for the following reasons:

1. MP Location Data is Required by the FEIS.
The MP location data is referenced throughout the Department of State’s Keystone XL FEIS. Without this information one cannot make a proper evaluation of the original Keystone XL FEIS, the revised Keystone application submitted on May 4, 2012, the Gulf Coast Route now being considered by the Army Corps of Engineers, or the entire project’s environmental impacts. In fact, the absence of this key reference data calls into question the completeness of the FEIS and the review process.

2. MP and GIS Location Data are Public Information
Federal and state agencies consider oil and gas pipeline GIS data to be public information. Such agencies include the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the US Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the Texas Railroad Commission, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, and the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources. By withholding this information and requiring a FOIA request, the Department of State is unnecessarily hindering the public review process.

3. Public is Being Denied Due Process
Despite the denial of the Presidential Permit, construction of the Keystone XL is currently underway. TransCanada, a foreign company, has been accused of using dubious means to gain right-of-way to private property, including the declaration of eminent domain. Currently, TransCanada is seeking expedited permitting by the Army Corps of Engineers for the Gulf Coast route. The Army Corps has promised to reply by June 26. While individual property owners are certainly aware of the pipeline’s presence, the wider community and citizens around the country are unable to make a proper review of the project without the MP and GIS data. To release key data only after landowners have undergone substantial hardship or the project is completed, would be to deny landowners, communities, and the public due process.

4. Keystone Mapping Project Disseminates Routing Data to the Public
My Keystone Mapping Project (KMP: http://keystone.steamingmules.com) will incorporate the MP and GIS data into its current online maps. The KMP, as the most comprehensive source of routing data for the Keystone XL, is referenced by major news organization, such as NPR, and viewed widely by landowners, researchers, educators, and the public.

Clearly, there is a compelling need for an immediate release of the Keystone XL MP and GIS data. Not only is the data required for proper review of the project but, with the Army Corps of Engineers permitting date for the Gulf Coast route less than three weeks away, it is imperative that accurate MP and GIS data be released immediately. The American public deserves the opportunity of both review and oversight.

As I post this, the Army Corps of Engineers has begun approving the necessary permits for the Gulf Coast route, thus maintaining its poor record on environmental stewardship. Even so, considering the effort I’ve expended in obtaining a data file that resides in the public domain from the DOS, the 45-day permit turnaround by USACE for a construction project that crosses two states is impressive.

Move along. There’s nothing to see here.

TransCanada: “Keystone XL National Security Risk”

The guy in TransCanada’s Data Integrity Program was very friendly, but once he found out I wasn’t with the company he said “You’ll have to talk to Public Relations.” He wouldn’t say why. It took me a while to track down PR’s phone number, only to have neither my calls nor emails returned. It didn’t seem like very good PR. Then again, I was asking for the milepost marker longitude and latitude data for TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline as referenced throughout the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) published on the Department of State (DOS) website. Why would PR have this information? I was confused.

I called TransCanada Stakeholder Relations and spoke to a very nice woman who said that TransCanada doesn’t release the milepost data so as to protect landowners. That didn’t make sense because many landowners are angry with TransCanada for making dubious use of common carrier status (typically used for telephone and public utility cables and pipelines) in order to declare eminent domain and force a right-of-way for their pipeline upon property owners. She clarified that they were protecting from public retribution those landowners who had signed leases. Evidently, someone’s car was vandalized. What about the communities directly impacted by the pipeline? She didn’t know. And how is one supposed to make sense of the FEIS without the oft-cited milepost data? She said that the milepost markers would be finalized and made public when the pipeline was completed and operating. Wouldn’t that be a little late? The whole point of public review was to look at the project ahead of time, no? Or maybe that was TransCanada’s point. Anyway, if I really wanted the milepost information, she helpfully suggested, I could overlay the striped-down FEIS maps, which have been purged of all longitude and latitude information, onto real maps and get the location information that way. I was getting more confused. It was nice that she acknowledged the information was public, but it seemed like a waste of effort when they could just give me the data.

Then I read TransCanada CEO Russ Girling’s opinion piece in the New York Times, in which he said,

Our plan has undergone well over three years of environmental review by numerous reputable federal and state agencies. The review was the most comprehensive process ever for a cross-border pipeline.

I was buoyed to hear that TransCanada was as concerned for America’s safety as I, so I called the office of Sean McMaster, the Vice President of Stakeholders Relations. Certainly, he would help me make sense of the FEIS and release the milepost data. My calls went unreturned. Eventually I was connected to the Vice President of Public Sector Relations, who said I was the only one ever to request the Keystone milepost data. Someone would get back to me, he said. He wasn’t sure why the information wasn’t available and then added the caveat, or what the information is. It only confused me more that the Vice President of Public Sector Relations for a company striving to be the “leading energy infrastructure company in North America” did not know about milepost markers.

Eventually, Terry Cunha, Manager of Stakeholder Relations for the Keystone called me. Mr. Cunha said that milepost data was a matter of national security and that the information had been released to regulators. If the public knew where the pipeline was, he said, “They could impact it. They could drop a backhoe on top of it.” I reminded him that both the US Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regard pipeline data as public information. Furthermore, the states of Texas and Montana post the proposed Keystone XL route on their web sites – it’s just the milepost data that is missing, preventing one from making a complete analysis of the FEIS. In fact, a friendly fellow at FERC told me that physical stakes would mark the mileposts just for the reason cited by Mr. Cunha: construction crews need to know where pipelines are buried.

“We’re not going to give it to you,” Mr. Cunha said bluntly.

With no one left to call, I had become dizzy with confusion, as if I was breathing the benzene released by a diluted bitumen spill. My questions have only multiplied:

Which regulators have received the milepost data? PHMSA does not get the information until after the project is approved. Regulators in the states of South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas all claim to have not received the data. My FOIA request to the DOS is anticipated to take 5 to 12 months.

As the FEIS is incomplete without the milepost data and, as I am the only one in the country to request the milepost data (according to both TransCanada and the DOS), on what basis does TransCanada CEO Russ Girling claim “The review was the most comprehensive process ever for a cross-border pipeline?”

Why has TransCanada failed to notify the public that the Keystone XL presents a “national security” risk?

How do American military service personnel and veterans feel about a foreign corporation hiding behind “national security” when withholding critical environmental review information concerning the company’s private diluted bitumen (tar sands) pipeline bisecting the American heartland?

Next week the US Army Corps of Engineers is going to make a determination on TransCanada’s application for a Nationwide Permit 12, which will sidestep EPA oversight and threaten hundreds of waterways (651 in Texas alone).

Is this the national security risk TransCanada is referring to?

Map: KXL Oil Spill Voluntary Evacuation Zone

Updated July 10, 2012: A report by the National Transportation Safety Board has found that Enbridge Inc. did not follow its own safety procedures and was aware of flaws in the pipeline five years before the spill. The Kalamazoo spill has become the most costly onshore oil spill in US history. [more..]


In 2010 a tar sands oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan despoiled 40 miles of river and released a toxic cloud. According to an article in the Tyee, Spill from Hell: Diluted Bitumen:

The local residents and EPA responders near Kalamazoo quickly learned that bitumen and diluent do not stay together once released into the environment.

Volatile portions of the diluent containing toxic fumes of benzene and toluene began off-gassing in the area, impacting the health of almost 60 per cent of the local population with symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, headaches, coughing and fatigue. Clean-up crews were issued respirators to protect them from toxic fumes.

Local residents interviewed by the Tyee reported that even weeks after the Kalamazoo spill, they could still smell the fumes up to 50 kilometres away. The local health department went to door-to-door in the days after the spill to assess acute symptoms. They also instituted a voluntary evacuation within about one mile of the river to limit people’s exposure to benzene fumes — a known carcinogen.

As reported in the Michigan Messenger, a toxicologist found the Kalamazoo spill much more toxic than previously acknowledged. Thus far, the EPA has recovered 35% more oil than the pipeline’s owner, Calgary-based Enbridge Energy, reported as spilled.
The clean up, originally estimated to take one year, is far from completed. Switchboard has reported that the Kalamazoo tar sands spill has become the most costly pipeline spill in history with no end in sight to the clean up.

The Google Earth add-on view below applies this reality to the Keystone XL and expands the pipeline corridor to encompass a possible voluntary evacuation zone should a spill occur:

This file is for personal use only. Distribution and posting to the Internet is not permitted without written permission. All site contents ©Thomas Bachand 2012.

Groundwater Map: Principal US Aquifers

The Nebraska controversy that resulted in TransCanada Corporation rerouting the Keystone XL pipeline around the Sandhills and away from the Ogallala Aquifer highlighted the risk the pipeline poses to groundwater (Read more about the Environmental risks of the Keystone XL pipeline).

To augment the KMP Google Earth view I have converted a USGS map of principal US aquifers (Source: National Atlas). Viewers will immediately notice the extraordinary size of the mid-West aquifers as compared to, say, Hawaii or the Rocky Mountains where the aquifers are much smaller.

View the Keystone Mapping Project and US aquifers in Google Earth:

These files are for personal use only. Distribution and posting to the Internet is not permitted without written permission. All site contents ©Thomas Bachand 2012.

Oklahoma Keystone XL Route

UPDATE 6.6.12: The route published here does not represent the unpublished route changes made after Novemeber 2011. [more]

After President Obama denied approval of the Keystone XL, TransCanada Corporation (a Canadian company) repackaged the pipeline project and broke it into three separate projects:

  • The new Keystone XL Pipeline application largely bypasses the Nebraska Sandhills area and now terminates in Steele City, Nebraska.
  • A second project, the Keystone Pipeline Cushing Extension, connects the pipeline to facilities in Cushing, Oklahoma.
  • A third and final project, Keystone Pipeline Gulf Coast Project, intends to reach the pipeline terminus at Port Arthur, Texas.

For TransCanada Corporation, the advantage of this project reconfiguration is that the Gulf Coast Project is now an American domestic project and does not require approval by the US Department of State.

This change of events has accelerated both construction and interest in the Gulf Coast route. While residents of Oklahoma and Texas would like to know the details of the pipeline route, neither state or federal agencies will release it. To partially resolve this issue, I have updated the online maps by approximating the Oklahoma route from the route sheets included in the Keystone FEIS, published on the Department of State website (below). As the PDF route sheets do not contain latitude, longitude, or milepost information, they are unsuitable for evaluating the FEIS. Regardless, the online maps appear to be accurate within 50 feet and the PDF route sheets may be of value to landowners as they walk their property.

Oklahoma Route Sheets
2010 Keystone XL FEIS, Volume 4, Appendix C (17.5 MB) »»