Keystone (Secret) Comments

It seems that with the Keystone XL, everything is secret – even the public comments to the Department of State’s (DOS) FEIS. You’ll have to file a FOIA request to get them.

Official comments to the DOS are due April 22 and should be sent to I’m posting a copy of my comments below. Feel free to copy your own below, as well. Alternatively (or additionally), has a convenient comments submission form here.

My comments to the DOS:


After careful review, I have found the FEIS and SEIS for the proposed Keystone XL project lacking in key data and detail that preclude a proper evaluation of the Keystone XL’s environmental impacts. Of greatest concern are the insufficiency of both the GIS routing data and spill mitigation details in the report.

Inadequate Data

Conspicuously missing from the FEIS and SEIS are the location data for the pipeline’s key landmarks, including milepost (MP) markers and waterbody crossings. Despite their absence, the MP markers are repeatedly referenced throughout both the project and DOS documents and are critical for all discussions of the pipeline route, potential environmental impacts, and surrounding points of interest.

In regards to the SEIS specifically, the GIS data contributed by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) is inadequate for the following reasons:

  • Milepost Markers: The NDEQ report furnishes MP markers for even miles only, whereas the FEIS requires accuracy to the nearest tenth of a mile.
  • Waterbody Crossings: The NDEQ acknowledges that the Nebraska Keystone route has 163 waterbody crossings, but the NDEQ’s digital map file only contains the five largest.
  • Gas & Water Wells: The gas and water well data contained in the FEIS has not been updated to reflect the revised Nebraska route.

While all parties, including PHMSA, FERC, and all state agencies, acknowledge that the pipeline’s GIS data is public information, neither the DOS nor TransCanada will release this information. The hardcopy maps in the FEIS do not contain longitude and latitude information. TransCanada’s manager of Stakeholder Relations, Terry Cunha, has gone so far as to claim that the Keystone XL route location data is a matter of national security. If this is true, this danger has not been conveyed to the public nor acknowledged in the subject Report. The Report and the FEIS on which it relies cannot be considered suitable for public review until a complete open-source digital dataset has been made readily available at no cost.

Inadequate Spill Mitigation

The FEIS and SEIS also fail to sufficiently addresses TransCanada’s preparation for spill prevention and mitigation. It is alarming that TransCanada has yet to develop an Emergency Response Plan for the Keystone XL. A non-profit group, Plains Justice, brought these deficiencies to public attention over two years ago in their report, The Northern Great Plains at Risk: Oil Spill Planning Deficiencies in Keystone Pipeline System. Given the experience of the 2010 pipeline spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where cleanup costs are $1 billion and climbing, TransCanada’s $200 million third party liability insurance is grossly inadequate. Permitting should also be subject to EPA review. It would be negligent to repeat the Gulf Coast approval process, whereby USACE gave sweeping project-wide construction approval to TransCanada through a Nationwide Permit 12 and withheld waterbody crossing data until after granting their approval.

It is disturbing that TransCanada has not been required to fully disclose details of the pipeline route to the public or to document adequate emergency spill response measures. The public review process requires more accurate and complete information than have been provided to date by TransCanada, the DOS, and all state agencies regulating the pipeline.


Thomas Bachand

The Keystone Fiction

Recently, a reader asked me about an existing right-of-way visible on Google Earth that follows parts of the planned Keystone XL corridor. In some areas the projected route can be seen to directly overlay this visible right-of-way; at others it is adjacent or diverges sharply. Similar convergences and differences can also be seen in the official data. The multiple official sources I use typically align, but at times, they don’t. What accounts for this?

We can only conjecture explanations for what we are seeing:

  1. Is TransCanada following an existing easement when possible? Perhaps their leases with landowners allow them to put in multiple pipelines. Some states, like Montana, regulate pipelines stringently, others, like Oklahoma, appear to hardly regulate at all.
  2. Is TransCanada widening an existing easement?
  3. Does TransCanada only survey the route when they’re on the ground, ready to dig? The FEIS shows no survey procedures. Is the route created on a computer and no one actually steps on the ground until they show up at your property line – then they’ve got a 500 foot easement so they can adjust for real-world conditions? The regulatory disparities between various state agencies are broad and, again, the FEIS does not specify. Again, Montana stipulates surveying. Oklahoma is a black box.
  4. Are the FEIS maps and data tables accurate?
  5. All of the above.

Unfortunately, the incomplete nature of the FEIS and the opacity of the review process have made it impossible to verify the report’s veracity and determine the environmental impacts of the pipeline. The KMP primarily focuses on the absence of route data. Yet with other glaring deficiency in the FEIS coming to light, such as TransCanada’s inability to draw up an Emergency Response Plan and the paltry third-party insurance liability of $200 million, one has to wonder what else is remiss with the FEIS.

That’s the thing about environmental impact statements: initially they’re written by those with an interest in the project’s completion. They should be considered a work of fiction until proven otherwise. In the case of the Keystone XL, both the FEIS and the SEIS were produced by companies that had previously worked for TransCanada, Cardo Entrix and ERM, respectively. The Department of State is okay with this. While legal challenges can bring transparencies to an EIS, in the case of the Keystone XL Gulf Coast segment, landowner lawsuits and challenges by the Sierra Club were stymied and EPA review prevented when the US Army Corps of Engineers approved a Nationwide Permit 12 for the project.

The challenges to the Keystone XL are highlighting the business-as-usual approach to pipeline approval. The one-size-fits-all approval process does not seem to take into account the type of petroleum being transported by the Keystone, the Canadian ownership of the pipeline, nor its intended export to Asian markets.

We see this opacity being underscored in last week’s bitumen pipeline rupture in an Arkansas community. Was the community aware that they were living adjacent to a diluted bitumen pipeline? Was Exxon’s mitigation plan cleared with authorities? Why is Exxon controlling journalist access, including the airspace above the spill? Why aren’t companies transporting diluted bitumen contributing to the government’s clean-up fund, the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund?

I suppose the greater question is: why are pipeline supporters so afraid of the facts?