The Keystone XL is part of the Keystone Pipeline System proposed by TransCanada in 2005 to deliver synthetic crude oil and diluted bitumen (tar-sands oil) from Alberta, Canada to Houston, Texas. The proposed route will run from the US-Canadian border through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Freedom of Information Act Request
In researching a photography project on the pipeline, photographer Thomas Bachand discovered that neither TransCanada nor the Department of State (DOS), the lead regulatory agency for the Keystone XL, would disclose the routing data for the pipeline as required by the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS ). Aside from preventing Bachand from determining the pipeline route, the absence of routing data has made it impossible to interpret the official documents and reports. In particular, the location data for the pipeline’s milepost markers (MP) are critically necessary for the interpretation of both the FEIS and SEIS. The MP markers are repeatedly referenced throughout both the project and DOS documents and are key reference points for all discussions of the pipeline route, potential environmental impacts, and surrounding points of critical interest.
In April of 2012, Bachand filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the pipeline’s GIS data. In June of 2013, the DOS acknowledged for the first time that it had neither requested nor received the pipeline’s GIS route data. An appeal of the DOS’s denial of Bachand’s FOIA request is pending. Current updates on the disposition of this FOIA request can be found here on the KMP blog.
Oil Pipeline Routing 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.
Difficulty in Obtaining Data
TransCanada employees give disparate reasons for not making the GIS data available, the most common being that releasing pipeline data is a Homeland Security issue. More frankly, some TransCanada engineers have referred Bachand to the company’s Community Relations department. TransCanada Community Relations claims that only general maps are available for proposed routes. This indicates that proposed routes are not intended to be reviewed in detail.
While the DOS considers Keystone XL information to be politically sensitive, by fast-tracking the southern Gulf Coast segment of the pipeline without review by the Environmental Protection Agency, the President has signaled his imminent approval of the entire pipeline and delivery of tar sands oil to our southern ports.
Over the past two years, Bachand has rigorously investigated the Keystone XL, turning to a myriad of Federal and state agencies, non-profits, journalists, and engineering professionals for route information. In the process, he has developed the only publicly-available interactive maps of the pipeline route. The maps precisely locate the route and important landmarks, including adjacent communities, water wells, gas wells, aquifers, waterbody crossings, estimated evacuation zones in the event of a spill, “fraccidents,” and other pertinent features. By utilizing open source standards, these maps can be viewed on all computer platforms, including laptops, tablets, and smart phones. They provide an important resource for the wider public, local communities, and landowners, allowing stakeholders, journalists and non-profits to more easily evaluate the pipeline and its impacts, and identify and cooperatively address common issues.
The lack of transparency by both TransCanada and the DOS, calls into question the process leading to approval of the FEIS and SEIS and, thus, the viability and true impacts and consequences of the Keystone XL.