FOIA Update: Appeal Delayed, Appeal Denied

In their June response to my Keystone XL FOIA request, the Department of State (DOS) declared, after a fifteen-month review, that they did not have the Keystone XL’s GIS data – despite the agency being tasked with reviewing the project’s environmental impacts (read more here). The FOIA statute allows for an appeal of this finding and requires a response by the DOS within 21 days. In this case, where the requested information is not found, the appeal process reviews the completeness of the department’s search.

Come September I began making follow up calls, only to be told the appeal was pending. I learned that 30 other Keystone FOIA requests were also pending (readers may recall that last year I was told that I was the only one seeking Keystone XL route information). Further calls revealed that my request had to be reviewed by an appeal board which meets once a month – the next meeting being in December (don’t ask).

Of course, the 21-day response deadline set by Congress turns out to be hopelessly optimistic. More to the point, the delay raises questions about short-staffing at the DOS. Does the Pentagon have this problem?

For an impartial view on this case I contacted the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), the governmental agency “Congress has charged with reviewing FOIA policies, procedures and compliance.” An OGIS employee told me she was encouraged that the DOS was providing me with updates at all.

Stay tuned.

Map: Trail of Tears and the Keystone XL

A new KMP supplementary Google Earth map is now available for late 19th Century Ponca and Pawnee migrations, including the Trail of Tears. This map shows the relationship between these historic, sacred routes and the Keystone XL corridor.

While the First Peoples of Canada have become very vocal in the tar sands pipeline discussion, less visible are Native Americans. Of particular note is the sacred “Trail of Tears” and other Ponca and Pawnee migration trails which bisect the Keystone XL on their way from Nebraska to Oklahoma.

More information on the Ponca Tribe can be found here. Additional Ponca history, including another Google Earth map and history on Ponca Post-Columbus migrations, can be found here.

TransCanada Contradicts DOS

The mysterious Keystone route. Now you see it, now you don’t.

As reported earlier on this blog, in response to my April 2012 FOIA request for routing data for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the Department of State (DOS) revealed in June of this year, for the first time, that TransCanada was not required to submit the data and the DOS never required or requested that it be submitted, despite the fact that it is referenced throughout the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). I asked TransCanada’s press office if this were true and was told by email,

“It is our understanding that the DOS has been given the most current route information. If there is additional information they require, we will be happy to provide that to them.”

As my follow up emails and telephone calls to TransCanada went unanswered, I was unable to determine who at the DOS received the information and when they received it.

So, the bigger questions remain:

How does the the DOS fulfill it’s regulatory duty if it does not have the route data, has it but can’t find it, or worse, doesn’t even know whether it has or doesn’t have the data?

If the DOS is not reviewing the pipeline’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), who is?

With these questions unanswered, how is the public supposed to have confidence that the DOS has performed adequate due diligence before exercising its critical authority on such a highly controversial and dangerous pipeline project, particularly when our national security is at risk?

The controversy and challenges facing the Keystone XL in the state of Nebraska offer insight into these questions.

The pipeline permit issued by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) authorizes a routing corridor of 2,000 feet, a zone over 1/3 of a mile wide in which TransCanada can build their pipeline. Yet, while TransCanada has a 110-foot center-line route selected within this corridor, the actual route within the corridor remains a corporate secret – even to the NDEQ, who says that they do not have rights to TransCanada’s information. This jibes with the DOS’ claim that that they themselves do not possess the routing data.

More astonishing is the experience of Nebraska landowners. According to Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska, TransCanada will not reveal the route across a landowner’s property unless that landowner first signs a contract for the pipeline easement in perpetuity.

Meanwhile, TransCanada claims that only 10-30% of Nebraska landowners whose land is crossed by the proposed pipeline do not support the pipeline. Kleeb points out that this can’t possibly be true since 35% of landowners are members of the Nebraska Easement Action Team (NEAT), all of whom refuse to negotiate easements with TransCanada unless the state gets involved. According to NEAT, “no one in Nebraska government in over five years – not your Governor, Attorney General, NDEQ, or Legislature – evaluated the Easement Agreement, the document TransCanada proposes to use with landowners as the controlling terms for how your land will be affected.” As NEAT does not represent all landowners in opposition, Kleeb thinks the opposition numbers are closer to 50%.

In their email to me, TransCanada’s press office went on to say:

In fact, the pipeline route is placed on the National Pipeline Mapping System, which allows any first responder to call up information on any pipeline in their jurisdiction (pipeline, route, product) so that they have current and correct information to assist them in carrying out their duties. This is not new and is a long-standing practice because pipelines are deemed to be critical infrastructure so some information may not be part of a publicly available document to protect the safety of our people, landowners and the communities where these lines run and these important assets.

In other words, we’ll tell you where it is once we build it – as you’ll be cleaning up the mess.

Keystone XL Google Earth Map Updated

The Keystone Mapping Project’s Google Earth view has seen a number of updates recently, including expanded informational windows, addition of the 2,000 foot Nebraska routing corridor, and the correction of a number of rendering errors.

The new file can be found on the Keystone XL Google Earth Downloads page.

Please consider making a donation to this project as these maps and resources come to you at considerable expense in time, effort, and expertise.

Interviewed on NPR’s Living On Earth

The Keystone Mapping Project has been getting a good deal of press lately. This week, my interview with Steve Curwood headlined PRI’s “Living On Earth.”

KMP on Living On Earth »»

Other recent press:

Final Response to FOIA: “No GIS Data”

In their response to my FOIA request for the Keystone XL pipeline’s GIS data, including milepost marker longitude and latitude coordinates, the Department of State (DOS) has revealed that TransCanada did not supply the data and nor did the DOS request or require it. Without this digital mapping information, the Keystone XL’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) are incomplete and cannot be evaluated for environmental impacts.

In their letter, the DOS stated:

Based on the subject matter of your request, we contacted the offices most likely to have responsive records: the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs; and the Bureau of Energy, Economics and Business. We were informed by employees familiar with the records and organization of those offices that the Department does not have copies of records responsive to your request because the Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone pipeline project was created by Cardno ENTRIX under a contract financed by TransCanada Keystone Pipeline LP, and not the U.S. government. Neither Cardno ENTRIX nor TransCanada ever submitted GIS information to the Department of State, nor was either corporation required to do so. The information that you request, if it exists, is therefore neither physically nor constructively under the control of the Department of State and we are therefore unable to comply with your FOIA request.

Did the DOS, TransCanada, and Cardno ENTRIX all fail to perform due diligence in this case only – or is this standard operating procedure?

Last year when I requested the data from TransCanada, I was told that releasing it would be a “national security risk.” Despite this, TransCanada only carries $200 million in third party liability insurance. By contrast, cleanup costs for the 2010 pipeline spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan are $1 billion and climbing.

Why hasn’t TransCanada supplied, Cardno ENTRIX seen fit to include, or the DOS requested, electronic data of such national importance?

Last week President Obama said

I know there’s been, for example, a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a pipeline — the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. The State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal. That’s how it’s always been done.

But I do want to be clear. Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest.

How does the DOS evaluate such national security, economic, and environmental interests without the electronic data?

Evidently, the Keystone Mapping Project knows more about the Keystone XL pipeline route than the United States Government.

DOS Final FOIA Response Keystone XL GIS data request
DOS Final FOIA Response Keystone XL GIS data request

FOIA Update: Taskers

Since December I’ve made close to two dozen calls to the friendly and professional staff at the Department of State in an effort to track down my FOIA request.

Early on, the Office of Environmental Quality and Transboundary Issues referred me to the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. I explained the whole matter of milepost markers and waterbody crossings to the kind woman there – only to learn, over a month and five calls later, that she was transitioning out of the job. Her parting voice mail assured me that the DOS had the GIS information I was looking for and that a new report from TransCanada would be coming out soon. Many calls later, the best her replacement could do was to say that she didn’t have a response for me. I think she got tired of my follow up calls, though. Another month later, in mid-March, I received an email from the person reviewing my request, saying:

Since you have exchanged messages and have spoken on the phone with various of my colleagues concerning your above referenced case, I just wanted to let you know that I was assigned as reviewer; that I have finished my work; and that I am therefore sending the case for senior review. I hope that the case will be concluded in the very near future.

“Finally, pay dirt!” I said to myself. A year after filing my request I was going to receive a response. The thing is, he didn’t send along his number. I waited. Emailed. Waited some more. Six weeks later I tracked him down and left a message.

Turns out, he had written me a letter and it was sitting over in Legal waiting for review. Over the ensuing weeks I left more messages and sent a couple of emails and there my letter sat in Legal. I imagined it buried under other letters just like it in the “In” box, waiting it’s turn.

I tried to not take it personally, but yes, the reviewer, too, tired of me. He passed me off to the Public Liaison, a cheerful woman who insisted she was going to get to the bottom of it. She explained the whole FOIA process to me. My request would have a tracking number assigned to it. Then it would be checked that it was valid and, indeed, something the DOS could respond to. For the first time it occurred to me that the DOS could be getting totally bizarre FOIA requests for such things as Wayne Shorter’s overseas play lists or pizza recipes used in Ghana.

My request would than be assigned to a geographic team and a privacy team, where a case analyst would conduct a review and do cable searches before sending it out to “taskers” to find the data. The final step would find my request returned for review and evaluated for how it fit with the law.

Come again? I did all that tasking a year ago! I told them who to call. Gave them the numbers. Yet, there the letter sat.

I’ve been assured I’ll get it any day.

Tesla Beats Keystone Border-to-Border

New to the KMP Google Earth Add-on maps is a map of Tesla charging stations.

Currently one can drive from the Canadian border to the Mexican border along the iconic West Coast free of charge. The new Supercharger charging stations (currently 12 on the West Coast with many more to come in the Fall) allow for a full 300 mile charge in only 20 minutes. By 2015 Tesla expects to have Supercharger charging stations covering the country.

The Narrative

New to the KMP is the news feed in the footer. I call it the Narrative for the media’s influence on the public discourse. Often the discussion is not substantive.

Driving much of the public’s perception of the Keystone XL is the media’s horse race mentality – in this case, editorial and opinion pieces often based on misinformation. To quote Marshall McLuhan, “The medium is the message.”

The most common myths being perpetuated:

  • Myth 1: The Keystone will create thousands of jobs. To the contrary, only 36 jobs will be created.(US Department of State Keystone FEIS)
  • Myth 2: Since the Keystone’s Canadian oil supplants Mideast oil, it increases energy security for the US. To the contrary, the diluted bitumen piped through the Keystone will be traded on world markets, primarily to China. (Verlager). Also, in this age of global warming where green tech is clearly the future, doubling down on fossil fuels could be interpreted as making the country less secure.
  • Myth 3: The Keystone will lower US gas prices. To the contrary, by relieving a delivery bottleneck of midwest oil to Gulf Coast refineries, the Keystone will actually increase gas prices in the midwest. (Verlager)

Other common myths are addressed in this website’s blog.

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 keystonecomments@state.gov. I’m posting a copy of my comments below. Feel free to copy your own below, as well. Alternatively (or additionally), 350.org has a convenient comments submission form here.

My comments to the DOS:

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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.

Sincerely,

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?

Keystone XL: There’s an app…

KXL Mobile Webapp.  Optimized for iPhone.Contemplating our changing landscape, energy policy, or where that benzene smell is coming from? The Keystone Mapping Project webapp takes the nationally recognized multimedia and photography project on the road, examining land use and climate change in America through an exploration of the Keystone XL. The controversial pipeline has become emblematic of our inability to reconcile world demand for fossil fuels and the environmental imperatives imposed upon modern civilization. Optimized for the iPhone, this mobile app features fine art photography, the pipeline’s only interactive route map, and the latest Keystone news and blogs.

Bookmark for easy access:

FOIA Update: Non-expeditious Denial of Expeditious Processing

On June 26, 2012, I wrote about my appeal of the Department of State’s (DOS) Denial of Expeditious Processing of my FOIA request for GIS route information. At the time, the United State Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was considering a Nationwide Permit 12 for the Gulf Coast segment of the Keystone route, thereby bypassing EPA review of the pipeline’s waterbody crossings. As my appeal noted, without public disclosure of the milepost and waterbody GIS data, approval of the Gulf Coast Keystone route was bypassing public review:

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.

USACE approved the Gulf Coast Segment in early August of 2012 without fully disclosing the route or waterbody crossings. Eventually, an environmental non-profit forwarded me a number of TransCanada documents obtained through the FOIA process that contained the waterbody data.

It was not until January of this year that I discovered that, on July 12, 2012 (nearly a month before USACE issued its permit), the DOS had written – yet failed to send – me a letter denying my appeal for the expeditious processing of my FOIA request for GIS routing data. Incredibly, in their letter the DOS claims that this case is not eligible for expedited processing as it does not involve “Loss of substantial due process rights” – this despite the lack of transparency in DOS and USACE processes and the eminent domain proceedings being brought against Texas landowners by TransCanda, a Canadian company. The letter is below.

As the one year anniversary of my FOIA request approaches, I have made nearly a dozen calls to the DOS, speaking to numerous individuals in an effort to determine the disposition of my request and, for that matter, whether the DOS even has the GIS route data. I received a polite email from a gentleman at the DOS the other day saying that my request would be addressed shortly, to please stop calling, and to contact him with any questions. He didn’t include his number.

Department of State Denial of Expeditious Processing, Page 1
Department of State Denial of Expeditious Processing, Page 2

Launch: Keystone Photo Sharing and Mapping

Waterbird Regional PreserveWith the launch of the Keystone Mapping Project Panoramio photo sharing group the KMP seeks to document the Keystone phenomenon through the eyes of the citizenry. The public is invited to broaden our understanding of the Keystone pipeline, energy and environmental policy, and impacts on global warming. How does the Keystone XL affect you and those in your community? What is the broader import of the pipeline?

For more details on this new photo sharing and mapping component of the KMP, visit:

Share with your friends and help spread the word.

Comments Due: Draft NDEQ Report

Comments are due December 4 on the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality’s Draft Evaluation Report for the Keystone XL reroute around Nebraska’s Sandhills. A simple online form can be found here.

I have found the report lacking in supporting data. The report frequently references the Department of State’s FEIS and Transcanada, neither of which provide sufficient data to make a proper evaluation of the project.

My comments:

————————–

November 30, 2012

Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
1200 “N” Street, Suite 400
P.O. Box 98922
Lincoln, Nebraska 68509

RE: Comments for October 2012 Draft Evaluation Report for the proposed Keystone XL project

After careful review, I have found the NDEQ’s October 2012 Draft Evaluation Report for the proposed Keystone XL project (Report) 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 and Over-Reliance on DOS FEIS

The NDEQ’s report relies too heavily on the Department of State’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) in making its analysis and supporting its assertions. Conspicuously missing from the FEIS 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. The GIS data released by the NDEQ is inadequate, as well, 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

Neither the FEIS nor the NDEQ’s report 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 (http://tinyurl.com/cwzffo9). Given the experience of a recent 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 the NDEQ.

Sincerely,

Thomas Bachand

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