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.

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.

Map: Gulf Coast Waterbody Crossings – Completed

The Keystone Mapping Project’s Google Earth View has been updated with the waterbody crossing data (for both the pipeline and the access roads) from the Ft. Worth Office of the United States Army Corp of Engineers. This information was obtained by Freedom of Information Act request from USACE – after they had begun approving construction.

Stream, river, and aquifer contamination is a major concern with the Keystone XL due to the toxic chemicals mixed with the tar sands oil during transportation. You can read more about it here.

The new Keystone Mapping Project Google Earth view can be downloaded here:

or viewed online here (plug-in required).

Fraccidents Map by Earthjustice

Earthjustice has come up with a great map showing some of the major fracking accidents, or fraccidents, in the United States. The data is culled from tirelessly combing news reports. I’m sure they would appreciate any heads up fracking accidents you can send their way. For more information on Earthjustice’s Fraccidents map, click here.

To overlay the Fraccidents map on the Keystone Mapping Project’s Keystone XL route map, visit our Google Earth Downloads page and select the Fraccidents link under KMZ Files for Download. The map should download and open in Google Earth.

Updated: Nebraska Keystone XL map

The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) announced earlier this month a revised route for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska. The Keystone Mapping Project (KMP) has incorporated the changes to show the Northern, Clarks, and Western Alternatives, as well as milepost (MP) markers (Thank you, NDEQ!) and a couple of waterbody crossings. Drill down from the MP information bubble, one can also call up the Voluntary Evacuation Zone, US aquifers and, for those seeking more detail, the official NDEQ Google Earth file where one can locate access roads, valve and pumping stations, and more (NDEQ didn’t include icons, so you’ll need to hunt and peck a bit).

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.

Tracking Keystone Eminent Domain Et Al

Update Nov. 26, 2012: The first installment of the Eminent Domain Map can be found on the KMP Google Earth views, the Keystone 2D Complete map, and this custom Google Map view. Eminent domain filings are shown by county. If you have eminent domain or related information to share, please contact the Keystone Mapping Project »


TransCanada CEO Russ Girling says that the company “partners” with 60,000 landowners on daily basis. One also hears, though, of landowners being strong-armed by the company into cooperating, through eminent domain or the threat of legal action. Others feel they’ve been misled by the company.

I’m soliciting submissions for markers on a new KMP map view: Keystone Eminent Domain Et Al. Location markers will be created for those who send me:

If you’d like to remain anonymous on the map view, please indicate so in your email and include the longitude/latitude of the nearest town or municipality. I will still need your contact information so as to verify your submission and insure the integrity of the map. In any case, your contact information will NOT be included in the map unless requested, nor will it be shared with anyone. Anonymous submissions will not be considered.

To send a submission:

Map: Gulf Coast Waterbody Crossings (partial)

As the disasterous Kalamazoo spill highlights, the Keystone XL’s waterbody crossings pose an extreme environmental threat. Yet, while the Department of State’s (DOS) Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) does identify the pipeline’s waterbody crossings and references them by milepost (MP) marker, neither the DOS, TransCanada, nor the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will release the location data for the MP markers.

In mid-July that changed somewhat when environmental groups obtained, through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, Gulf Coast waterbody crossing data for the Tulsa and Galveston District offices of USACE. Missing still is data from the USACE Fort Worth District Office. USACE offices only release the data after the offices have approved TransCanada’s application for a Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12). The NWP 12 allows the company to sidestep case-by-case waterbody environmental review by giving blanket approval for the entire route. While it is disheartening to see the pattern of obfuscation established by TransCanada and the DOS, adopted by USACE, it’s not surpising.

Construction of the Keystone’s Gulf Coast route began on Monday. The only obstacles remaining for TransCanda are a few landowner lawsuits and the Sierra Club.

The Keystone fight has also brought into question the use of eminent domain by private companies. One has to wonder how many landowners would have challenged TransCanada more forcefully had they not been bullied by eminent domain proceedings.

Updated to show the Waterbody Crossings, the new Keystone Mapping Project Google Earth view can be downloaded here:

A 2D map may be viewed here.

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.