The Missing Milepost Markers

There are two types of data that make up the maps on this site:

  • GIS route longitude and latitude data and
  • Milepost (MP) marker longitude and latitude data.

GIS Route Data: An Approximation

Perhaps of greatest interest to the public, is the GIS route data. This information is represented by the black line on the KMP maps, showing the route and its various twists and turns. Property owners and citizens look to this information to learn where the pipeline will cross their property line and how it might affect their communities. The wider public gains an immediate sense of the pipeline’s scope.

The route line, though, is merely an approximation. It represents a wider corridor (500 feet in the case of Montana and 2,000 feet for Nebraska),in which the actual pipeline construction will take place. This allows for engineers and construction crews to adjust to conditions on the ground. The downside of this corridor concept is that it can introduce uncertainty and opacity into the process, making it more difficult for communities and stakeholders to review the project.

Milepost Markers: The Key Reference Point

Crucial to the environmental review process are the MP markers. During a project’s proposal stage the MP markers represent the center-line of the corridor. They are referenced throughout the Keysone XL FEIS and are vital to interpreting any analysis found there. In the case of the Montana segment of the Keystone XL, the MP markers are in increments of one-tenth of a mile. The corridor itself is 500 feet wide. Thus, the area between MP markers is 500′ x 528′, or approximately 6 square acres – an area that is comprehensible, whether one is standing on the ground or envisioning the area on a map. By contrast, the 2000′ corridor presented in the Nebraska application, at over one-third of a mile, is likely to stretch out of view and be of less utility.

After the pipeline is completed the MP markers are readjusted so that they are no longer figurative points in space, but correlate directly to physical stakes placed in the ground above the buried pipeline. These points are added to the national database of oil and gas pipelines.

Lack of Transparency by Project Sponsors: FEIS Questionable

In regards to the proposed Keystone XL, neither TransCanada nor the Department of State will release either the GIS route data or the MP data. While both Texas and South Dakota have made the route data available, only Montana has released both the route and MP data. The lack of transparency by both the project’s sponsor and the DOS, calls into question the process leading to approval of the FEIS and, thus, the viability and true consequences of the Keystone XL itself.

For more information read the Keystone Mapping Project About page.

Nebraska KXL Route Revised

TransCanada’s revised Keystone XL Pipeline Nebraska route has been added to the Keystone Mapping Project. While there are several alternative routes being proposed, only data for the preferred route has been released. It has been added to both the Google Earth and Google Map views.

The new route avoids the designated Sandhills area but continues to impinge upon the Sandhills landscape and cross the Ogallala Aquifer. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) is conducting a series of meetings concerning the new route and hosting documents on their website. Bold Nebraska is very involved in landowner rights and community organization around the Keystone XL.

While the route information shown on the Keystone Mapping Project comes from the Nebraska DEQ, the water and gas wells locations (view on Google Earth) come from the Final Environmental Impact Statement published on the Department of State website. Visitors to KMP will notice that, in many cases, water and gas well routes, chiefly in Nebraska and North Dakota, do not follow the Keystone route. These well locations follow alternate routes TransCanada is considering.

According to TransCanada’s Nebraska Reroute Report (click to download), the Keystone XL is a fait accompli. To quote the report:

In January 2012, the DOS announced its determination that the project – as presented and analyzed at that time – did not serve the national interest. The determination was based not on the merits of the project, but on the rationale that the time provided by Congress for a decision was not adequate to complete the National Interest review of the project. Specifically, the DOS stated that there was insufficient time to develop and assess information regarding alternative pipeline routes in Nebraska.

Thus, according to TransCanada, Congress feels the merits of the Keystone XL are sound, they simply haven’t had the chance to fully assess it.

The TransCanada document, dated April 18. 2012, also states that the Nebraska legislature authorized NDEQ to review alternative Sandhills routes on April 11. It should not surprise readers that, with the speed at which these documents are published (one week in this case), basic information by which to make a proper evaluation is missing.

In the case of the Nebraska reroute, the proposed corridors are 2,000 feet wide – over one-third of a mile wide (By comparison, the proposed Montana corridor is 500 feet wide). With that amount of latitude it is difficult to understand how landowners are to determine if they are subject to the right away, let alone where the pipeline will cross their property. Further, how is the community to determine impacts if they can’t pinpoint the route?

Keystone Mapping – Site Launch

A couple of months ago I decided to take a look at the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that is planned to run from Alberta, Canada to Houston, Texas. TransCanada Corporation aims to deliver Canadian tar sands oil to southern US refineries and ports. The environmental implications of this project are tremendous.

Conspicuously missing from the FEIS are the pipeline’s GIS route and milepost marker (MP) location data. The MP data are referenced throughout both the project and Department of State documents and are a key reference for all discussions of the pipeline route, potential environmental impacts, and surrounding points of interest. After my routine request for public pipeline milepost data turned into a bureaucratic run-around, I sought out alternative sources for this information by which to create the partial route and MP maps found on this site. Stay tuned as additional requests are pending.

If the American public is going to make an informed and prudent decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, they will require accurate and comprehensive information presented in a cogent and easily accessible manner. I hope that this site is a step in that direction.