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.

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?

Oklahoma Keystone XL Route

UPDATE 6.6.12: The route published here does not represent the unpublished route changes made after Novemeber 2011. [more]

After President Obama denied approval of the Keystone XL, TransCanada Corporation (a Canadian company) repackaged the pipeline project and broke it into three separate projects:

  • The new Keystone XL Pipeline application largely bypasses the Nebraska Sandhills area and now terminates in Steele City, Nebraska.
  • A second project, the Keystone Pipeline Cushing Extension, connects the pipeline to facilities in Cushing, Oklahoma.
  • A third and final project, Keystone Pipeline Gulf Coast Project, intends to reach the pipeline terminus at Port Arthur, Texas.

For TransCanada Corporation, the advantage of this project reconfiguration is that the Gulf Coast Project is now an American domestic project and does not require approval by the US Department of State.

This change of events has accelerated both construction and interest in the Gulf Coast route. While residents of Oklahoma and Texas would like to know the details of the pipeline route, neither state or federal agencies will release it. To partially resolve this issue, I have updated the online maps by approximating the Oklahoma route from the route sheets included in the Keystone FEIS, published on the Department of State website (below). As the PDF route sheets do not contain latitude, longitude, or milepost information, they are unsuitable for evaluating the FEIS. Regardless, the online maps appear to be accurate within 50 feet and the PDF route sheets may be of value to landowners as they walk their property.

Oklahoma Route Sheets
2010 Keystone XL FEIS, Volume 4, Appendix C (17.5 MB) »»

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.