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:
- 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.
- Is TransCanada widening an existing easement?
- 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.
- Are the FEIS maps and data tables accurate?
- 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?