The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an Environmental Impact assessment of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone Pipeline XL project, sharply criticizing the State Department’s own recent environmental review of the plan. If allowed to proceed, the $7-billion pipeline would transport millions of barrels of highly toxic, viscous tar-sands fuel from Canada across the United States to the Gulf Coast.
In its April 22 letter to top State Department officials, the EPA gives a number of reasons for its objection to the pipeline, detailing concerns about greenhouse gas emissions, the especially toxic and difficult-to-clean nature of the diluted bitumen (dilbit) oil, questions about pipeline safety, and concerns about alternative routes. The EPA also cited “insufficient information” for its critical assessment of the pipeline and the State Department’s more lenient position on the project’s potential to harm the environment.
The State Department study was intended to provide a comprehensive analysis of the proposed Keystone pipeline’s effect on the air, water, and endangered species, as well as communities near its path and the economy. The State Department concluded the pipeline’s impact on the environment would be minimal.
The EPA’s letter cites concerns about the Enbridge oil spill in Michigan, which released more than a million gallons of heavy, sticky dilbit into the Kalamazoo River. Dilbit, laden with toxic additives, is extremely difficult to clean up.
Conventional oil, such as the crude that spilled during BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf, costs about $2,000 per barrel to clean up. But Canadian tar-sands dilbit, such as that which spilled into the Kalamazoo River in July 2010 and in Mayflower, Arkansas in March 2013 costs about $29,000 per barrel on average to clean up.
Last month the State Department opened is Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to comment from the public and other government agencies. The EPA’s feedback may have the most influence on the Keystone pipeline’s fate, which is expected to be decided by summer.
Both tragic and timely, the recent breach of ExxonMobil’s Pegasus Pipeline in Arkansas demonstrates how destructive an accidental or intentional rupture of the much larger Keystone Pipeline could be to the environment and human health.