Keystone Pipeline Faces New Issues in Report Draft

More analysis of Ogallala Aquifer

Sandhill Cranes
Sandhill Cranes are at risk from the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would pump dirty tar sands oil right through their habitat.

The U.S. State Department has released a draft of the supplemental environmental impact statement for TransCanada's Keystone XL oil pipeline, one of the final steps before the department decides whether to approve the project.

The 1,700-mile-long, 36-inch pipeline would pass through six states, including South Dakota, moving heavy crude from tar sands fields in Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast. It needs State Department approval because it crosses an international border.

In this latest review, the department determined that "there are no significant new circumstances or information concerning the proposed project or its potential impacts not already considered in the draft EIS."

But the 320-page document does raise some new issues. It includes:

•  A more detailed analysis of the potential effects of a crude spill on groundwater supplies, notably on the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies drinking and irrigation water to eight states. It does not, however, suggest altering the route to avoid the aquifer.

•  Discussion of several route variations, including a jog in South Dakota the department is calling the Niemi Route Variation. It's named after Harding County rancher David Niemi, who along with a few dozen others was sued after refusing to allow surveyors onto their land, according to a civil complaint. Niemi did not return a message left late Friday.

•  Relocating the tank farm from Steele City, Neb., to Cushing, Okla.

•  In what is sure to be a controversial move, the review also includes an analysis of the heightened greenhouse gas emissions associated with tar sands extraction, though it concludes the project probably would have no effect on "the rate or magnitude of oil extraction activities in Canada."

Environmental groups panned the latest review as inadequate and have asked that the 45-day public comment period be extended to 120 days. They also want the department to hold new public hearings in communities affected by the route.

In an email, Jennifer Pelej, who coordinates the tar sands campaign for the National Wildlife Federation, said the review pays only lip service to their concerns.
"This is yet another attempt to rubberstamp a project that will keep us addicted to dirty fuel at the cost of people, places and wildlife," she said.

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