Require Cumulative Environmental Impact Statement for Keystone XL and Alberta Clipper Tar Sands Oil Pipelines

FLOW, along with a myriad of policy and environment groups throughout the Midwest led by Sierra Club, signed this coalition letter to Department of State Secretary John Kerry. The letter requests that the Department of State consider developing a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) for the Keystone XL pipeline that also accounts for the Alberta Clipper pipeline for the purpose of analyzing the “cumulative climate impacts” of both proposed tar sands oil routes. It got some recent news play via Bloomberg, which identifies that even if the petition letter to Department of State Secretary John Kerry was rejected, it “could be the foundation for a legal challenge.” (You can also read the full text of the Bloomberg article at the bottom of this post.)

In a nutshell: it is insufficient to evaluate the climate impacts of each of these pipelines independently through separate EISs, and we urge the Department of State to develop an SEIS for the Keystone XL pipeline that examines the consequences of both pipelines’ combined climate impacts before reaching a decision on either pipeline proposal.

Why we care: FLOW believes that legally requiring the consideration of both pipelines’ cumulative climate impact presents an opportunity to account for the potential risks and impacts that these pipelines pose to the Great Lakes. As these lakes are protected as a public commons and public trust, it is the duty of the Department of State to ensure that the proposed pipelines will not impair the Great Lakes with the destructive climate impacts they will surely create.

The letter argues that the Department of State’s Keystone XL Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statements (DSEIS) downplays the pipeline’s connection to the larger climate impacts of a fast-growing tar sands oil industry. The DSEIS posits that the tar sands industry would seek ways to increase oil development capacity even without the Keystone XL pipeline and will thus have the same, inevitable climate impacts no matter what. However, the Department of State announced that it will also consider a Presidential Permit for the Alberta Clipper tar sands oil pipeline expansion project. This proposal would contribute to a greater increase in tar sands oil development than that which is considered in the Keystone XL SDEIS. Therefore it is critical for the Department of State to consider the climate impacts of the Keystone XL within the context of an even greater increase in greenhouse gas emissions as a consequence of the proposed Alberta Clipper pipeline.

To summarize the points and legal analyses of the letter:

  • The National Environmental Policy Act requires an analysis of the cumulative effects of reasonably foreseeable projects,
  • the Keystone XL DESIS fails to consider the Alberta Clipper expansion,
  • the Department of State must evaluate the cumulative impacts of Alberta Clipper and other proposals in the Keystone XL EIS,
  • new information shows that Keystone XL will directly contribute to tar sands oil expansion and increased global carbon pollution,
  • new information shows that rail cannot replace Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines,
  • tar sands pipelines are inadequately regulated and unsafe, and TransCanada has demonstrated a dismal safety record, and
  • there are demonstrated contractor conflicts of interest and failure by the Department of State to ensure a thorough and unbiased analysis, which may invalidate findings of the DEIS.

FLOW applauds the Sierra Club for leading the way on this petition, and continues to engage with this coalition and through our own work to protect the Great Lakes and all our common waters from the risks of climate change and extreme energy development.

In addition to supporting this request for a supplemental environmental impact statement, FLOW is specifically interested in requiring that a primary goal of tar sands development be the protection of the Great Lakes. Haphazard tar sands oil development threatens devastating  effects on the water of the Great Lakes as well as its people, businesses, ecosystem, and economy.  The Great Lakes are irreplaceable and undue risks or overwhelming potential harms, such as these proposed tar sands pipeline expansions, are unacceptable and do not comport with the rights of the public under the public trust principles that protect the Great Lakes.

Follow our work on the “nexus” between water, food, energy, and climate change issues hereRead the whole letter here. Read the full Bloomberg article below or at this link.

Keystone Foes Say Two Pipelines Are Worse Than One

By: Mark Drajem, Bloomberg News

January 30, 2014

Opponents of Keystone XL now want to block its construction by showing that two oil pipelines from Canada to the U.S. are worse than one.

The Sierra Club said TransCanada Corp.’s (TRP) Keystone and the proposed expansion of Enbridge Inc.’s (ENB) Alberta Clipper should be reviewed together to account for how the combination would contribute to climate change. The San Francisco-based environmental group filed a petition today with 15 other groups, asking the U.S. State Department to revise its Keystone review.

“If you look at each project in isolation, it doesn’t present the full picture,” Doug Hayes, the Sierra Club lawyer who drafted the petition to Secretary of State John Kerry, said in an interview. “They need to look at the two projects together to see if there will be a climate impact.”

Accepting the petition could lead to further delays in the U.S. review of the Keystone application, which is already in its sixth year. Even if the State Department rejects the Sierra Club’s argument, the petition could be the foundation for a legal challenge, said Ethan Strell, associate director of Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University in New York.

TransCanada, based in Calgary, said environmentalists will never be happy with the State Department review, which has generated thousands of pages of analysis.

More ‘Ridiculousness’

“This is more of the ridiculousness from the activists who are trying to come up with anyway to” block Keystone, said Shawn Howard, a company spokesman. “At what point does this stop? At some point the process needs to come to a conclusion.”

The Sierra Club said the State Department has to account for its authority over oil sands development, because the two pipelines combined could carry almost 1.3 million barrels a day. By considering each application separately, it’s not taking into account the full impact, according to a copy of a petition to the government provided to Bloomberg.

The State Department reviews permit applications for pipelines that cross international borders. President Barack Obama pledged in June to approve Keystone only if it wouldn’t “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” Enbridge is seeking to expand its Clipper pipeline to carry more oil than is planned for Keystone.

Scientists say carbon-dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal contribute to global warming. Environmental activists say Keystone and the Alberta Clipper would lead to greater production of Canada’s oil sands, which are more carbon intensive than traditional crude.

Alberta Crude

A draft State Department report in March reached the opposite conclusion about Keystone. It said other pipelines or more rail transit would be developed to get the oil out to refineries even without the proposed $5.4 billion Keystone project, which would link Alberta crude to refineries along theGulf of Mexico.

Enbridge’s project runs from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin.

If the rejection of one pipeline would lead to greater use of the other, then the projects should be considered together, Hayes said.

Columbia University’s Strell said the Sierra Club argument has merit and could be the basis for a lawsuit under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

‘Cumulative Impacts’

Under the law, “you would have to consider the cumulative impacts,” Strell said. “Certainly, it’s a very common challenge under NEPA.”

Environmental groups separately have been pressing for the final State Department analysis to account for limits on another transport option, rail. If it’s not feasible to move the expanding quantities of oil using rail, the pipeline would become the culprit in worsening climate change, they said in a meeting last month with State Department officials.

New regulations proposed by transportation safety investigators in the U.S. and Canada last week after a spate of oil-train accidents could limit the ability of rail to haul more oil.

TransCanada filed its initial application for Keystone XL, which would carry 830,000 barrels per day, in 2008. Calgary-based Enbridge applied in November 2012 to add pumps and valves to a portion of its Alberta Clipper to increase capacity to 880,000 barrels a day from 450,000 barrels.

“The Alberta Clipper expansion is a very different project from Keystone XL, involving increasing the horsepower on an existing pipeline (Line 67) within a well-established right of way, with no new pipeline construction or ground disturbance,” Larry Springer, an Enbridge spokesman, said in an e-mail.

The State Department is working on the environmental reviews of each application. Once those are complete, the Obama administration must decide if each is in the national interest.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Drajem in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at

0 comments on “Require Cumulative Environmental Impact Statement for Keystone XL and Alberta Clipper Tar Sands Oil Pipelines

  1. James Bosch on

    Please review these developments, as well as any environmental assessments and protect the Great Lakes Watershed and Basin.


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