With the release of the State Department’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the Keystone XL export pipeline, arguments from both sides of the issue have been aired, and a lot of (mis)information has been thrown around in Nebraska and national media.  With the public comment period ending on March 7th, the need for citizens to weigh in has never been more urgent. 

Below is a list of what we feel are the main strengths and weaknesses of the FEIS, with some explanations about why they are important to include in your comments to the State Department.  Please look them over and consider addressing them in your remarks.  You must submit your comment(s) to the State Department by March 7, 2014

Click here to submit your public comment to the State Dept.

If you prefer to mail your comments:
U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Energy Resources, Room 4843
Attn: Keystone XL Public Comments
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

You can also send postcards to key decision makers on KXL.  Click here to purchase Pipeline Fighter Postcards.

We’re in the fourth quarter here, folks.  We’ve got the ball in the red zone.  Will Obama take the hand-off from American citizens, score the biggest touchdown ever and secure a huge win for our land, water, climate and property rights, or will he fumble and hand the victory over to a foreign pipeline corporation and its Big Oil backers?

FEIS Main Comment Points

1) The Sandhills, Sandy Soils, and Other Highly Erodible Areas

GOOD: The State Department acknowledges the route still crosses the Sandhills and puts sandy soil at risk. There is a lot of discussion in the FEIS of “sandy soils typical of the Sandhills.”  This is a direct result of our efforts to ensure that below-ground hydrogeologic characteristics were taken into account, not the NDEQ’s bogus map of the shrunken Sandhills.  In fact, the FEIS repeatedly refers to the “NDEQ-defined Sandhills,” which we Nebraskans know is a lot different from the actual Sandhills, which the route still crosses.

From the FEIS: 

Soil types vary from clayey, silty, loamy, to sandy across the proposed pipeline route, with some soils exhibiting characteristics similar to soils found in the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ)-identified Sand Hills Region. This region consists of a prairie landscape that supports livestock grazing, wildlife habitat, and recreation where soils are very susceptible to damage from ground disturbance activities such as pipeline construction. 

The soils of this region are of particular concern because they are vulnerable to wind erosion; however, this region would be avoided by the proposed route.” Keystone FEIS, Section 3.2.1, p. 3.2-1 to 3.2-2. Click here to see section. 

BAD:  The State Department incorrectly states that the Sandhills will be avoided (see above), at the same time acknowledging that the route would cross 48 miles of highly-erodible soils in Nebraska (Table 3.2-1 on p. 3.2-4). They also acknowledge Sandhills-like soils in Tripp County, South Dakota (sec., p. 3.2-5).  The State Department is trying to have it both ways, and we must hold them accountable to the concerns of the farmers, ranchers and citizens of these areas who know the risks of damaging these fragile soils. 

From the FEIS:

“In northern Nebraska, the proposed Project route from approximately MP 619 to MP 707 in Boyd, Holt, and Antelope counties would enter an area where the soils tend to be highly susceptible to erosion by wind and often exhibit characteristics of the NDEQ-identified Sand Hills Region (i.e., fragile soils [see Figure 3.2.2-2]).”  Keystone FEIS, Section, p.3.2-5 

**We need to call on the State Department to protect the Sandhills and other fragile areas.  We must continue to hammer on the point that the NDEQ-defined Sandhills are not the real Sandhills, but a shrunken compromise version that was created to give TransCanada political cover.  The current proposed route is still just as risky to sandy soils as the previous route.  Not only are these soils highly susceptible to damage during construction, they also overlie important areas of the Northern High Plains Aquifer, including the Ogallala and Sand Hills groups, which is addressed in the next point.

2) Nebraska’s Water Resources

GOOD: The State Department acknowledges that the route still crosses the Ogallala Aquifer.  Many articles in the media incorrectly state that since the new route proposed by TransCanada avoids the Sandhills (it doesn’t–see above), then the Ogallala aquifer is no longer at risk.  This is as false as false can be, and the FEIS confirms it.

From the FEIS:

“Much of the proposed Project area in Nebraska overlies the NHPAQ system, which supplies 78 percent of the public water supply and 83 percent of irrigation water in Nebraska (Emmons and Bowman 2000) . . . The proposed Project would extend 274 linear miles through areas underlain by the NHPAQ system. The pipeline would immediately overlie 98 miles of the Eastern Nebraska Unit, 88 miles of the Ogallala Formation, 16 miles of the Platte River Valley Unit, and 72 miles of the Sand Hills Unit (see Figure 3.3.2-4).” Keystone FEIS, Section, p. 3.3-28

**We will not accept this level of risk to our water.  From what we have learned with spills in the Kalamazoo watershed in Michigan to the leak in Mayflower, Arkansas, we know that tarsands oil sinks and that it contains many chemicals that can contaminate groundwater.  We cannot allow such vulnerable areas of such a valuable resource to be compromised.  The pipeline route must avoid these areas, and TransCanada must answer the question of why they will not route the pipe next to the existing Keystone 1.

Click here for an in-depth water analysis done by Bold Nebraska Staff,  and click here for the peer-reviewed study by Dr. Stansbury that shows the risks of a worst-case spill in our water. 

BAD:  The proposed route still crosses the highly sensitive Verdigre Creek, with no extra safety precautions in place to protect this valuable Nebraska resource.  The Verdigre creek is one of the only trout streams in Nebraska.  Both the Nebraska Game and Parks and Trout Unlimited have called for the crossing of this watershed to be avoided, or at the very least done in the safest manner possible.  UNL scientists Dr. Woldt and Dr. Gates have pointed out the importance of protecting these surface water resources, since surface water and groundwater in Nebraska are linked in many areas.

Click here to read the letter from Trout Unlimited

Click here to read the letter from the Nebraska Game and Parks

Click here to read the letter from UNL scientists Dr. Woldt and Dr. Gates.

**We must insist that the Verdigre Creek watershed be avoided by the pipeline route.  At the very least, the Verdigre Creek should be crossed using Horizontal Directional Drilling like the Game and Parks has requested and like TransCanada would do with other important rivers in our state.

ALSO GOOD: In the FEIS, the State Department directly ties impact to water with distance from a spill.  Nebraska citizens and landowners have long been saying that this pipeline comes too close to families’ wells and other water resources.  That is why we worked with the Public Service Commission to try to set minimum distances that pipelines could be from domestic and agricultural wells.

 From the FEIS:

“If a spill were to occur, the degree of impact to water, people, livestock, soil, and other natural resources would depend on the distance from the spill source. This could be affected by the local environmental conditions present in the area surrounding the leak (e.g., if a leak were to occur at the top of a hill it could flow over a greater distance and affect more resources). Maximum buffer zones (i.e., the estimated maximum distance that oil from a spill would be expected to travel) were calculated for surface waterbodies (10 miles), stream crossings (500 feet [ft]), and surface water drinking water resources (5 miles) (see Appendix P, Risk Assessment) . . .  In addition, maximum distances were calculated using the three different spill sizes (i.e., small, medium, and large) with the finding that oil could spread radially on a flat surface between 112 and 1,214 ft from the pipeline, and that if oil were to reach groundwater, it could spread radially between 640 and 1,050 ft away from the spill point (see Appendix T, Screening Level Oil Spill Modeling). 

** We must demand that these risks to Nebraska’s water be taken into account.  Nebraska has more wells within 1 mile of the pipeline than any other state by far.  In some places, the pipeline comes within 100 feet of Nebraska residences.  Although the buffer zones described above, are a starting point, we know pipeline spills have the potential to travel much farther than these numbers would indicate. 

STILL BAD: The State Department is still using outdated spill information from the Bemidji aquifer study, which was done in Minnesota, in a different aquifer with different hydrogeological conditions (FEIS, Section, p. 4.3-11).  The FEIS also includes spill information from Underground Storage Tank (UST) leaks of refined product, not from dilbit crude leaks from pressurized pipelines (FEIS, Section, p.4.3-10).

**Enough is Enough.  We need a REAL study done on the ACTUAL aquifer in question that takes into account the unique conditions of Nebraska’s high water tables, permeable soils, and interconnected surface water.  It is ridiculous now after five years and countless citizen testimony that the State Department has not commissioned a study of our state’s and our nation’s most valuable groundwater resource.  This is a demand of Nebraskans that must be satisfied before we will even think of allowing this pipeline in the ground in these important areas of our state.  At the very least, the State Department could use the peer-reviewed study conducted by Dr. Stansbury as a starting point on risks to our water.

3) Conflicts of Interest

GOOD:  The State Department got rid of TransCanada contractor Cardno-Entrix.  This draft of the EIS has come a long way from the original done years ago by Cardno-Entrix, the State Department’s contractor with known ties to TransCanada and to the oil industry, who also wrote the flawed safety report of the BP Deepwater Horizon project that turned into the biggest offshore drilling disaster in history.  Click here to read more about Cardno-Entrix’s ties to TransCanada

BAD:  The State Department has used another firm with oil industry ties.  Environmental Resource Management (ERM), the new contractor used for the FEIS, has connections to TransCanada and other Big Oil interests with much to gain from construction of the pipeline.  A 2013 press release states:

“Friends of the Earth first revealed last month that Environmental Resources Management, the London-based consultant the State Department hired to review the pipeline’s environmental impact, lied on its disclosure form when it said it had no ties to any entity with an interest in its completion. In fact, Environmental Resources Mangement has not only worked for pipeline builder TransCanada, but for ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, and other oil companies that would profit from Keystone XL’s construction.” 

Environmental groups have also filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to discover information about the ties between the State Department, the Canadian government, and the oil industry.  

Click here to read the FOE press release.

Click here to read a follow-up done by Bloomberg.

**American citizens must demand accountability from our government agencies.  To allow firms like Cardno-Entrix and ERM to produce favorable environmental reviews for their financial partners in the oil industry is unacceptable.  For the Canadian government to sanction these actions while the United States government looks the other way is a disgrace.  Until independent  studies are conducted and unbiased information about this project are allowed equal discussion in government and in the media, citizens will continue to expose and fight these conflicts of interest. 

4) Climate Impact Assessment

GOOD: The FEIS acknowledges that tarsands oil contributes up to 17% more greenhouse-gas (GHG) pollution than conventional crude on a lifecycle basis (FEIS, Section ES.4.1.2, p.ES-15.

The FEIS states, “The total direct and indirect emissions associated with the proposed Project would contribute to cumulative global GHG emissions,” and later, in the same section, says, “In addition, the statistical risk of a pipeline spill could be increased by secondary effects brought on by climatic change such as increased flooding and drought” FEIS, Section ES.4.1.3, p.ES-17).  So, not only will the Keystone Export pipeline contribute to climate change through higher GHG emissions, it would also be more likely to spill as a result of the same climate change it would be helping to create. 

**We must call on Sec. Kerry and President Obama to live up to their word on climate change.  The evidence couldn’t be more clear that the Keystone Export pipeline will significantly contribute to climate change.  Both Sec. Kerry and Pres. Obama must stand by their own statements that they will protect the environment by acting on climate change.

BAD:  The State Department used flawed models of Keystone’s climate impact using studies done by pro-tarsands-development agencies and funded by the Alberta government. An article by Inside Climate News described that, then assessing the climate impact of tar sands expansion through the Keystone Export pipeline, the Department of State looked at two main studies that showed a wide range in the carbon impact of the tar sands: one done by  “Jacobs Consultancy, a group that is owned by a big tar sands developer and that was hired by the Alberta government—which strongly favors the project,” and one done by “the U.S. National Energy Technology Laboratory, or NETL, which is part of the Energy Department and is independent of tar sands commercial interests.

The Inside Climate article explains:

“Rather than choose a single figure, the State Department presented a range of estimates. Compared to other sources of oil, it said, annual incremental emissions of tar sands oil moving from Alberta to the Gulf Coast through the Keystone would fall between 1.3 million tons of carbon dioxide and 27.4 million tons.

The 1.3 million figure came from Jacobs; the 27.4 million figure from NETL.”

This would be like having a General Motors consultant write a report saying that Chevrolets are better than other automobiles using research money given to them by the government during the automotive bailout, then using even more of that bailout money to run promotional ads and target other automakers.  Because that’s what Alberta is doing: subsidizing its main industry for its own economic gain regardless of consequences to others, economic, environmental or otherwise.

*For reference, 27.4 million tons of carbon  is equivalent to the tailpipe emissions from 5.7 million cars, based on the EPA GHG calculator found at: http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/calculator.html.

**We must call on the State Department to rely on the data from the NETL rather than on pro-industry propaganda studies from Alberta-funded, tar-sands promoting firms like the Jacobs group.  Just as Nebraska landowners refuse to be bullied and deceived by TransCanada land agents seeking easement contract signatures, our top government officials should not be swayed by Canadian leaders with strong oil-industry ties, and they shouldn’t seriously consider “scientific” studies done by pro-tar sands oil-industry contractors.

5) Economic Impacts

GOOD: The FEIS recognizes that there will be a minimal amount of jobs created by constructing the Keystone Export pipeline.  Nebraskans have been saying for years that the risks of this pipeline far outweigh any economic benefits to Americans.  While pipeline lobbyists and pro-pipeline politicians have been saying the pipeline would create anywhere from 20,000 to half a million jobs, common sense, and now the FEIS, tell us otherwise.

From the EIS:

“Once the proposed Project enters service, operations would require an estimated 50 total employees: 35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors. This small number would result in negligible impacts on population, housing, and public services in the proposed Project area.” Keystone FEIS, Section 4.10.1, p. 4.10-5 


“Approximately 10,400 seasonal construction worker positions, engaged for 4- to 8-month construction periods, would be required to complete the proposed Project. When expressed as average annual jobs, this equates to approximately 3,900 average annual jobs (3,900 over 1 year of construction, or 1,950 per year over 2 years). Thus, if built over a 2-year period consistent with the explanation provided above, the proposed Project would likely generate 1,950 construction jobs per year.” Keystone FEIS, Section, p. 4.10-15

BAD:  The FEIS Fails to compare property tax revenues from the pipeline to property tax revenues from other energy projects.  The FEIS also fails to address economic damages caused by operational failure of pipeline.

The FEIS states:

“This impact to local property tax revenue receipts would be substantial for many counties, constituting a revenue impact of 10 percent or more in 17 of the 27 counties that the proposed pipeline would affect. Operation of the proposed Project is not expected to have an impact on residential or agricultural property values.”  Keystone FEIS, Section 4.10.1, p, 4.10-5 

Nebraskans know that clean, renewable energy has the potential to boost our rural economy and create more permanent jobs in our state than this pipeline ever will.  A 2013 study of rural Nebraska counties showed:

  • The impact of one, 200 MW wind farm to be $1.3 million annually in revenue
  • This could increase property tax revenue in some counties by about 40%
  • Up to 75% of those increases go into school system

Source: “Impact of Wind Energy on Property Taxes in Nebraska,” by Bluestem Energy Solutions and Baird Holm Attorneys at Law, November 2013. Click here to download a copy of the report.

Nebraskans also know that having a pipeline on their property will most certainly affect their property values, and can affect their ability to secure affordable insurance, operating loans, and can inhibit sale of their properties.  Farmers and ranchers have the most to risk when a pipeline spill occurs, and in the easements that TransCanada is requireing landowner to sign, TransCanada has no liability to compensate farmers for economic damages in the event of a spill.

**We must continue to emphasize the point that it is landowners and citizens along the route that have the most at risk with this project, with little reward.  Our communities stand to benefit far greater from American-made clean, renewable energy that keeps young people in rural areas and benefits our local economy.  Farmers and ranchers along the route know that they have much to lose by allowing a foreign export pipeline on their property, and the easements TransCanada is requiring landowners to sign do not fairly account for the risks to future property owners in our state.

Other Resources:

Memo from David Domina, lead attorney for landowners in NEAT who refuse to play by TransCanada’s rules:

David Domina memo to Nebraska Easement Action Team (N.E.A.T.)

Blogs from Allied Groups:

NRDC’s Danielle Droitsch covers key issues in the report: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/ddroitsch/final_environmental_review_for.html

Anthony Swift writes about what has changed in the report: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/aswift/a_deeper_dive_states_environme.html 

Balanced Articles:

Elana Schor describes both sides of the State Dept report: http://www.eenews.net/stories/1059993862 

Andrew Leach gives a snapshot of what is in the State Dept report: www2.macleans.ca/2014/01/31/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-keystone-xl-environmental-impact-assessment

Inside Climate covers the clear conflict of interest in the report: http://insideclimatenews.org/content/us-keystone-report-relied-heavily-alberta-govt-funded-research 

Economic article for the money wonks: http://blogs.cfr.org/levi/2014/02/01/the-most-important-part-of-the-keystone-xl-environmental-impact-statement/

Transcript from the ONLY on-the-record briefing by the State Department confirming the report is “neutral” and is merely one piece of the decision-making process: http://www.state.gov/e/oes/rls/remarks/2014/221129.htm

QUESTION:  Thanks so much for doing this call.  A lot of people are now kind of analyzing the report and saying that basically, this report comes down on the side of “This would have minimal environmental impact.”  Would you agree with that assessment from reading your reading of the report?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES:  Well, I believe this report does a – takes a comprehensive look at all of the potential environmental impacts, and then it also looks at all of the possible mitigation actions that could be taken.  I think that you would have to think about taking all of those mitigation actions.  You would also have to sort of look more broadly at what I had stated before about the whole issue of greenhouse gas intensity.  So I don’t think that I would come down and make that statement.  I think that you have to look at this document as part of a bigger picture where having all of this information and recognizing all of the different scenarios, you then have to weigh that against the other factors related to energy security and foreign policy and economic considerations.