Final Environmental Impact Statement Flawed

By Ken Winston Nebraska Sierra Club

The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) issued by the State Department on August 26th once again demonstrated their areas of strength and weakness. They are good at simple legal analysis, stating the following: “Individual states have the legal authority to approve petroleum pipeline construction in their states, including selecting the routes for such pipelines.” This is exactly what we have been saying since last December and is consistent with the consensus of legal authority on this subject. However, they once again displayed their lack of expertise at environmental analysis, and failed to get a passing grade on understanding the difference between representation and reality.

It should be noted that environmental analysis is not the State Department’s area of expertise and they farmed out the work to a consulting firm. It should also be noted that the agency with expertise in this area, the EPA, gave them a failing grade on both the Draft Environmental Impact Statement last year and the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement this year. The FEIS has more rationalizations, but has many of the same flaws as the previous documents.

The primary flaw of the FEIS is that it relies on TransCanada’s statements and ignores facts. The Bible says: “by their deeds shall you know them.” Here are some examples of the gap between statements and reality contained in the FEIS. It concludes that the number of spills will be between 1.78 to 2.51 per year. In the next paragraph it states that TransCanada has had 14 spills in the first year of operating their Keystone I pipeline. Instead of looking at some computer model based on other companies’ pipelines, we should be focusing our attention on TransCanada’s dismal record in the first year of operation of Keystone I. This is a brand new pipeline and shouldn’t leak at all. Yet it has leaked 14 times, including a 21,000 gallon leak, a geyser of oil shooting 60 feet into the air. Another significant issue that should be examined is TransCanada’s brand new natural gas pipeline that exploded in Wyoming this summer after less than 6 months of operation. TransCanada made the same kind of representations that their pipeline would be safe because they used the best technology, yet it exploded. The best thing that can be said about TransCanada’s pipeline explosion is that no one died.

Another example is the representation that TransCanada will reclaim the fragile Sandhills because they said they would. In fact, TransCanada had trenches that collapsed and major sinkholes on the same brand new natural gas pipeline that exploded this summer. The Sandhills are far more difficult to reclaim than the land involved in that pipeline.

One more basic example of the flawed reasoning that plagues the FEIS: They conclude that a spill in the Sandhills would not be a big deal because a study of a spill in Bemidji, Minnesota indicated that oil in an aquifer doesn’t travel very far. I have news for the folks at the State Department and their high-priced consultants. The Sandhills and the Ogallala aquifer, which they note is less than 10 feet from the surface for approximately 65 miles in that area, is not anything like Bemidji, Minnesota. This is like comparing football to croquet. The Sandhills aquifer is far more mobile, with the water table often manifesting on the surface in the form of ponds and wetlands as well as feeding springs that create lakes and rivers. They ignored input from hydrologists at UNL (the real experts on this issue) who have pointed out that this conclusion is not supported by any studies of comparable aquifers or soil types.

The conclusion that tar sands oil will float is also contrary to the evidence. Last summer there was an 880,000 gallon spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The EPA gave the Enbridge Company two months to clean it up. More than a year later, the oil still hasn’t been cleaned up because it is sticking to rocks and sand at the bottom of the river. They don’t know when it will be cleaned up, or even if it will be cleaned up in our lifetime.

The FEIS is a huge document and there are many more issues that need to be investigated as we work our way through it. However, it is clear that Nebraskans should take action on one item that they got right, and that is for our state officials to route it away from the Sandhills. The Nebraska Sierra Club is part of a coalition working to get a special session to address this issue. We can’t afford to risk our water supply to the kind of shoddy scholarship and reasoning that created the FEIS. The Washington bureaucrats once again showed their lack of knowledge of the heart of America, and their lack of ability to understand that actions speak louder than words.

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