TransCanada Keystone pipeline
Presidential Permit Application
Additional comments by the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow
I will comment on two areas in which I have over 20 years of experience in writing and research
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration states that, “The nation’s more than 2.6 million miles of pipelines safely deliver trillions of cubic feet of natural gas and hundreds of billions of ton/miles of liquid petroleum products each year. They are essential: the volumes of energy products they move are well beyond the capacity of other forms of transportation.” Small wonder that DOT states unequivocally that, “Pipeline systems are the safest means to move these products.”
As a result of the boom in U.S. oil production from shale formation throughout the country, the nation’s underground pipeline system has not been able to keep pace with the demand to transport crude oil to refineries. Railroads have had to fill the void. The Associated Press reported (Feb. 25) that U.S. freight railroads transported 234,000 carloads of crude oil in 2012, up from just 9,500 in 2008. Early data suggest that rail carloads of crude surpassed 400,000 in 2013, according to the Association of American Railroads.
Giant oil trains passing through populated areas of North America are a serious public safety concern. A runaway train with 72 tank cars of Bakken oil derailed, exploded, and burned in Lac Megantic, Quebec in July 2013, killing 47 people and destroying 30 buildings. Oil trains have also exploded and burned in North Dakota and Alabama in recent months. These accidents prompted the Federal Railroad Administration Feb. 25 to issue emergency orders requiring extensive tests on crude oil moving by rail.
The Keystone XL pipeline will provide much-needed relief to an over-stressed rail transportation system. An on-ramp to be constructed in eastern Montana will allow Bakken crude to be shipped by the pipeline, along with the oil from Alberta. As much as 15 percent of the oil to be transported in the pipeline will come from the Bakken formation. That will amount to tens of thousands of barrels of crude per year that will not have to be shipped by oil trains.
In short, the more oil that can be shipped by underground pipelines, including the Keystone XL, the safer communities along rail lines will be. American railroads have an enviable safety record. But the derailment of a single oil train in a population center, such as Chicago or Philadelphia, could trigger a conflagration, with disastrous consequences.
On Jan. 31, the State Department released a report confirming its earlier conclusions that construction of the Keystone XL pipeline would not significantly increase greenhouse-gas emissions. In another report, released Feb. 26, the State Department’s Inspector General (IG) found that the company hired to conduct the environmental assessment, Environmental Resources Management (ERM), did not have a conflict of interest.
The State Department’s findings regarding the pipeline’s effect on greenhouse-gas emissions are not surprising. If the pipeline is not allowed to go south to U.S. refineries on the Gulf coast, it will be diverted west to Vancouver, British Columbia, where the oil will be placed on tankers and shipped across the Pacific Ocean to China and other Asian countries. To the extent that global carbon emissions are a concern, routing the pipeline through the United States is by far the superior choice.
Indeed, the route from the Canadian border to the Gulf Coast has been configured to avoid population centers, sensitive wildlife areas, and Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer. A county judge recently invalidated Gov. Dave Heineman’s approval of the pipeline’s route through Nebraska, saying any eminent domain decision should have been made by the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which regulates pipelines in the state. However, the commission is widely expected to approve the route in the next few weeks, thereby rendering the judge’s decision moot. The judge’s ruling should not serve to further delay the project.
Finally, the pipeline will minimize the need to flare natural gas at drilling sites in the Bakkan shale formation. Flaring – the burning off of excess gas – typically takes place at drilling sites that lack access to pipelines. The New York Times (Jan. 29) reported that nearly 30 percent of the gas flowing out of North Dakota’s wells has been burned as waste in recent months. Natural gas that is burned off for lack of a pipeline never reaches consumers and contributes to poor air quality. The on-ramp mentioned above that will connect Bakkan crude oil to the Keystone XL pipeline will also reduce the need to flare natural gas in the region’s oil fields.
For these, and for a host of economic reasons I will leave others submitting comments to elucidate, I strongly urge the expeditious approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D.
Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow