5 Cringeworthy Answers From The State Department’s Keystone XL Report


It’s one of the largest in-progress infrastructure proposals in the country, crossing one of the world’s largest aquifers, transporting one of the most carbon-intensive fossil fuels on the planet.

Considering the massive scope of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, it is no wonder the State Department’s recently-released final environmental impact statement for the pipeline is equally massive. In addition to addressing issues such as climate change, economic need, wildlife impacts, socioecomonics, air quality, noise, and the potential of a spill, the State Department received and answered more than 1.5 million comments on the proposed pipeline, the entirety of which it attempted to answer. Though 99 percent of those comments were duplicates of letters from advocacy organizations, one percent — nearly 17,000 — were deemed “unique” submissions. The majority, or 57 percent of the unique submissions, opposed the project, while 43 percent supported it.

Because the State Department could not answer all of the questions and comments, questions were given “themed” answers, which resulted in many questions getting inadequate answers, and some not at all. The most cringeworthy moments from the comment-and-response section are listed here.

What’s In The Pipeline Anyway?

Issue at hand: If the pipeline is approved, a substance called diluted bitumen (dilbit) would be added to the thick tar sands oil to make it flow more easily through the pipeline. Dilbit is not the same as normal crude oil, and the safety of this product and the chemicals used to make it are of concern — particularly that it may be more corrosive, impacting pipeline integrity. Some commenters wanted details on the chemical makeup of the dilbit, safety procedures to maintain pipeline integrity, and emergency response plans to clean up spills of dilbit.

Comment submitted by TetherowJ: “How can you approve a pipeline for a substance you aren’t told the composition of If [a leak] happens in the aquifer, how will the added chemicals behave? YOU DON’T KNOW!”

Answer: “Due to shipper confidentiality issues, the exact composition of the dilbit blends are not publicly available. Although the Department is unable to supply every Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) of the crude oil that would be transported by the proposed Project, Appendix Q, Crude Oil Material Safety Data Sheets, contains MSDSs that identify the chemical composition and maximum volumes of chemicals that could be present in the dilbit and Bakken crude in the event of a release. These MSDSs do not represent an actual dilbit blend that would be transported by the proposed project, but could be useful to emergency responders for planning purposes.”

Translation: The State Department is not disclosing what’s in the dilbit, and not planning on telling emergency response teams either.

What About The Native American Tribes?

Issue at hand: The proposed route of Keystone XL would cross the lands of multiple different Native American tribes, who have raised concerns that their voices are not being heard in the approval process. Members from the seven tribes of the Lakota Nation, along with tribal members and tribes in Idaho, Oklahoma, Montana, Nebraska and Oregon, have been trying to fight construction.

Comment submitted by The Yankton Sioux Tribe and Ihanktonwan Oyate: [Our ancestors] would not have signed [The 1863 Peace Treaties] if the ancestors had known the United States would consistently violate them up to even today. … Indigenous Nations have not been properly involved in the review of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline as a whole and have been forced to participate in a fragmented divisive process, which does not allow tribes to share information with each other in a cooperative manner even though the lands on which Indigenous Nations’ sacred, cultural, and historic sites are found often overlap.

Answer: “ACK.”

Translation: “ACK” is the only code that is not given a response in the “themed response” code list, but likely means “acknowledged.”

There Are Already Holes In This Pipeline. What About Those?

Issue at hand: In early 2013, three people locked themselves inside a segment of the Keystone XL pipeline to protest its construction. While inside the pipe, they discovered there were already holes in it. Non-profit consumer rights group Public Citizen also released a report in November showing the pipes are already bending, sagging and peeling to the point of a possible spill or leakage of toxic tar sands.

Comment submitted by Frances Davis: “The empty pipeline already has holes that have been photographed from the inside out. What do you think will happen when tar sand oil is going through?”

Answer: “The [Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration] has the legal authority to enforce a pipeline operator’s operations, maintenance, and emergency manuals, which include construction and installation. Oversight and enforcement of a pipeline operation is defined by extensive federal and state regulation.

Translation: Regulations will take care of it.

Is It Wise To Delay America’s Transition To Clean Energy?

Issue at hand: Many have questioned whether the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest because of the fact that it will carry tar sands crude, a dirty fossil fuel that, when extracted, contributes greatly to climate change.

Comment submitted by Doug Hayes of the Sierra Club: “[Keystone XL] will promote further development and importation of tar sands crude into the United States, thus perpetuating the status quo dependence of our nation on oil, hindering the investment, research and development of alternative sources of energy, that are produced right at home.”

Answer: “[We] considered alternatives to the use of crude oil from the [Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin], including different energy sources and energy conservation. These options were considered in the development of the Final Supplemental EIS and are incorporated for reference (see Section 2.2.6, Other Alternatives Considered but Eliminated from Detailed Analysis in the Final Supplemental EIS).”

Translation: Section 2.2.6 of the FEIS makes no mention of renewable energy or climate change, rather discusses alternatives such as route variation, an above-ground pipeline, a smaller diameter pipe, a rail alternative, combination rail-pipeline and rail-tanker, and a no-build option. In a very binary fashion, the report seems to assume that the oil has to be burned, giving almost no consideration of a scenario where a lot less tar sands is consumed.

What About My Years Spent Fighting For This Country?

Issue at hand: Some people have taken issue with the fact that the Keystone XL pipeline would be owned by TransCanada, a Canadian company.

Comment submitted by Gary J. Jorgens: “I spent 20 years of my life in the military defending this great country and now the fighting continues for our rights to our land, livelihood, welfare of our families, even to a right to have safe drinking water. What in the world are we doing when we allow a foreign country to bully their way into our country and run a pipeline carrying caustic materials that, when a spill occurs, it will sterilize our soil and contaminate out water for many years to come?”

Answer: “ACK.”

Translation: Ack.

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