State Dept. Fails to Learn Lessons of BP Disaster – New Assessment of Tar Sands Pipeline Inadequate

Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard, Deepwater Horizon response.

If there is one lesson we should have learned over the year-to-the-day since the BP disaster in the Gulf, it’s that oil companies cannot be trusted on safety and the U.S. government cannot be trusted to hold them accountable.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the State Department’s follow-up environmental assessment for TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, released last Friday, is about as inadequate as the first one.

Even though the new assessment found that tar sands are much more polluting than other forms of oil used in the U.S., the State Department still came to the same conclusion as in the first assessment that the project would result in limited environmental impacts. Something isn’t adding up.

The new assessment attempts to appease the concerns of landowners, farmers, local elected officials, members of Congress, consulting federal agencies, environmental groups, and others. But the State Department merely adds a lot of ink without actually addressing the concerns.

I’d hazard to guess that this is because addressing these concerns adequately would take more time and the State Department wants this off their desks so they can stop dealing with TransCanada and others pressuring them to rubber stamp the project.

An editorial that ran in the Nebraska Lincoln Journal Star today got it right:

“The draft supplemental environmental impact statement released last week by the State Department on the Keystone XL Pipeline is a superficial affirmation of its earlier work…In fact, the statement occasionally seems more concerned about TransCanada’s profit margin than Nebraska’s natural resources.”

Although the new assessment has many inadequacies, the two sections that probably deserved the most attention – pipeline route and pipeline safety – still fell far short.

Pipeline Route

Nebraska Senators Nelson and Johanns, local elected officials, landowners, and farmers have repeatedly asked for an assessment of alternative routes for the pipeline to avoid the Nebraska Sandhills region where the Ogallala Aquifer saturates the sandy soil at the surface. These stakeholders worry about a pipeline spill contaminating this precious source of drinking water for two million people and irrigation for much of America’s breadbasket.

Senator Johanns has even said that there couldn’t be a worse route through Nebraska and maybe the entire country. Instead of the heeding these words of caution and assessing reasonable alternative routes, the State Department said avoidance of the Sandhills wasn’t a good enough reason to look at alternatives, then took a cursory look at some unreasonable alternatives and dismissed them.

Aerial shot of Alberta tar sands taken during NWF flyover

Pipeline Safety

There is considerable evidence that tar sands pipelines pose serious safety risks, which haven’t been assessed by the industry or the regulators. Raw tar sands crude oil is thicker and more corrosive than conventional crude oil, so it has to be mixed with liquid natural gas, then pumped at high pressures and temperatures to make it flow through a pipeline. A tar sands pipeline spilled nearly one million gallons into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River last year. Some of the thick oil is still at the bottom of the river.

The State Department should have allowed the Pipeline Safety Administration the time to do an assessment of these risks. If the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline gets built without this, it will be a dangerous experiment.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling concluded:

“Regulators, however, failed to keep pace with the industrial expansion and new technology–often because of industry’s resistance to more effective oversight. The result was a serious, and ultimately inexcusable, shortfall in supervision of offshore drilling that played out in the Macondo well blowout and the catastrophic oil spill that followed.”

The State Department should pay attention to the lessons of the BP oil disaster so that Secretary Clinton doesn’t give a thumbs up to the next oil disaster. It would be a shame if this dangerous and unnecessary project came to be known as Hillary Clinton’s Pipeline.

Take action to stop this tar sands pipeline by clicking here.