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State Department Admits It Doesn’t Know Keystone XL’s Exact Route

4:44 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

The generic pipeline map

The State Department’s decision to hand over control to the oil industry to evaluate its own environmental performance on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has led to a colossal oversight.

Neither Secretary of State John Kerry nor President Barack Obama could tell you the exact route that the pipeline would travel through countless neighborhoods, farms, waterways and scenic areas between Alberta’s tar sands and oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

A letter from the State Department denying an information request to a California man confirms that the exact route of the Keystone XL export pipeline remains a mystery, as DeSmog recently revealed.

Generic maps exist on both the State Department and TransCanada websites, but maps with precise GIS data remain the proprietary information of TransCanada and its chosen oil industry contractors.

Thomas Bachand, a San Francisco-based photographer, author, and web developer discovered this the hard way. A year and a half after he first filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking the GIS data for his Keystone Mapping Project, Mr. Bachand received a troubling response from the State Department denying his request.

In the letter, the State Department admits that it doesn’t have any idea about the exact pipeline route – and that it never asked for the basic mapping data to evaluate the potential impacts of the pipeline.

Where will KXL intersect rivers or cross ponds that provide drinking water? What prized hunting grounds and fishing holes might be ruined by a spill? How can communities prepare for possible incidents?

The U.S. State Department seems confident in letting the tar sands industry – led in this instance by TransCanada, whose notorious track record with Keystone 1 includes more than a dozen spills in its first year of operation - place its pipeline wherever it wishes.

“[State] does not have copies of records responsive to your request because the Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone pipeline project was created by Cardno ENTRIX under a contract financed by TransCanada Keystone Pipeline LP, and not the U.S. government,” reads the State Department’s letter denying Bachand’s information request.

Neither Cardno ENTRIX nor TransCanada ever submitted GIS information to the Department of State, nor was either corporation required to do so. The information that you request, if it exists, is therefore neither physically nor constructively under the control of the Department of State and we are therefore unable to comply with your FOIA request.

As Mr. Bachand pointed out in a July 3 blog post: ”Without this digital mapping information, the Keystone XL’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) are incomplete and cannot be evaluated for environmental impacts.”

When Mr. Bachand asked TransCanada for GIS data, the company said it couldn’t supply it due to “national security” concerns.

Mr. Bachand’s failed attempt to obtain basic information on the pipeline route exemplifies the recurring problems with the Obama State Department’s botched review of the environmental and climate impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline: huge information gaps, conflicts of interest, industry lobbying muscle and bureaucratic bungling of the process.

As it turns out, TransCanada and its contractors have complete control over critical aspects of the review process, calling into question what else we don’t know thanks to the Obama administration’s poor handling of the most controversial pipeline decision in recent history.

API Dues-Paying Member Did Latest SEIS

The State Department handed over responsibility for preparing the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to an American Petroleum Institute (API) dues-paying member, Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group) – a firm with historic ties to Big Tobacco, as well as two other Big Oil-tied contractors.

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Obama State Dept. Leaving Citizens in the Dark About Exact Keystone XL Pipeline Route

3:45 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Tar Sands Blockade - two activists locked to each other

Two members of a recent Tar Sands Blockade action by Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance. The pair are locked to each other at a construction site.

Believe it or not, the precise route of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline remains shrouded in mystery.

Of course, both TransCanada and the U.S. State Department have revealed basic Keystone XL route maps. And those who follow the issue closely know the pipeline would carry Alberta’s tar sands diluted bitumen or “dilbit” southward to Port Arthur, TX refineries and then be exported to the global market.

But the real path is still a secret: the actual route of KXL is still cloaked in secrecy. Case in point: the travails of Thomas Bachand, Founder and Director of the Keystone Mapping Project.

“I started out wanting to scout the route for a potential photography project. So I went looking for a map, and discovered there wasn’t one,” Bachand explained in a Nov. 2012 interview with National Public Radio. ”I went over to the State Department website, and found some great information, but then I discovered there wasn’t any route information.”

His experience with TransCanada was even worse.

“TransCanada [also gave me] the runaround. Their excuse was that [releasing the information] was a national security risk, which is just a joke.”

Due to lack of transparency on the part of President Barack Obama’s State Department and TransCanada, what was once merely an ambitous photo-journalism project has morphed into a full-fledged muckraking effort – and a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request battle royale – that’s now lasted about a year and a half for Bachand. The State Department still has yet to give him the goods.

“I was initially told that 8-12 months was a typical turn around time for a FOIA,” Bachand explained to DeSmogBlog in an interview. ”Keep in mind that many FOIA requests to the State Dept. require extensive searches through years of diplomatic cables. My request deals with a single project handled by a single department.”

Why the long delay on such a seemingly straight-forward request?

“I have been told that the main obstacle to my FOIA request with the Dept. of State for the…Keystone XL is that the information is ‘politically sensitive,’” Bachand explained of the situation in a June 26, 2012 blog post.

Missing the Forest for the Trees?

Bachand believes even the most ardent advocates fending off KXL are missing the forest for the trees on the State Dept. KXL Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).

The SEIS was penned by Environmental Resources Management (ERM Group), a dues-paying member of the American Petroleum Institute (API) which said KXL will have negligible climate change impacts, along with two other industry-tied contractors. API has spent $22 million lobbying on behalf of its members on KXL and tar sands since its initial June 2008 proposal, on top of the cash it has spent on its relentless public relations and advertising efforts.

“What’s been lost in the debate over the Keystone is that, as written, the EIS makes it impossible to determine the project’s environmental impacts,” Bachand told DeSmogBlog in an interview. ”As all key features and landmarks are referenced to the nearest pipeline milepost marker, without milepost marker longitude and latitude data, one cannot make sense of the report.”

As of now, U.S. citizens aren’t even privy to information as basic as what water bodies the pipeline crosses, Bachand says. As seen in Mayflower, AR – when tens of thousands of gallons of tar sands crude from ExxonMobil’s Pegasus Pipeline spilled into Lake Conway from a pipeline few even knew existed until the latest “dilbit disaster” – knowledge is power and lack of it vice versa. Not knowing the exact route of the pipeline leaves impacted communities unable to anticipate threats to waterways where their local knowledge would be invaluable.

“Waterbody crossings are another key feature that is largely missing,” Bachand explained to DeSmog. “If the pipeline crossed a mile upstream from one’s property, or neighborhood, or community park, or aquifer, most people would want to know about it. Keep in mind that I am only looking at GIS data. One has to wonder what else is missing from the EIS.”

Bachand also believes that President Obama’s statement about deciding the fate of KXL exclusively on its climate change impact – at the expense of numerous significant ecological impacts – is foolhardy.

“Obama said that the KXL would only be approved if it did not contribute to climate change in his Climate Action Plan speech,” Bachand said. “Yet, one cannot determine global impacts without first giving due diligence to the immediate environmental impacts. Also, by focusing strictly on the impact of tar sands on the climate, pipeline opponents largely disassociate the debate from the pipeline’s ecological impacts.”

Next Steps for Bachand on Keystone Mapping Project

Although FOIA battles over basic KXL details were never the initial intention of Bachand’s project, he is now committed to work on the project for months, if not years to come.

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