A new study concludes the environmental risks of the Keystone XL pipeline would be low and not significant enough to block construction of the pipeline though the Sand Hills of Nebraska.
The environmental impact study will play a crucial role in the State Department’s determination of whether TransCanada will be given a permit to build the pipeline. TransCanada proposes building a $7 billion pipeline over 1,700 miles to carry crude oil extracted from tar sands in western Canada to refineries in the Gulf Coast. The pipeline as proposed would go through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The State Department has jurisdiction because it would enter the United States from Canada.
TransCanada’s plans have created controversy in Nebraska, because they call for the pipeline to travel through the environmentally fragile Sand Hills in Nebraska and over the Ogallala Aquifer. Critics contend that any spill could cause widespread environmental damage.
The Department of State acknowledges the concerns expressed by opponents in a section of the report’s executive summary entitled “Potential Impacts to the Ogallala Aquifer and other Groundwater Areas.” The study concludes that any pipeline spill would be limited and wouldn’t threaten the entire Northern High Plains Aquifer system.
The potential for a crude oil spill to reach groundwater is related to the spill volume, the viscosity and density of the crude oil, the characteristics of the environment into which the crude oil is released (particularly the characteristics of the underlying soils), and the depth to groundwater. The depth to groundwater is less than 10 feet for about 65 miles of the proposed route in Nebraska and there are other areas of shallow groundwater in each state along the proposed route. Diluted bitumen and synthetic crude oil, the two types of crude oil that would be transported by the proposed Project, would both initially float on water if spilled. Over time, the lighter aromatic fractions of the crude oil would evaporate, and water-soluble components could enter the groundwater.
Studies of oil spills from underground storage tanks indicate that potential surface and groundwater impacts are typically limited to several hundred feet or less from a spill site. An example of a crude oil release from a pipeline system into an environment similar to the Northern High Plains Aquifer system occurred in 1979 near Bemidji, Minnesota. While the conditions at Bemidji are not fully analogous to the Sand Hills region, extensive studies of the Bemidji spill suggest that impacts to shallow groundwater from a spill of a similar volume in the Sand Hills region would affect a limited area of the aquifer around the spill site. In no spill incident scenario would the entire Northern High Plains Aquifer system be adversely affected.
Sen. Johanns released a statement upon the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline:
“I am tremendously disappointed that running the pipeline through the Sand Hills continues to be the State Department’s preferred route,” Johanns said in a written statement. “The State Department is now one step away from giving the green light to a project that could have grave consequences for our state. I strongly urge the State Department officials who visit next month to take a long, hard look at where TransCanada intends to place this pipeline.”
The study was released after the State Department announced public hearings on the Keystone XL pipeline. Two will be held in Nebraska, one on September 27th in Lincoln and the second September 29th in Atkinson. The times and locations are listed below.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
226 Centennial Mall South
Lincoln, Nebraska 68508
12:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.; 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
West Holt High School
100 North Main Street
Atkinson, Nebraska 68713
4:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Click here for link to the Department of State environmental impact study on the Keystone XL pipeline