WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency is raising new objections to a proposed pipeline that would carry oil from western Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.
In a letter to the State Department, the EPA said it remains concerned about the risk of oil spills that could affect drinking water and sensitive ecosystems, as well as the effect of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline.
The EPA said that despite two lengthy reports, the State Department still has not done sufficient analysis of the project's impact on the environment. The letter urged State to conduct a more thorough analysis of oil spill risks and alternative pipeline routes.
Until those concerns are addressed, the EPA said it will rate the project as "environmental objections — insufficient information."
"Pipeline oil spills are a very real concern," Cynthia Giles, EPA's assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, wrote. Giles cited major pipeline spills last year in Michigan and Illinois, as well as two leaks last month in the Keystone pipeline, a 1,300-mile line owned by the same company that wants to build Keystone XL. The U.S. pipeline safety agency briefly blocked Calgary-based TransCanada from restarting the Keystone pipeline last week because of safety concerns.
The recent leaks "underscore the need to carefully consider both the route of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline and appropriate measures to prevent and detect a spill," Giles wrote in the letter dated Monday.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has authority over Keystone XL because the 1,900-mile project crosses the U.S. border.
The new pipeline would carry crude oil extracted from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico, traveling through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma before reaching refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas. The project would double the capacity of the existing Keystone pipeline, which runs from North Dakota to Oklahoma and Illinois. Supporters say the two projects could significantly reduce U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
Environmental groups cheered the EPA letter, which they said highlighted the possible environmental destruction the pipeline could cause.
"With this rating, the EPA is standing up for the people who would be hurt by the Keystone XL pipeline, including Midwest farmers and low-income people around Texas refineries," Alex Moore, dirty fuels campaigner at Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, said Tuesday.
"All eyes are on Secretary of State Clinton," Moore added. "Will she comply with the law and ensure that these impacts are studied or not?"
U.S. officials have pledged to decide on the pipeline project by the end of the year, although the State Department said this week it would hold public meetings on the proposal in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington, D.C.
The State Department released a second environmental study on the project in April, concluding that no new issues had been revealed since a similar report was completed last year.
Environmental groups said the report glossed over crucial issues such as pipeline safety and the risks posed by the proposed route over the massive Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to people in eight states.
The American Petroleum Institute, the oil's industry top lobbying group, said Keystone XL would create thousands of jobs and prevent China and other nations from tapping into the vast resources of the Alberta tar sands.
"Other nations will aggressively develop this key strategic resource for their future energy needs if we fail to act," API chief executive officer Jack Gerard said in a letter to Clinton.
Republican lawmakers and other project supporters have warned that if the pipeline is not built, Canada will construct alternative routes to the West Coast and ship oil sands crude to China and other parts of Asia.
EPA letter: www.epa.gov/compliance/nepa/eisdata.html
Matthew Daly can be reached at http://twitter.com/MattthewDalyWDC