Opponents of Keystone XL now want to block its construction by showing that two oil pipelines from Canada to the U.S. are worse than one.
The Sierra Club said TransCanada Corp.’s (TRP) Keystone and the proposed expansion of Enbridge Inc.’s (ENB) Alberta Clipper should be reviewed together to account for how the combination would contribute to climate change. The San Francisco-based environmental group filed a petition today with 15 other groups, asking the U.S. State Department to revise its Keystone review.
“If you look at each project in isolation, it doesn’t present the full picture,” Doug Hayes, the Sierra Club lawyer who drafted the petition to Secretary of State John Kerry, said in an interview. “They need to look at the two projects together to see if there will be a climate impact.”
Accepting the petition could lead to further delays in the U.S. review of the Keystone application, which is already in its sixth year. Even if the State Department rejects the Sierra Club’s argument, the petition could be the foundation for a legal challenge, said Ethan Strell, associate director of Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University in New York.
TransCanada, based in Calgary, said environmentalists will never be happy with the State Department review, which has generated thousands of pages of analysis.
“This is more of the ridiculousness from the activists who are trying to come up with anyway to” block Keystone, said Shawn Howard, a company spokesman. “At what point does this stop? At some point the process needs to come to a conclusion.”
The Sierra Club said the State Department has to account for its authority over oil sands development, because the two pipelines combined could carry almost 1.3 million barrels a day. By considering each application separately, it’s not taking into account the full impact, according to a copy of a petition to the government provided to Bloomberg.
The State Department reviews permit applications for pipelines that cross international borders. President Barack Obama pledged in June to approve Keystone only if it wouldn’t “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” Enbridge is seeking to expand its Clipper pipeline to carry more oil than is planned for Keystone.
Scientists say carbon-dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal contribute to global warming. Environmental activists say Keystone and the Alberta Clipper would lead to greater production of Canada’s oil sands, which are more carbon intensive than traditional crude.
A draft State Department report in March reached the opposite conclusion about Keystone. It said other pipelines or more rail transit would be developed to get the oil out to refineries even without the proposed $5.4 billion Keystone project, which would link Alberta crude to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.
Enbridge’s project runs from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin.
If the rejection of one pipeline would lead to greater use of the other, then the projects should be considered together, Hayes said.
Columbia University’s Strell said the Sierra Club argument has merit and could be the basis for a lawsuit under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.
Under the law, “you would have to consider the cumulative impacts,” Strell said. “Certainly, it’s a very common challenge under NEPA.”
Environmental groups separately have been pressing for the final State Department analysis to account for limits on another transport option, rail. If it’s not feasible to move the expanding quantities of oil using rail, the pipeline would become the culprit in worsening climate change, they said in a meeting last month with State Department officials.
New regulations proposed by transportation safety investigators in the U.S. and Canada last week after a spate of oil-train accidents could limit the ability of rail to haul more oil.
TransCanada filed its initial application for Keystone XL, which would carry 830,000 barrels per day, in 2008. Calgary-based Enbridge applied in November 2012 to add pumps and valves to a portion of its Alberta Clipper to increase capacity to 880,000 barrels a day from 450,000 barrels.
“The Alberta Clipper expansion is a very different project from Keystone XL, involving increasing the horsepower on an existing pipeline (Line 67) within a well-established right of way, with no new pipeline construction or ground disturbance,” Larry Springer, an Enbridge spokesman, said in an e-mail.
The State Department is working on the environmental reviews of each application. Once those are complete, the Obama administration must decide if each is in the national interest.
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