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Montana to feds: Environmental review of Keystone XL pipeline is ‘deficient’

Posted: 1:05 PM, Nov 19, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-19 15:17:44-05
Keystone XL Pipeline begins moving into Montana

The state of Montana wants the federal government to do a more thorough analysis of safety before permitting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

On the last day of a 45-day comment period, Gov. Steve Bullock told the U.S. Department of State in a six-page letter that parts of the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline were lacking.

“NEPA requires federal agencies take a ‘hard look’ at their proposals in light of available information, analysis, and the potential for environmental impacts,” Bullock wrote in a Monday release. “In our review, the state concludes that the Draft SEIS falls short of this requirement and remains deficient in several important ways.”

If built, the $13 billion Keystone XL would stretch over 1,200 miles, starting in Alberta, Canada. It would run underneath 285 miles of northeastern Montana near Glasgow, Circle and Baker – including the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers – and then into South Dakota and Nebraska.

Bullock’s primary concern was that the federal analysis of the threat of potential oil spills to Montana’s water supplies was inadequate, based on the damage to the Yellowstone River caused by oil spills in 2011 and 2015. Those and other spills weren’t included in the EIS analysis.

State experts also objected to the incomplete analysis of threats to cultural resources and a lack of proper consultation with Montana’s tribes. They also asked that more care be taken to avoid drilling activities that would disturb fish or disrupt spawning, particularly for the threatened pallid sturgeon around Fort Peck.

Bullock took input from agency experts in the Montana departments of Environmental Quality; Fish, Wildlife and Parks; and Natural Resources and Conservation.

To provide some independent data, Bullock also sent along a DNRC engineering study showing that the Keystone XL pipeline project could affect eastern Montana’s water infrastructure, and a spill, such as the one currently polluting a wetland in eastern North Dakota, could contaminate irrigation and drinking water supplies.

While the DNRC study found that the proposed pipeline meets federal pipeline safety standards, similar to the current Keystone pipeline, it identified certain sites along the route where a spill would be more likely to pollute water quality.

For that reason, Bullock made some recommendations to increase safety in those areas.

“We hope the State Department and the cooperating federal agencies are able to complete a full analysis of the project impacts to inform the public and ensure potential risks are fully mitigated,” Bullock wrote.

Finally, Bullock questioned why the State Department, and not a more responsible agency such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was taking the lead on the EIS. By law, Bullock said, there is “no concise and consistent explanation” favoring the U.S. Department of State as the lead federal agency.

Meanwhile on Monday, North Dakota’s water quality director announced that the Keystone pipeline spill discovered two weeks ago was found to be 10 times larger than first reported. The spill, originally reported to be 383,000 gallons, now spreads across almost 5 acres of wetland, up from the original half-acre. The cause is still unknown, and TC Energy is reportedly pumping oil through the line again.

The environmental impact statement is just the latest action in more than a decade of false starts to finally approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Montana’s Congressional delegation has repeatedly indicated its support for the pipeline while insisting that safety is paramount.

Most recently, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in June lifted an injunction on pipeline construction after President Donald Trump issued a new pipeline permit to TC Energy. The company said June was too late to begin construction this year. So opponents are trying to head off construction before it begins in 2020.

That also leaves little time for the State Department to honor Montana’s concerns by conducting a more thorough analysis.

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.