Skip to content

Today's Keystone Pipeline Spill Count is 14.

There have been at least fourteen known spills on the Keystone Pipeline since the start of operations in June 2010. Have evidence of another Keystone Pipeline spill? Let us know! info[at]

Why “record” fine for Michigan oil spill is a slap on the wrist

July 5, 2012

Former Plains Justice staff attorney Paul Blackburn’s guest commentary for Midwest Energy News.


US Grants Permit for Southernmost Segment of Keystone XL

July 2, 2012

The New York Times reported last week that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has granted TransCanada construction permits for part of the Keystone XL route passing through Texas.  This isn’t the full Gulf Coast segment from Cushing, Oklahoma: the rest remains under review.  TransCanada states that it intends to begin construction on the full Oklahoma – Texas link later this summer.  No formal responses from opponents have emerged.  For those of you who are wondering if and when Plains Justice will get involved, the answer is that we don’t currently have any capacity to work in southern plains states.  We’re just passing on what others are working on.  Check the Blogroll to the right to find engaged locals.

State department press release on new Keystone XL application

May 4, 2012

The State Department has received a new application from TransCanada Corp. for a proposed pipeline that would run from the Canadian border to connect to an existing pipeline in Steele City, Nebraska. The new application includes proposed new routes through the state of Nebraska. The Department is committed to conducting a rigorous, transparent and thorough review.

Under Executive Order 13337, it is the Department’s responsibility to determine if granting a permit for the proposed pipeline is in the national interest. We will consider this new application on its merits. Consistent with the Executive Order, this involves consideration of many factors, including energy security, health, environmental, cultural, economic, and foreign policy concerns.

We will begin by hiring an independent third-party contractor to assist the Department, including reviewing the existing Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from the prior Keystone XL pipeline review process, as well as identifying and assisting with new analysis.

We will cooperate with the state of Nebraska, as well as other relevant State and Federal agencies, throughout the process. Nebraska has stated that their own review of the new route will take six to nine months. Previously when we announced review of alternate routes through Nebraska this past fall, our best estimate on when we would complete the national interest determination was the first quarter of 2013.

We will conduct our review efficiently, using existing analysis as appropriate.

The application will be available on the Keystone XL project website:, and a notice that the Department has received the application will run in the Federal Register.

Keystone XL Risks in South Dakota

April 26, 2012

Dakota Rural Action, a Plains Justice ally that we represented in South Dakota pipeline siting proceedings before the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, just issued this press release:

On April 11, the Nebraska legislature passed legislation, LB 1161, allowing the controversial Keystone XL project to change the original route and avoid the Sandhills region. The unstable, sandy soil and high water table of the Ogallala Aquifer led many Republican and Democrat elected officials to question the wisdom of the project and call on TransCanada, the operation of the project, to reroute the pipeline.

The new proposed route adds another 100 miles to pipeline but still intersects the Ogallala Aquifer. A high water table and sandy soil also exist in southern South Dakota, yet due to strong support of the project by South Dakota Republicans, TransCanada was not forced to reroute in the state.

“A spill by the Keystone XL pipeline into our highly permeable soil that sits just above the Ogallala Aquifer or into one of our rivers that feeds millions of people their drinking water will be devastating to South Dakota’s Ag and Tourism economy,” said John Harter, DRA member and landowner crossed by the pipeline. “This is a great risk just to get this tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast so it can be exported to the world market for top dollar.”

TransCanada must reapply for the national permit before construction can begin. The final landowner easements in South Dakota are currently being acquired by TransCanada with condemnation proceedings in eminent domain court.

There are more issues that need to be addressed such as the Emergency Response Plan, the document used by local residents and first responders in the case of a spill, should be made available for public and local emergency personnel review. Currently, TransCanada must only provide a finalized ERP to emergency workers when construction has started, without any expert or third party input. The public should be able to review and comment on the plans prior to construction because they have intimate knowledge of the land and will likely be the first people to respond if something goes wrong.

Dakota Rural Action has been working with farmers and ranchers impacted by the proposed project since 2008 to ensure that if the pipeline were built in South Dakota, that our land, water and resources are protected.

Seaway pipeline and Dallas drinking water

April 25, 2012

The Dallas Morning News just published an editorial (subscription only, alas) expressing concern about the potential risk to Dallas drinking water from reversal of the Cushing-Gulf Coast Seaway pipeline to carry tar sands diluted bitumen from Oklahoma through Texas.  This recalls the 2007 controversy over the risk posed by the Keystone I pipeline to the drinking water catchment for the city of Fargo, ND.  Testimony was offered by TransCanada claiming that the risk of a spill in areas that could affect the drinking water catchment was less than one in 5400 years.  Given Keystone I’s now-proven tendency to leak like a sieve, those numbers seem absurd.  Fargo, a city of 105,000 people, expressed concern in PSC filings at the time about “the cost, in human suffering and lives, and in money, that it would take to clean up a leak of this highly hazardous tar sands crude oil, should there be a leak.”

Fargo ultimately reached a settlement with TransCanada and withdrew from the PSC docket, in exchange for some additional consultation and safety measures and a $100,000 payoff to a “water education fund”.  In the settlement, Fargo also agreed to support Keystone I publicly and refrain from submitting any further comments in the federal siting process.  So Dallas, now you know what the going rate is for shutting up about your drinking water.

NPR Series on Texas KXL Impacts

April 19, 2012

A project of local media and National Public Radio is examining the potential impact of Keystone XL in Oklahoma and Texas.  Good quality reporting.

Keystone XL Presidential Permit and the Endangered Species Act

April 18, 2012

Paging through the Montana Major Facility Siting Act Certificate of Compliance for Keystone XL (our idea of a good time around here), the critical habitat of the threatened piping plover jumped out.  Piping plovers are:

small, stocky shorebirds (with) a sand-colored upper body, a white underside, and orange legs. During the breeding season, adults have a black forehead, a black breast band, and an orange bill.

In the northern great plains population, numbers have been dropping in recent years, up to 7% annually.  According to the critical habitat designation:

In Montana, plovers currently nest along the Missouri River, on Duck Creek Bay, Bear Creek Bay, Skunk Coulee, and the Big Dry Creek Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir, and alkali wetlands and reservoirs in Phillips and Sheridan Counties.

Under section 3(5)(A) of the federal Endangered Species Act, critical habitat is defined as:

(i) the specific areas within the geographic area occupied by a species, at the time it is listed in accordance with the Endangered Species Act, on which are found those physical or biological features (I) essential to conserve the species and (II) that may require special management considerations or protection; and (ii) specific areas outside the geographic area occupied by a species at the time it is listed, upon determination that such areas are essential to conserve the species. ‘‘Conservation’’ means the use of all methods and procedures that are necessary to bring an endangered or threatened species to the point at which listing under the Endangered Species Act is no longer necessary. Critical habitat receives protection under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act through the prohibition against destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat with regard to actions carried out, funded, or authorized by a Federal agency.

The regulations at 50 CFR 402.02 define destruction or adverse modification as:

a direct or indirect alteration that appreciably diminishes the value of critical habitat for both the survival and recovery of a listed species. Such alterations include, but are not limited to, alterations adversely modifying any of those physical or biological features that were the basis for determining the habitat to be critical.

Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act requires that federal agencies:

insure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out by such agency… is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of habitat of such species which is determined by the Secretary… to be critical, unless such agency has been granted an exemption for such action by the (Endangered Species) Committee….

This means that if any destruction or adverse modification of piping plover critical habitat may take place during the construction of Keystone XL, the presidential permit cannot issue without violating the Endangered Species Act, unless the Endangered Species Committee (also referred to as the God Squad) signs off.  Now isn’t that interesting?  Do you suppose it’s possible to lay a 36-inch diameter buried pipeline, pumping stations, valves, transmission lines, and all the other infrastructure through critical habitat without adversely modifying it?