An independent project aims to remove the veil of secrecy that has cloaked the proposed route of Keystone XL, the pipeline that, if built, would transport heavy crude oil from the Canadian tar sands to the Texas Gulf Coast.
The Keystone Mapping Project painstakingly tracks the 1,700-mile route that winds like a snake across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Through the tireless efforts of Thomas Bachand, the site's creator, the Keystone Mapping Project has become the most comprehensive, publicly-available mapping resource for the pipeline.
In a recent interview with TriplePundit, Bachand explained how he has collected the route data, what it reveals, and why the U.S. Department of State doesn't want you to see it.
TriplePundit: Has the State Department refused to supply route data?
Thomas Bachand: In April of 2012, I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the pipeline milepost and other GIS [geographic information systems] data. I was told that 8 to 12 months was a typical turn-around time. Keep in mind that many FOIA requests to the Department of State require extensive searches through diplomatic cables. My request deals with a single project handled by a single department. It should also be noted that according to both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, pipeline routing data is public information. For certain, the public will know where the pipeline is located once it is built – we're simply being kept in the dark prior to construction.
3p: Why would the State Department want to keep the public in the dark?
TB: It is my suspicion that both TransCanada and the Department of State do not wish to engage in the broader discussion and analysis that a detailed, interactive, public map invites.
3p: How have you obtained basic route data, given the lack of cooperation from the State Department and TransCanada [the Canadian energy company seeking to build Keystone XL]?
TB: State regulatory agencies have been a primary source for basic route data. Some states, namely Kansas and Oklahoma, are not making any information public. I reconstructed the Oklahoma route by combining available maps in a variety of mapping tools. Regardless, important features like waterbody crossings and mile post markers remain largely unavailable. This is why the site is coined "Home of the Secret Milepost Markers."
3p: In your opinion, with regard to Keystone XL, is the State Department more responsive to the interests of the American people or those of TransCanada?
TB: Polls indicate that most Americans support the project, but given the misinformation circulating through the media, I can't take the polls seriously. The White House and the Department of State do the public a disservice by not requiring more of TransCanada.
The veracity of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) [a report issued by the State Department] is called into question when the lack of adequate mapping data makes it impossible to evaluate the project's environmental impacts. The firm that wrote the FEIS, Cardno Entrix, has a prior relationship with TransCanada and, thus, a conflict of interest.
Given that only 35 permanent jobs will be created, Midwest gas prices will go up, the Keystone XL's oil is for export markets and American farmers and ranchers are being forced to give up their land, one has to wonder why it is receiving so much consideration in Washington. The economic benefits flow to Canada while America shoulders the risk. We see this same narrative playing out in other sectors of the economy.
3p: What are voluntary evacuation zones (VEZ), and why should the public be aware of them?
TB: In short, the VEZ is based on the 2010 diluted bitumen spill on the Kalamazoo River. The local health department established a VEZ to limit exposure to benzene fumes (a known carcinogen). Miles away, children were getting physically ill.
Thus far, the Kalamazoo spill is is the most costly land-based oil spill in U.S. history – $1 billion and counting. TransCanada’s $200 million third party liability insurance for the Keystone XL is grossly inadequate.
While it is difficult to predetermine spill effects for the length of Keystone XL, the VEZ I have created is a conservative means to convey the wider effects of the pipeline. Keystone XL is simply not an inert pipeline sitting underground. The controversial pipeline has become emblematic of our inability to reconcile world demand for fossil fuels and the environmental imperatives imposed upon modern civilization.
3p: Will people have to leave their homes to make way for the pipeline?
TB: While the pipeline does not appear to physically displace any homes, it does come close to many communities and bisects farm and ranch lands much of the way. The 500' easement (I believe this is consistent throughout, but can't verify) must be kept clear of trees and forest (the Gulf Coast segment is seeing the clearing of forests to make way for the pipeline) but, it is my understanding, ranching and farming can continue. A spill, though, could poison the land and thus destroy the landowners’ livelihood.
In Oklahoma and Texas, eminent domain is being used to take land from many landowners. While they are paid for the land, they are not compensated for the risk to their business (nor their communities). My eminent domain map shows 102 filings for Texas alone. I have yet to obtain data for other states.
Harry Stevens is a freelance reporter covering climate change, corporate social responsibility, social enterprise, and sustainable finance. Harry has contributed to several media outlets, including Justmeans, GreenBiz, TriplePundit, and Sustainablog. You can follow Harry on Twitter: @Harry_Stevens