U.S. EPA demands extensive review of oil sands pipe
By Timothy Gardner and Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency raised new concerns about TransCanada Corp's proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline that would bring oil sands crude from Canada to refineries in Texas.
In a letter to the State Department, the EPA cited two small leaks on an existing Keystone line last month as cause for alarm. The letter came at the end of the public comment period for a second environmental analysis on the line, considered a crucial link for easing a growing glut of crude in the U.S. Midwest.
While it remains uncertain whether the EPA's views could cause further delays, they will stoke debate over a project that has become a flashpoint for environmentalists concerned over the carbon emissions related to oil sands and the dangers of a new oil line bisecting the United States.
The State Department expects to decide whether the 700,000 barrel-per-day pipeline can go forward before the end of the year, but has faced sustained opposition from the EPA. State's approval, which is required because it is an international line, has been pending since November 2008.
In its letter, the EPA reasserted familiar objections about potential leaks from the pipeline that would hurt groundwater and that the heavy oil it carries would raise health-damaging emissions at U.S. Gulf Coast oil refineries.
But it also said that two recent leaks on TransCanada's existing line from Canada to Cushing, Oklahoma, known simply as Keystone, underscored the need for the State Department to "carefully consider" both the route of the planned expansion and what measures are needed to prevent and detect spills.
"With respect to the spill detection systems proposed by (TransCanada), we remain concerned that relying solely on pressure drops and aerial surveys to detect leaks may result in smaller leaks going undetected for some time, resulting in potentially large spill volumes," the EPA said.
Requiring ground-level inspections of valves and other parts of the pipeline several times a year, in addition to plane patrols of the pipeline, could improve the ability to detect leaks or spill and limit any damage, the agency said. Continued...