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Believe it or not, the precise route of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline remains shrouded in mystery.

Of course, both TransCanada and the U.S. State Department have revealed basic Keystone XL route maps. And those who follow the issue closely know the pipeline would carry Alberta's tar sands diluted bitumen or "dilbit" southward to Port Arthur, TX refineries and then be exported to the global market.

But the real path is still a secret: the actual route of KXL is still cloaked in secrecy. Case in point: the travails of Thomas Bachand, Founder and Director of the Keystone Mapping Project.

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Believe it or not, the precise route of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline remains shrouded in mystery.

Of course, both TransCanada and the U.S. State Department have revealed basic Keystone XL route maps. And those who follow the issue closely know the pipeline would carry Alberta's tar sands diluted bitumen or "dilbit" southward to Port Arthur, TX refineries and then be exported to the global market.

But the real path is still a secret: the actual route of KXL is still cloaked in secrecy. Case in point: the travails of Thomas Bachand, Founder and Director of the Keystone Mapping Project.

"I started out wanting to scout the route for a potential photography project. So I went looking for a map, and discovered there wasn’t one," Bachand explained in a Nov. 2012 interview with National Public Radio. "I went over to the State Department website, and found some great information, but then I discovered there wasn’t any route information."

His experience with TransCanada was even worse.

"TransCanada [also gave me] the runaround. Their excuse was that [releasing the information] was a national security risk, which is just a joke."

Due to lack of transparency on the part of President Barack Obama's State Department and TransCanada, what was once merely an ambitous photo-journalism project has morphed into a full-fledged muckraking effort - and a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request battle royale - that's now lasted about a year and a half for Bachand. The State Department still has yet to give him the goods.  

"I was initially told that 8-12 months was a typical turn around time for a FOIA," Bachand explained to DeSmogBlog in an interview. "Keep in mind that many FOIA requests to the State Dept. require extensive searches through years of diplomatic cables. My request deals with a single project handled by a single department."

Why the long delay on such a seemingly straight-forward request?

"I have been told that the main obstacle to my FOIA request with the Dept. of State for the...Keystone XL is that the information is 'politically sensitive,'” Bachand explained of the situation in a June 26, 2012 blog post.

Missing the Forest for the Trees?

Bachand believes even the most ardent advocates fending off KXL are missing the forest for the trees on the State Dept. KXL Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).

The SEIS was penned by Environmental Resources Management (ERM Group), a dues-paying member of the American Petroleum Institute (API) which said KXL will have negligible climate change impacts, along with two other industry-tied contractors. API has spent $22 million lobbying on behalf of its members on KXL and tar sands since its initial June 2008 proposal, on top of the cash it has spent on its relentless public relations and advertising efforts.

"What's been lost in the debate over the Keystone is that, as written, the EIS makes it impossible to determine the project's environmental impacts," Bachand told DeSmogBlog in an interview. "As all key features and landmarks are referenced to the nearest pipeline milepost marker, without milepost marker longitude and latitude data, one cannot make sense of the report."

As of now, U.S. citizens aren't even privy to information as basic as what water bodies the pipeline crosses, Bachand says. As seen in Mayflower, AR - when tens of thousands of gallons of tar sands crude from ExxonMobil's Pegasus Pipeline spilled into Lake Conway from a pipeline few even knew existed until the latest "dilbit disaster" - knowledge is power and lack of it vice versa. Not knowing the exact route of the pipeline leaves impacted communities unable to anticipate threats to waterways where their local knowledge would be invaluable.  

"Waterbody crossings are another key feature that is largely missing," Bachand explained to DeSmog. "If the pipeline crossed a mile upstream from one's property, or neighborhood, or community park, or aquifer, most people would want to know about it. Keep in mind that I am only looking at GIS data. One has to wonder what else is missing from the EIS."

Bachand also believes that President Obama's statement about deciding the fate of KXL exclusively on its climate change impact - at the expense of numerous significant ecological impacts - is foolhardy.

"Obama said that the KXL would only be approved if it did not contribute to climate change in his Climate Action Plan speech," Bachand said. "Yet, one cannot determine global impacts without first giving due diligence to the immediate environmental impacts. Also, by focusing strictly on the impact of tar sands on the climate, pipeline opponents largely disassociate the debate from the pipeline's ecological impacts."

Next Steps for Bachand on Keystone Mapping Project

Although FOIA battles over basic KXL details were never the initial intention of Bachand's project, he is now committed to work on the project for months, if not years to come.

"The project remains a work in progress. Of course I would like to see the mapping component completed, but as it is, it communicates the 'incompleteness' of both the Keystone concept and our policies on land and energy use," he said in discussing his next steps. "If I can secure funding I would like to travel the pipeline route with the goal of producing a book and gallery exhibit."

Bachand sees KXL as a climate change symbol - and as he's learned, a symbol of broken democracy - with much significance beyond the immediate pipeline itself.

"KXL has become emblematic of our inability to reconcile world demand for fossil fuels and the environmental imperatives imposed upon modern civilization," he said. "I'm glad TransCanada chose to name it the Keystone. It's a perfect metaphor in so many ways."

Originally posted to Steve Horn on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 03:42 PM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots and Climate Change SOS.

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Comment Preferences

  •  If you don't know the route, it's much harder to (12+ / 0-)

    claim direct harm, or to get the people who will be in the path actively protesting.

  •  I hope a whistleblower steps forward (12+ / 0-)

    This is bulls&%.

    What is Obama thinking?

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 04:02:10 PM PDT

  •  This is great news for the opponents (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cotterperson, True North

    An EIS needs to be an adequate informational document.  If the EIS does not include basic information such as the route of the pipeline, it cannot then adequately assess and disclose the environmental impacts of a project that isn't adequately described.  If this is true, the my sense is that even if Obama approves it, the approval is likely to be thrown out in a subsequent law suit.

    Frankly, I think environmental opponents are pretty happy about this.

    Touch all that arises with a spirit of compassion. An activist seeks to change opinion.

    by Mindful Nature on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 04:05:08 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for posting this here. (9+ / 0-)

    Just for the record, Obama didn't say "climate change," but "carbon pollution."

    Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest.  And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.  (Applause.)

    The distinction is important, because it's a much more straightforward question. I haven't read the full industry-insiders report commissioned by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but it is clear that we need an objective report. Perhaps John Kerry will get that done before President Obama makes his decision.

    Regardless, it is clearly not in our national interest to risk a spill of the nasty, stinking dilbit from foreign oil so individuals may profit by selling it to other foreign countries. That should be enough.

    Just for emphasis, here's an EPA picture of Mayflower, Ark., which could be any-suburb-USA. Without a map, it's logical enough to extrapolate.

    Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

    "Let each unique song be sung and the spell of differentiation be broken" - Winter Rabbit

    by cotterperson on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 04:11:03 PM PDT

    •  No spill, no carbon pollution, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blueoasis, aliasalias

      and you don't seriously think the report is going to take spills into account, do you?

      And because none of the Keystone Krap is actually being burned stateside, no carbon pollution!

      In other words, approval of Keystone XL is looking more likely than ever.

      Dogs from the street can have all the desirable qualities that one could want from pet dogs. Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners as if they are grateful for this kindness. -- H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej

      by corvo on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 05:12:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Hi cotter... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...a Fort Smithian here, and I have to say no more pipelines in Arkansas please!

  •  But he's putting solar panels on the WH! (5+ / 0-)

    The old bait and switch, again.

    Thanks for posting this.  

    "If you can't take their money, eat their food, drink their booze and then vote against them, you have no business being in DC."

    by Betty Pinson on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 04:33:33 PM PDT

  •  Most Transparent Administration Ever... (5+ / 0-)

    when it comes to motivation in serving corporate interests.

    Obama: self-described Republican; backed up by right-wing policies

    by The Dead Man on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 04:43:31 PM PDT

  •  Look, this isn't all that unusual (0+ / 0-)

    Since 9/11, a lot of information about the location or configuration of things like dams or pipelines and other infrastructure has been removed from easy public access.  People who enter into specific project planning processes can still get the technical appendices that have the detailed info, but it's a lot harder to find info freely available without getting into the process personally.

    However, if you don't want to jump through the hoops to become an official "stakeholder", or whatever they're calling reviewers, there's an option.  It's very easy to get this kind of info from local and state agencies who have regulatory responsibilities for these projects themselves, since state level public information laws can be pretty straightforward in granting access. You may not be able to surf your way to this stuff, but just about anybody can try walking into one of the "stakeholder" agencies and just asking for the project reports to read and/or copy. It's not complicated.

    To help deal with various "too secure to use" datasets about infrastructure, USEPA has an online system so that folks with a reason to need access to the info can look at various layers of info in one place about existing resources. You need an affiliation (govt or educ) to register for it.

    "I'm not a humanitarian. I'm a hell-raiser." Mother Jones

    by histopresto on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 07:03:33 PM PDT

    •  Thomas Bachand responds... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The Keystone Mapping Project's interactive mapping application allows communities, stakeholders, journalists and non-profits to more easily evaluate the pipeline and its impacts and identify and cooperatively address common issues. One should not have to be an industry professional to determine where the pipeline crosses your community.

      According to federal regulators, pipeline routing data is public information.  The Keystone XL route will most certainly become public once the pipeline is built, at which time stakes will be placed in the ground marking it's location. For some reason the public is being kept in the dark only prior to construction.  

      Much of the mapping data used on the Keystone Mapping Project comes from state agencies.  Regardless, all data sets have been incomplete and vary according to state. When asked about the missing data, the regulators and TransCanada each point the finger at the other.

      I discuss my conversations with the DOS and TransCanada on my blog:

      The approval of the Gulf Coast segment was very instructive in how the government deals with data requests.  Fast-tracked by the White House, the Gulf Coast KXL permitting was handed off to USACE regional offices, thereby sidelining EPA review.  A Nationwide Permit 12 allowed TransCanada to get one permit for all waterbody crossings, instead of one for each: essentially a one size fits all approval process. FOIA requests for waterbody crossings were delayed until it was either too late in the process or, in the case of USACE Fort Worth, well after the permit had been issued.

      •  I think your contribution, in this comment and (0+ / 0-)

        on your blog, is quite illuminating. Thank you for it!

        Welcome from the DK Partners & Mentors Team. If you have any questions about how to participate here, you can learn more at the Knowledge Base or from the New Diarists Resources Diaries. (Click on orange text to go to linked content.) Diaries labeled "Open Thread" are also great places to ask. We look forward to your contributions.

        "The opposite of war isn't peace, it's CREATION." _ Jonathan Larson, RENT -9.62, -9.13

        by BeninSC on Sat Jun 29, 2013 at 08:20:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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