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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

PUC Votes Tomorrow on Keystone XL -- No Emergency Response Plan?

My friends (and yours!) at Plains Justice, the Sierra Club, and Dakota Rural Action are worried our Public Utilities Commission will vote tomorrow to approve TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline without an emergency response plan. Their press release:

Keystone XL Pipeline Vote at PUC on February 18

Commissioners Expected to Approve Pipeline without Emergency Response Plan

WHAT: The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is scheduled to vote tomorrow (2-18-2010) on TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Family agriculture and environmental groups expect the Commissioners to approve the pipeline without having seen an emergency response plan or an Environmental Impact Statement. Commissioners are also expected to direct PUC staff to prepare an order listing conditions of approval.

WHEN: February 18 (2:30 pm CT)

WHERE: South Dakota Capitol Building, room 413

To listen live over the Internet to the PUC meeting, go to http://puc.sd.gov/ and click the Listen LIVE link at the top of the page.

Agenda for the PUC meeting: http://puc.sd.gov/agendas/2010/0218.aspx

The Keystone XL pipeline, also known as the Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion Project, involves the construction of a 1,980-mile, 36-inch diameter tar sands crude oil pipeline that would begin at Hardisty, Alberta and extend southeast through Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. It would incorporate a portion of the Keystone Pipeline and deliver tar sands crude to existing terminals in Nederland, Texas to serve the Port Arthur, Texas oil market, with a 50-mile spur supplying the Houston, Texas oil market.

TransCanada has asked the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to allow them to operate this pipeline at 80% of the maximum burst pressure instead of the standard 72% in areas of “low consequence” including much of Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. If PHMSA grants this request, TransCanada will be allowed to use cheaper, thinner pipe than they are required to use in more densely populated areas. This heightens concerns regarding threats to public health and property because of pipeline leaks, explosions and spills.

Each year there are over 150 incidents related to oil pipelines - with more than 6 million gallons of dangerous liquids spilling and leaking annually. Between 2002 and 2005 more than 50 pipeline incidents were serious enough to warrant public evacuations.

As of today there is no Environmental Impact Statement or emergency response plan for Keystone XL. Is it prudent for the SD PUC to permit this project under these circumstances?

It is reasonable and appropriate to question the business plan of the XL pipeline. Will this project remain profitable and viable? Is the PUC permitting a pipeline of questionable value and necessity?

Oil executive, Patrick Daniel, CEO of energy company, Enbridge Inc., has recently questioned the economic viability of Keystone XL, stating that the XL pipeline would create an over capacity in the pipeline system serving the Alberta tar sands area.

Stay tuned for your elected PUC's vote tomorrow....


  1. You can't have an emergency response plan until you have a finalized route.

    Chuck Isles

  2. While it’s true that it’s not possible to finalize an emergency response plan until the final route is selected, it *is* possible to draft a plan with contingencies for routes because the contents of the plan will not change radically with minor deviations in routes

    In addition, there were and are no alternative routes proposed through south Dakota by TransCanada or the government, so for practical purposes the route approved by the *PUC is* the final route.

    This is particularly true because neither the PUC nor the (federal) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, nor the U.S. Department of State have routing authority under law.

    Government agencies post documents for public comment that may change based on design, route or other factors all the time. Why should this one be different?

    Finally, it would be very helpful for the public to be able to review and comment on a draft of the emergency response plan even if it wasn’t final.

    Kelly Fuller
    Communications Director
    Plains Justice


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