When San Francisco Bay area landscape photographer Thomas Bachand first heard about the Keystone XL pipeline, which will take heavy oil harvested from tar pits in Canada to refineries in Texas; he started looking around for a map of it. And he quickly discovered there wasn’t one to be found.
“Obfuscation is a big part of this [pipeline] project,” Bachand tells StateImpact Texas. To show where the pipeline will go — how many rivers, wetlands and streams it will cross, for instance — Bachand started the Keystone Mapping Project. Painstakingly collecting what information he could get from public agencies, he was able to put together an interactive map of the pipeline, which you can view above.
We recently spoke by phone with Bachand to learn about how he put the map together.
Q: So how’d you get involved in this?
A: 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. I went over to the State Department website, and found some great information, but then I discovered there wasn’t any route information. So while you could find where a wetland was, for example, it would say, ‘Wetland 500 feet from Mile Post 182.’ You couldn’t find where Mile Post 182 was. The State Department was helpful, but they weren’t allowed to release the information. So I started looking around, and I went to the states. One gave me the mile post information, but everyone else either didn’t have the information, or they wouldn’t release it.
Some of the states would give me mile post information. Others would only give me route information. And others, like Texas, I had to pull the information off the Railroad Commission website, which was rather laborious. And Oklahoma absolutely stonewalled me. Nebraska though, has been more cooperative the more I’ve gotten to know them. And Canada I can’t get any information from.
And TransCanada [the Canadian company behind the pipeline], the runaround I got from them. Their excuse was that [releasing the information] was a national security risk, which is just a joke.
Q: So where’d you go from there?
A: At first, I thought there must be a legitimate reason that this information wasn’t public. And ironically, it will be public information once the project is finished. The whole thing is designed between the State Department and TransCanada to keep the wider public in the dark until they can get the pipeline in the ground.
They don’t want one landowner knowing what the other is doing. And they certainly don’t want me, sitting here in California, knowing what’s going on with the pipeline route.
Q: What’s been the response to the map?
A: It’s been extremely positive, no matter who you talk to, except for TransCanada. One guy at the State department was very encouraging to me. He said, ‘I love what you’re doing, and we need more people like you doing this kind of thing.’
The thing about the Keystone, it transcends ideological boundaries. Environmentalists have their reason why they’re involved, but then you also have landowners and people who are on the opposite ideological divide who have a whole other reason.
Bachand’s map of the Keystone XL pipeline can be found on this website. You can see water crossings, proximity to oil and gas wells, as well as evacuation zones. Bachand next hopes to map where TransCanada has used eminent domain to route the pipeline through private land.
The southern leg from Oklahoma to Texas is currently under construction, and TransCanada expects a northern leg to be permitted early next year, with construction beginning shortly afterward.