Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Why We Still Don’t Know Where Exactly the Keystone XL Pipeline Will Go

Courtesy the Keystone Mapping Project. ©Thomas Bachand 2012.

In Texas, the Keystone XL pipeline is a forgone conclusion. Every day, up to 700,000 barrels of oil (both domestic crude and heavy oil commonly known as “tar sands,” extracted from Canada) make their way from Cushing, Oklahoma through the Gulf Coast segment of the Keystone XL pipeline to refineries in Texas. This section of the controversial project went ahead while the northern leg awaits presidential approval. Despite objections by some landowners and environmental groups, the southern leg began commercial operations earlier this year.

But one man just wants to know where the pipeline will actually run. And he’s been stymied again and again in his efforts to get that information. Thomas Bachand, a San Francisco photographer, finally got an answer this week from the U.S. Department of State on why they won’t release the info to him: Because the company behind the project, TransCanada, doesn’t want to.

Bachand filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the State Department in March 2012. He didn’t hear back until over a year later, when the department told him they didn’t ever get mapping data from TransCanada, the company behind the project. That didn’t make sense to Bachand (and TransCanada said they had provided such data), so Bachand appealed. And waited.

In the absence of data from the State Department, Bachand has relied on what he could get from the Army Corps of Engineers and other sources to put together the most comprehensive map of the Keystone XL publicly available.

Then this week the department responded to Bachand’s appeal from last year, and “revealed that it is withholding the pipeline’s routing data at the request of TransCanada,” Bachand writes on his blog, the Keystone Mapping Project.

“TransCanada made clear that it retained all rights to the data and placed express limitations on its use,” the State Department wrote to Bachand. “As a result, the Department lacks the requisite control over these files for them to be considered ‘agency records’ for purposes of the FOIA.”

Bachand breaks down what that means for how much the public can learn about the pipeline:

“In other words, the DoS will not release mapping data essential to evaluation of their Keystone XL environmental reports, as the foreign corporation building the project wishes that it remain private. Unspoken is that the third-party contractors who authored the DoS reports are leading consultants to the oil and gas industry and may be susceptible to divided loyalties. Typically, where conflicts of interest may arise, independent review is encouraged. Yet, in this case, by withholding data the DoS has effectively shielded the 2,000 mile diluted bitumen pipeline from open and independent review.

This lack of transparency has plagued the Keystone XL. When I approached the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2012 regarding TransCanada’s claim that Keystone XL route data was secret due to National Security concerns, I was told that this was certainly not the case as, once built, the buried pipeline will be marked with stakes in the ground. To expedite approval of the southern Gulf Coast segment of the Keystone, the White House fast-tracked the process through the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), effectively sidelining the Environmental Protection Agency from the permitting process. It was only after USACE issued a Nationwide Permit 12 – obviating independent review of over 600 waterbody crossings, that river, stream, and wetland data was made public.”

The northern leg of the project is still awaiting approval from the Obama administration. The most recent environmental review by the State Department found that while the pipeline will have an impact on climate change, it isn’t enough on its own to make a crucial difference.

“Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed [Keystone XL pipeline], is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States,” the State Department report said.


  • Verific

    ““Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed [Keystone XL pipeline], is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States,” the State Department report said.”

    Isn’t it interesting that if you actually look at the DATA that the State Department report (which is written by ERM, an oil industry contractor) presents, that you would come to a completely different conclusion.

    A conclusion that makes sense from both a economic point of view and one that makes common sense :

    Rail transport is more expensive than pipeline transport, and thus the price of WCS (the benchmark for Canadian bitumen in Alberta) will go up if Keystone XL is approved.

    Thus, new, and energy-intensive, expensive SAGD tar sand projects will become profitable ONLY if Keystone XL is approved, and will not start up if Keystone XL is denied.

    The difference is some 500 k bpd of bitumen, which is pretty close to the full capacity of the Keystone XL.

    And thus, rejecting the Keystone XL all by itself will reduce carbon emissions by some 5 Gton through 2050.


    • Dennis Killian

      So you think that they will not ship the oil by trains even though they already are shipping the oil by trains ?
      Do you think they spent million on train loading terminals that they will not use just to spend the money ?
      What was it you bumped your head on so hard ?

      • gpwebster

        Double-walled tanker cars would significantly reduce oil spill and fire hazards, but no US regulating agency has the authority to order the upgrade.
        Pipeline jobs are temporary. Spill clean-up jobs are forever.
        At the pump gas prices will remain at a price reflecting the world oil price.
        Laws giving eminent domain rights to private companies should be repealed.
        Gas taxes should be increased to fund repair of infrastructure.

        • Dennis Killian

          The pipeline would significantly reduce the risk of oil spill.
          All construction jobs are temporary.

          Yes, fuel taxes should be raised.

          • Beel

            Attempts to repeal the ban on export of U.S. oil are already in process and Canadian oil won’t benefit us anyway, so why assume any risk?

            And wIth the high rates of bad welds, dented pipe and damaged pipeline coating found in the southern line, it’s clear TransCanada Corp isn’t as trustworthy as you may think.

          • Dennis Killian

            The Canadian oil will be refined and mostly all used here in the U.S. !
            Why the lies.

          • Beel

            Right, they want to lift the export ban so they can sell it here. That makes a lot of sense.

            It also makes sense China, the largest foreign investor in Canada’s tar sands, doesn’t intend to get any of it.

            Wake up.

          • Dennis Killian

            First off China doesn’t want this Crude oil because there refineries are not setup to refine heavy sour oil !
            China gets there crude oil from the Mideast, it’s much farther to transport the oil from the gulf to China, so the oil would end up costing them more !
            The export ban doesn’t even effect the Canadian oil because it isn’t U.S. domestic produced oil.
            Lifting the export ban would allow us to sell the higher priced light oil, and import heavy oil. The U.S. has the best and most efficient refineries in the world to refine this oil. This will help keep the U.S. consumers paying the lowest gasoline prices in the developed world.

            If China wants to buy refined products from the U.S. refineries why would they wait for the pipeline to be built ?

            China will make money on their tar sands investment, but why would you think they intend to get some of the oil from the Keystone pipeline ? If Canada does build a pipeline to their west coast, then China would probably buy some of the oil, but not from the gulf. The gulf coast refineries already have long term contracts to buy the Keystone pipeline oil !

            Wake up and checkout the facts !

          • Beel

            1. Sure they do. They can build refineries like we did.

            2. We get oil from the Mideast, too, though its farther to transport than from HERE. (It’s demand that determines the necessity to transport long distances.)

            3. A desire to lift the ban on U.S. oil supports, as the more likely lie, your claim that Canadian oil will mostly be used here. (Why the lies?)

            4. Rather spurious, too, but not relevant to the discussion.

            5. Also not relevant, but refineries can be built (Detroit used to have the best automobile factories in the world, too)

            6. A specious claim given pricing is set by the world market. Were prices to fall here due to increased supply, it would result in even more export of Canadian oil (i.e., less supply, price back up).

            7. We pay less for gas because we tax it less and subsidize it more, period.

            8. Because we have a ban on exports to China.

            9. Their demand for oil imports is increasing. Why would you even possibly think they wouldn’t?

            10. You just said there was no ban on Canadian oil exports, but you don’t think China would buy from the Gulf.Coast. Sure.

            11. It matters not if they have long term contracts if there is no pipeline. Guess they’ll have to ship it then.

            12. Yes, seriously, quit with the opinions and check the facts.

          • Dennis Killian

            1. China has built new refineries, but the can’t handle heavy crude like ours can.

            2. We get some oil from the Mideast, because we need to import a net of 7 million barrels a day. We have nowhere else closer then the Mideast to get that oil. So that bit about we buy from the Mideast is just a red herring.

            3. The Canadian oil just replaces heavy crude oil the refineries currently buy from OPEC. There would be no reason for exports to change ! That’s just the facts !
            4. Don’t care what you’re referring to !
            5. The refineries are already built.
            6. What claim are you speaking of ?
            7. Yes taxes are higher in other countries, but we import more oil then a lot of countries even use.
            8. We don’t have a ban on exporting refined oil products ! Again get the facts !
            9. Again they don’t want this oil from the gulf ports !
            10. Already answered.
            11. Well the crude oil can’t all go to the refineries and to China, now can it.
            12. Try looking up some facts.

          • Beel

            You now appear more clueless than you first did. China is not prevented from building refineries as good as, if not better than our own. China’s need to import is greater than ours. No, Canadian oil does not replace the crude we get from the Mideast, we already have a glut. It matters not that we import more, our prices are higher due to taxes and subsidies. We do have a ban against exporting refined oil. How stupid to claim they don’t want refined oil from the Gulf Coast, they simply are banned from buying it. And the crude oil can go anywhere where it will be, or soon could be, refined.

            All the above are facts. Seriously clueless.

          • Dennis Killian

            We do export refined oil products !

            We even export some to China, but they buy mostly products that we don’t use much of here, like pet coke that is in every barrel of oil.

            So you don’t know the facts. There has never been a ban on exporting refined oil products !

          • Dennis, you’ve been trolling the same nonsense for months. You’ve had it explained to you, been shown citations referencing the truth. You respond by reposting the Transcanada brochure (a version hopelessly out of date at that) and by putting an exclamation point after your accusation of “Lie” if you can’t find the right page in your brochure. Are you the densest troll on the web? or just convinced that if you say something often enough it’ll come true, or that someone with even less comprehension than you will believe it?
            Really, man., What are you doing here?

          • Dennis Killian

            Sure attack me, because you can’t refute any of the facts !

          • I see a page full of facts, just none of them are in your posts. Did you think calling others liars without backing the claim constitutes fact?

          • Dennis Killian

            Did you get your check from OPEC yet ?

      • No doubt some oil will move by train, and some probably already is. But the conclusion by the Transcanada contractors who prepared the DOS report is a political argument, and doesn’t even pretend to be a statistical proof. There is no factual basis for a 1-1 replacement of pipeline transport by rail, or any other transport method. Indeed the rail infrastructure for such numbers does not exist. The report also ignores the time-frame for replacement by other forms of transport, which is important in the climate discussion and the recently devised oil vs. rail diversionary argument. It just makes a vague assertion that somehow the oil will be developed by someone eventually. It is good that such reports have “comment periods” so that serious analysis of such spurious claims can be included in the record. We can only hope that such additional analysis will be considered by someone and that the final decision doesn’t substitute politics for facts. If we can’t recognize the ethical flaws in the “If we don’t do it someone else will” argument, at least we should recognize that it isn’t true.

        • Dennis Killian

          As far as the rail infrastructure for such numbers does not exist. That just isn’t true.


          If you look on page 5 of this part of the report from the state department, you will see how much rail infrastructure has been built in the last 4 years.
          By the end of 2014 there will be enough loading capacity for over 1 million barrels a day at the tar sands fields.

          Do you really think they would spend millions of dollars on loading ramps that wont be used ?

      • Watching_From_Lincoln

        Dennis, you are obviously a Tarsands Troll well-versed in the subterfuge of non-equivalent arguments. You see, intelligent, informed people know that THERE DOES NOT EXIST ENOUGH RAIL TANK CAR CAPACITY IN NORTH AMERICA TO TRANSPORT THE EQUIVALENT DAILY VOLUME OF THE PROPOSED KXL. Furthermore, it would take nearly 20 years, at current production capacity and building exclusively the new standard double-wall tank cars, for ACF and the other railcar manufacturers to build enough cars to transport the daily equivalent of the proposed Keystone XL Tarsands crude export pipeline.

        Therefore, TranSCamada’s attempt to mitigate their losses by threatening to use rail, and the Tarsands Industry joining in with the “go ahead and deny the KXL, we’ll just ship it by rail to instead” chorus – is just a bluff and canard – and you attempt to promulgate the Strawman argument.

        Tell you what, pull your nose out of Alex Pourbaix’s ass and see reality – without the KXL the Canadian Tarsands development and expansion comes to a screeching halt. Regardless of the White House’s decision, there will never be a connection made between Canada and the Steele City terminus of the Southern Leg, too many people will see to that.

        • Dennis Killian

          There will be a pipeline built between Canada and Steel City.

          They have built over 1 million barrels of loading capacity in the tar sands fields area. They wouldn’t have spent that money on something that they wouldn’t use.


        • Dennis Killian

          You are obviously an anti pipeline Troll well versed in subterfuge !

    • Total oil has already shelved it’s tar sands proposals due to cost. The more this project is delayed, the more the lies become apparent.

    • whodaman2000

      So stop driving your car if you are that set on reducing emissions. stopping crude from Canada from being refined here wont stop consumption so no you will not be stopping production of your so called greenhouse gasses (which our planet is designed to use in the life cycle of plants-animals-plants-…
      It is ridiculous to cherry pick scientific data and try to support the climate change argument. First we had global warming (which made Al Gore a really rich man with his inconvenient lies and his attempts to setup his own carbon exchange and then force people to use the carbon exchange where he will make money on every transaction while people trade credits and nothing is reduced) then when they had to crawl through a few feet of snow to get to the global warming summits, we had to change the name to climate change. Next they tried to blame el nino on climate change, then la nina, which are both naturally occurring phenomenon and can be traced historically back to long before this debate was even thought about.
      All this talk and arguing and lieing about a few simple things, power and money. Its not about the climate. Its about control, as everything our government does is about. They never run any program efficiently, they siphon off most of the money spent on anything they touch, and later we spend years trying to fix the failed programs that they implemented.
      So put your actions where your mouth is, if you are sold on this idea that we need to reduce emissions by stopping the consumption of carbon fuels, then stop driving your car, stop using gas powered lawn equipment, stop buying power produced in any power plant except nuclear, solar, or wind (coal and natural gas are both carbon based fuels and burning ethanol produces heat and carbon dioxide) and make sure the companies building the solar panels and wind turbines didn’t use any dirty power to build them or ship them by any means that used carbon based fuels like trains or 18 wheelers.
      And make sure the people that host this server and the internet connections aren’t powered by dirty power either and that their equipment didn’t get transported by using dirty fuels.

      We can transport stuff by horse and buggy (unless you want to stop horses from producing methane gas when the poop and expel gas).
      Of course all of this is ridiculous just like your argument.

  • Now isn’t that special. This project is so much in the National Interest that citizens of this nation don’t even need to know about it.

  • phlebitz

    Over 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Over 7600 oils spills were recorded in the US in 2013. Will the Governing Class Republicans accept the responsibility and admit that negligence and lack of maintenance oversight caused the pipeline to erupts. But what do you tell mother nature?

  • JoeLorenzo

    We know exactly where it’s going to go. To a big port on the gulf of Mexico so it can be shipped all over the world.

    • Dennis Killian

      No ! It’s going to U.S. refineries !

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