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State Dept. Shrugs at Keystone XL; Report Considers Reroute Along I-90

Last updated on 2013.03.06

The John Kerry State Department says of the Keystone XL pipeline pretty much what the TransCanada-lobbied Hillary Clinton State Department said: Go ahead. Build it. Apparently stock portfolios trump professions of climate hawkery.

However, the Draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement released at the end of Friday's news cycle doesn't exactly make a thunderous case for building the pipeline. The State Department actually supports much of what I've been saying to debunk the Big Oil propaganda used to sell this project. Consider the official job estimate:

Including direct, indirect, and induced effects, the proposed Project would potentially support approximately 42,100 average annual jobs across the United States over a 1-to 2-year construction period (of which, approximately 3,900 would be directly employed in construction activities) [U.S. State Department, Draft Supplemental EIS, Executive Summary, March 2013, pp. 13–14].

Indirect and induced effects—that's the same fuzzy math that TransCanada uses to say that the pipeline will put dancers, choreographers, and speech therapists to work along the pipeline route in South Dakota during construction. Sure: they'll probably also need some French teachers in their man camps, too, right?

The permanent jobs created by the pipeline are negligible:

Once in place, the labor requirements for pipeline operations are relatively minor. Operation of the proposed Project would generate 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs, primarily for routine inspections, maintenance, and repairs. Based on this estimate, routine operation of the proposed Pipeline would have negligible socioeconomic impacts [State DSEIS-ES, March 2013, p. 14].

35 jobs spread across the plains: that's a pretty thin return for the costly risk we're asked to bear by hosting Keystone XL under our ground and over our water supplies.

The report also concludes that approval or denial of Keystone XL is unlikely to have a significant effect on the development of Alberta tar sands oil, the Bakken oil reserves, or the amount of oil refined at the Gulf Coast, the ultimate destination for Keystone XL. All of that oil is going to move one way or another, so there's no need for South Dakota to bear the risk of this pipeline.

But running more of that risk through South Dakota is exactly what State considers. One-upping Nebraska's proposed reroute to avoid the Sandhills, State suggests that TransCanada could turn east when it hits I-90 west of Murdo, then shoot east along the Interstate until just past Mitchell, where it would angle southeast along the railline and Highway 262 through Alexandria to join up with the existing Keystone 1 pipeline right-of-way in southwestern McCook County. Compared to TransCanada's proposed straight hypotenuse route, this route would cross less prime farmland, less compaction-prone soil, and less drought-prone land. It would cross less vital aquifer land but threaten more shallow wells. It would cross more sensitive wetland regions. And it would cross the Missouri River twice.

But here are the numbers that should matter to the bean-counters in Pierre: the I-90 route creates 200 more jobs during pipeline construction, $7 million more in GDP, and $3.9 million more in property tax revenue.

I'd rather not see another giant pipeline through South Dakota. But running more of it along the already disrupted rights-of-way of I-90 and Keystone 1 may better protect the Nebraska Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer. So for those of you liking the pipeline, you should call Governor Daugaard, tell him to call Secretary Kerry and President Obama, and thump the drum for some I-90 action on Keystone XL.

Related: Pat Powers regurgitates Rep. Kristi Noem's unthinking flogging of Big Oil propaganda in favor of Keystone XL. Rep. Noem ignores the substance of this report and pretends that 35 permanent jobs are a "substantial economic benefit" and that little change in supply at the Gulf equals "energy security."


  1. phyllis cole-dai 2013.03.04

    For those of us who don't like the idea of another tar sands pipeline, please consider attending this weekend's resistance training in Manderson, SD. More info here: . I'll be attending on behalf of Fast for the Earth.

    The State Department's draft report has very shoddy scientific and moral reasoning. It's just plain abysmal. And it was issued after an UnderSecretary of State explicitly promised a delegation of Nebraskan landowners--just a couple of weeks ago, prior to the Forward on Climate rally in DC--that the Department wanted to begin some of its reviews from scratch; that, therefore, no decision would be made for 3-6 months, as it would take that long to do the studies. Either the UnderSecretary was lying, or was misinformed, or the Canadian lobbyists (corporate and governmental) who subsequently visited Washington, as reported in the media, pressed the issue and got what they wanted. To put it bluntly, the process stinks.

    The State Department is throwing Nebraska a bone. It's the only state along the entire KXL route that will be allowed a public hearing during the 45-day public comment period. South Dakotans need to go and make our voices heard. This pipeline must be stopped.

    Many of us are committed to stopping tar sands development in toto. And we're not giving up. It's becoming increasingly difficult for Big Oil to move the tar sands oil, and there are signs of mounting nervousness among tar sands investors. That's why Big Oil is so desperate to get this pipeline built. But resistance is growing. We need to make tar sands development unprofitable, a risky investment. That's the only language that Big Oil (and most governments) now understand. Morality is no longer part of the discussion. The desire for profit, corporate and governmental, is turning Mother Earth into one gigantic sacrifice zone, where nothing is sacred anymore. In a sacrifice zone, greed always trumps life. And citizen indifference is what allows corporate and governmental greed to get its way.

    Time to get off our duffs.

  2. DB 2013.03.04

    Yeah, let's not build it and move it by much more environmentally horrible methods. I'm sure Buffet doesn't mind firing up a few more trains. I bet all those truckers and barge operators won't mind burning some fuel to move it. The pipeline is going to move the oil in a much more safe and environmentally friendly manner. You may stop the pipeline, but it won't stop the oil. With most wells in ND producing at less than 15% due to transportation issues and countless spills happening with semi's daily, they will be putting in pipelines all over to contain the negative effects of human error in the transportation equation. The benefits of the pipeline far out weigh the costs when you learn that oil isn't going away anytime soon as many countries grow and become more 1st world.

  3. phyllis cole-dai 2013.03.04

    Please remember that tar sands oil is NOT like conventional crude oil. It's much more toxic and corrosive, and spills can't be cleaned up. Plus, the effects on the climate of extracting, refining and combusting tar sands oil are far worse than doing the same with conventional crude. Scientists have said that Canada's tar sands "contain twice the amount of CO2 emitted by global oil use in our entire history." The planet simply can't afford to continue tar sands development.

    I'm married to an environmental chemist who studies this stuff, and happens to be pretty good at what he does. I agree with him: We have to stop tar sands development or pay an unimaginable price.

  4. Les 2013.03.04

    """The State Department's very shoddy scientific and moral reasoning. It's just plain abysmal.""" Who'd have thunk it? Kerry, Clinton and Bush kissing BIG oil on the lips. How about a big cheer from the peanut section!!
    It's worth another $8/barrel at the Baker on ramp.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.03.04

    DB, why should we roll over and accept the pipeline? Why not cheer grassroots protesters who are trying to protect South Dakotans' land rights against foreign corporations?

    Phyllis, you're doing fine work. Keep after those guys! There is nothing with at the very least delaying these risky projects, if not halting them and driving them elsewhere.

  6. phyllis cole-dai 2013.03.04

    Thanks for the encouragement, Corey!

    You know, on a lot of issues there's a lot of room for discussion and differences of opinion. But when it comes to the tar sands (and therefore also the KXL pipeline), digging ever deeper into the science doesn't seem to make MORE room for discussion but LESS, because the facts so seem clear, and the implications so serious.

    After spending time with them, I feel responsible to help First Nations people in Canada whose family members who are suffering and dying because of tar sands development. I feel responsible to help American landowners who have been bullied by TransCanada and their own elected officials. I feel responsible to help Native Americans whose treaty rights are being abrograted, and water supplies threatened, and sacred sites destroyed.... I could go on and on. How much harm are willing to do?

    I'm calling on South Dakotans to stand up and care for something more than big corporations and government run amok. Stand up for our water and land and air. Stand up for the well-being of our neighbors and fellow citizens and fellow human beings--and all our descendants. Stand up for a way of life that respects the ways of nature. Stand up for the common good for a change instead of the corporate good. Stand up, for godssake, for the good of this planet, whose health is suffering because of our heavy reliance on fossil fuels over the last couple centuries....

    We've got to draw the line somewhere, say "Enough is enough." I for one think we're way past the point when we should have done exactly that.

  7. Winston 2013.03.04

    I understand the whole energy independence North American goal mindset, but when an energy source like Canadian tar sands is primarily being promoted for shipment overseas does not the North American parochial energy policy initiative itself become shattered? Or does this merely prove that North American energy policy has a multi-national corporate interest rather than a nation's (s') interest?

    Why promote another countries energy production for export when it will merely compete with our domestic oil production, affecting the price through increased competition and availability, thus, potentially lessening domestic production growth or interest, and our ability to increasingly use our present new increased domestic production capability for energy independence and export sales in the near future in order to lessen our balance of payment deficits?

  8. John 2013.03.04

    Yes, we should not roll over and accept this pipeline. Yet if it comes it must come in an existing infrastructure corridor. The days are long over when some engineer can draw a line on a map - be it for this bad pipeline or the electrical line Black Hills Power wants to rip through the Black Hills.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.03.04

    So John, you're cool with telling TransCanada to bend east and take I-90 and the existing Keystone 1 corridor?

  10. Ken Blanchard 2013.03.04

    Cory: you have a knack for undermining your own arguments. You have been complaining for some time that "not one drop" of the oil from Canada will be burned in the US. Now you concede the State Department's obvious point that the oil will go one way or the other. Sending it West is the surest way to guarantee that not one drop will benefit us.

    Regardless of the long term jobs that the pipeline itself will need, it will generate thousands of jobs as it is built. We need those jobs right now. It will also guarantee jobs at the Gulf Coast refineries as long as the oil shows up there. That's value added domestically, which will mean both economic growth and tax revenues. And speaking of tax revenues, the Dakota counties through which the pipeline will pass will see a windfall.

    It makes no sense at all not to build Keystone XL.

  11. larry kurtz 2013.03.05

    A series of earthquakes has been plaguing southern Oklahoma in the past several days adding to the heartburn building in the belly of the nation.

    KXL will never be built regardless of whether Ken wills it.

  12. Rick 2013.03.05

    Ken, how much of a tax revenue windfall have the counties in SD had since the installation of the first Keystone pipeline a few years ago?

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.03.05

    Ken, I have not conceded any point that undermines the argument that not one drop of that oil goes into our tanks. Not one word of the State Department report says we will get that oil. They carefully avoid saying it directly, but they say that the ultimate destination of the oil will be determined by the global market. In other words, all to China. Any benefit of the temporary jobs could be outweighed by the ongoing economic impact of clearing the glut at Cushing and reducing regional supply sooner rather than later.

    We can create better jobs by investing in other energy projects that do not take away South Dakota land rights and that do not impose on us permanent environmental risks.

  14. larry kurtz 2013.03.05

    If the land grab being considered for KXL was being secured for a wildlife corridor, Ken and his earth hater buddies would be on full tilt.

  15. Douglas Wiken 2013.03.05

    We don't need the XL pipeline or railroads hauling that crude around. We need conservation and a full blast research and development effort on wind and solar and Thorium nuclear.

  16. Ken Blanchard 2013.03.06

    Cory: you admit that oil is a market but you seem to have no idea what that means. It means that the oil will go where there is a demand for it, whether that is here or elsewhere. To suppose that you can predict what the future market will be is shockingly ignorant. Either way, adding value by refining something here increases national wealth. That is a good thing in economics. Oil 'gluts' by contrast are bad things on balance. They may benefit a locality but they hurt everyone else. Your argument, if indeed you have one, is 'screw everyone else, so long as we keep local prices low'. This is what passes as progressive these days? Your arguments are ignorance on stilts.

  17. bret clanton 2013.03.06

    Mr. Blanchard, has your group been hired by TransCanada to scour the internet and address bad exposure?

  18. Anne 2013.03.06

    The right wing first commandment: never argue an issue when you can insult and demean a person's character and intellect. What a contribution to an adult discussion.

  19. Rorschach 2013.03.06

    Ken, you made a claim you haven't backed up yet. You said SD counties would see a windfall from Keystone XL going through. Rick asked you how much of a windfall SD counties have received from the first Keystone pipeline. So which counties got the windfall, and how much of a windfall from Keystone 1?

    All we know so far is that Transcanada received millions in tax breaks from SD to build the Keystone 1 pipeline it was going to build anyway without the tax breaks. Seems to me that the only ones receiving a windfall on Keystone 1 in SD is the Canadian company that built it, and the lawyer/lobbyists who protected Transcanada's interests in negotiations with the GOP-run government in Pierre.

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.03.06

    Bret, I'll vouch for Ken: he's just a good conservative thinker, not a paid flak for TransCanada.

    Ken, sure there's a market. I know what a market means. I'm looking at KXL through the lens of the simplistic arguments made by Noem, Thune, et al., who seem not to understand those implications. They are telling us KXL will lower our gas prices. KXL will raise our regional gas prices. They are telling us we will us that oil. The market for KXL's oil is elsewhere.

    The State Dept. report says KXL won't affect the supply to Gulf refineries. So even if there is some value to add, we don't need KXL to do it. So what reason do I as someone interested in South Dakota property rights and environmental safety have left to run this pipeline through South Dakota? None of the company's B.S. arguments acknowledge the market realities, and none of the harms we see are mitigated.

  21. Ken Blanchard 2013.03.09

    Cory: thanks for the defense. I have no idea what "group" I belong to. I am still waiting for my thirty coins from TransCanada.

    Anne: Cory can see that I am "arguing an issue" and he responds accordingly. It is you who have nothing to say except to "demean a person's character and intellect."

    I don't know whether Keystone XL will lower gas prices. I know that it will increase wealth in these United States, wherever the oil ends up. If the market shifts and we need the oil, it will be available here. If the market for the oil is abroad, we will reap the value added in our refineries in jobs and in tax revenues.

    Perhaps you understand markets, Cory, but there is this other guy named Cory who posts here and he persistently argues that it is a bad thing if the Canadian oil is refined here and sold elsewhere. I think he has some kind of prejudice against China. I am sure that he doesn't have a clue about markets.

  22. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.03.09

    Ken, you are making a notably different argument from what others are saying to justify KXL. I'm refuting those other arguments first off: KXL will make oil and gasoline more expensive (that's the business case motivating the pipeline), and the oil will go elsewhere.

    As for your value-add argument, State seems to be saying it's not a voting issue. The oil is going to move to the Gulf refining capacity either by KXL or by some future transport option. If that future transport option doesn't go through South Dakota, then yahoo. If we block KXL and force the producers and shippers to come up with another route, the oil doesn't move for another year or two or few, meaning we enjoy a longer period with the cheaper gas prices caused by the Cushing glut (yahoo!) and without the risk of 900K more barrels a day of oil moving around the planet risking spillage (yahoo!).

    And heck, why not add this argument (it's Saturday, and I'm feeling frisky): every day that we keep those additional tar sands bottled up is another day that someone might invent fusion or virtual-electron generators and obviate the need to burn any more oil, meaning we have less pollution to clean up.

  23. Anne 2013.03.09

    I'll have enroll in one of those remedial courses at NSU to understand how "you seem to have no idea what that means." "your argument, if indeed you have one." and "Your arguments are ignorance on stilts." are arguments of issues and not demeaning personal insults.

  24. larry kurtz 2013.03.09

    Anne: Ken is leaving NSU and will soon be irrelevant to South Dakota Politics, too.

  25. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.03.09

    Larry, I missed the press release on Blanchard's leaving NSU. Is that true? But let's not demean his relevance: Dr. Blanchard is one of the smarter commenters here. I welcome his continued ripostes.

  26. larry kurtz 2013.03.09

    Have been following his new blog and reading between the lines, Cory: it's pretty clear that he's done with Aberdeen.

Comments are closed.