The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year invalidated a 2007 permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers to a subsidiary of Arch Coal Inc. (ACI) allowing the company to build -- or rather dig up -- a mountaintop mine in West Virginia. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling in favor of the EPA, implying that the agency's authority under the Clean Water Act can be used to invalidate any permit, no matter when it was granted.
The EPA has been a consistent critic of the U.S. State Department's environmental impact studies related to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. One objection the EPA raised to Keystone XL in 2013 was its potential impact on the Ogallala Aquifer. The pipeline has been rerouted around the aquifer, but the threat to groundwater supplies has not been entirely mitigated, and the EPA could conceivably invoke its newly strengthened authority to stop the Keystone XL regardless of how the State Department rules on the pipeline's construction.
Industry trade groups and coal-mining states worked to get the EPA's ruling reversed, claiming that the agency had overstepped its regulatory authority. In this particular case, the petitioners claimed that EPA's authority under the Clean Water Act does not in any way give the agency the power retroactively to invalidate a permit that already had been granted.
Monday's Supreme Court ruling adds even more interest to the drama surrounding the proposed 830,000-barrel per day Keystone XL pipeline. It is not hard to imagine a scenario in which the State Department okays the pipeline only to have the EPA squelch it. A remote possibility, perhaps, but real nonetheless.
"Two More Giant Tar Sands Pipelines Reach Milestones As Keystone XL Decision Looms"
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The first giant west-to-east pipeline is from TransCanada, the same company that lays claim to Keystone XL. The company’s $12 billion Energy East pipeline would be the largest oil sands pipeline in North America, and on Tuesday filed its project description with Canada’s National Energy Board. Energy East would pump 1.1 million barrels of oil per day from Alberta’s tar sands to terminals in Montreal, Quebec City, and St. John, as well as for export across the Atlantic.
The second pipeline is from Enbridge Inc., which on Thursday got final approval for its Line 9 expansion project to bring tar sands to Montreal. But Line 9 isn’t their biggest approval this week. On Monday, the company announced it has received financial backing for its $7 billion Line 3 Replacement project. That project would replace an existing 46-year-old pipeline between Alberta and Wisconsin, and double oil flow from 390,000 barrels of oil per day to 760,000.
Here’s a little bit more about each proposal.
TransCanada’s Energy East
In early August, TransCanada said it received the long-term contracts for about 900,000 barrels of crude per day and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already indicated his support for the project. With TransCanada’s proposal released Tuesday, that figure has been upped to 1.1 million barrels.
According to TransCanada’s proposal, the proposed route would cross nine “environmentally significant” areas, seven of which are of national concern and two are of international concern. It crosses through three “important bird areas,” two areas with high potential for fossil discovery and “numerous” existing fossil sites and historic period archaeological sites. More than 5,500 landowners have been identified by TransCanada along the Energy East Mainline route.
The company’s project proposal does not mention its potential effect on greenhouse gas emissions or climate change. The pipeline would be transporting tar sands crude — a thick, hard-to-extract mixture of heavy oil, sand, and water that has been deemed the “dirtiest type of liquid fuel” by scientists who say the unique and energy-intensive extraction process produces three times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventionally produced oil.
Enbridge’s Line 3 Replacement
Enbridge’s Line 3 Replacement (L3R) is the largest project in Enbridge’s history, replacing a 46-year-old pipeline. Pipelines over the course of time inevitably experience corrosion, fatigue stress, and damage from outside forces — so from a business and environmental sense, it would make sense to replace old infrastructure.
The big deal about this project, though, is that the replacement pipeline would be bigger. It would double capacity of the pipeline from 390,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day to 760,000 — almost as much as the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would have a capacity of 860,000 barrels of oil per day. That oil would be brought into the United States.
“Replacing the pipeline is the most efficient way to maintain the reliability of Line 3, and it’s also the most timely and reliable transportation solution for transporting Western Canadian crude oil to refinery markets in Chicago, the U.S. Gulf Coast, and the Eastern U.S. and Canada,” Enbridge’s webpage for Line 3 reads.
But unlike TransCanada’s Keystone XL, which needs approval from the U.S. government because it crosses international borders, Enbridge’s Line 3 may not need U.S. approval to be replaced, even though it is expanding capacity.
“Line 3 already operates under an existing Presidential permit,” Al Monaco, CEO of Enbridge, told investors from Houston on Monday, according to a report in the Vancouver Sun. “So what we’re doing here is restoring Line 3 to its original condition.”
The Sierra Club Foundation’s director John Bennet told the Sun that the massive increase in oil production would be a “nightmare” scenario for trying to stop climate change.
“Despite the oil companies’ continual talk about technology and science, they obviously don’t understand science, because you cannot deal with climate change by producing more and more oil,” Bennet said.