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Canadian delegation talks pipeline impacts in Washington

by Trevor Kehoe


June 20, 2011

Canadian first nations and environmental representatives were in Washington recently to discuss the proposed Keystone XL pipeline expansion and future impacts on communities and the environment.

The controversial project would funnel over a million barrels of oilsands bitumen a day down to the Gulf of Mexico and has caused concern with environmental, pipeline safety and land rights issues that have yet to be addressed.

“We had successful meetings with a number of people from different departments. Many were intrigued that we were there, they don’t get a chance to hear from first nations on this side of the border too often. There are a number of concerns we have with this project. Firstly there is no cohesive long-term plan on how to proceed with the Alberta oilsands. It’s really the ‘old west’ in Alberta when it comes to natural resources and downstream communities are being negatively affected by this development,” said Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief for the North West Territories Bill Erasmus.

“We want to see sustainable development of this resource as well as having the downstream impacts addressed. Canada needs a strong climate change policy and right now there is no plan. We are not saying no to development, we need to take a step back, see what is truly transpiring and develop a better approach.”

Upon invitation from the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration, Erasmus, Chief Roxanne Marcel from the Mikisew Cree first nation and representatives from the Pembina Institute, Climate Action Network Canada and Environmental Defense Canada stated where they sat on the project.

The convoy met Assistant Secretary of Ocean and Environment Dr. Karri-Ann Jones, members from the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the media and several congressmen.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline by Calgary-based TransCanada Corporation would build upon already laid pipeline infrastructure that transports Alberta oilsands bitumen to refineries in the U.S.

Current Keystone pipeline infrastructure sends 590,000 barrels per day (bpd) from Hardisty, Alberta to refineries in Illinois, Nebraska and Oklahoma over the 3,467 km trek.

The XL would add another 2,673 kms of added pipeline infrastructure that will cross indigenous lands in Alberta, Saskatchewan and the United States.

Keystone has said the XL pipeline will move 700,000 bpd from Canada and U.S. receipt points through Steele City, NB to Cushing, OK and down to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

About 200,000 bpd of the payload will be delivered into Cushing and the remaining 500,000 bpd will be transported to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Keystone has said their presidential permit application is requesting authority to transport up to 900,000 bpd, up from their initial capacity of 700,000 bpd.

The 6,140 km XL project would be over four times longer than the Trans Alaskan pipeline and has been compared by TransCanada as an undertaking similar to the Pyramids of Giza.

For Obama and other Americans the debate is on safety, energy security and vying for access to Canadian reserves while considering Asian and other international market competition.

Republican pressure wants the Obama administration to approve the project before the end of 2011.

Only in operation for about a year, the Keystone pipeline has already had numerous reported spills.

Discussions of the XL expansion impacts come as TransCanada continues to clean up two recent spills in Kansas and North Dakota.

Keystone was shut down on May 29 after a small spill in Kansas and on May 9 after another spill in Bismarck, North Dakota where 21,000 gallons of oil leaked from a valve failure at a pumping station.

A formal investigation has been set up by the North Dakota Public Service Commission into how the spill occurred and if TransCanada acted accordingly.

First nations downstream from Alberta’s oilsands projects have felt the worst of the development with serious health concerns of water, fish and soil contamination as well as massive amounts of water consumption, deforestation, greenhouse gases and more.

Studies from recognized and respect scientists have shown increases in harmful contaminants in the area including arsenic, mercury, aluminum, chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, lead, phosphorus, selenium, titanium, total phenols, herbicides and pesticides as well as traces of ammonia, antimony, manganese, nickel and molybdenum.

These chemicals have been associated with type two diabetes, cancers of the bile duct, liver, urinary tract, skin, vascular diseases and more.

Industry and government sources suggest insignificant tailings pond leakage into soil, groundwater and surface water despite reports in 2003 that say leakage rates were at 11 million litres a day.

The Alberta government industry funded Regional Aquatics Monitoring System has been slagged numerous times with ‘questionable statistical methods and assumptions’, ‘lack of details of methods, failure to describe rationales for program changes, examples of inappropriate statistical analysis, and unsupported conclusions and inadequate monitoring sites.

With no clear long term sustainable vision or plan for the oilsands, the Keystone pipeline expansion would allow for unabated increased production in Northern Alberta without considering present issues associated with the development.

Erasmus said he and other first nations have taken their concerns to provincial and federal governments North of the border but have been all but ignored.

“The Mikisew Cree and other first nations have approached the Albertan and Canadian government with our concerns stating that there needs to be independent environmental monitoring,” said Erasmus.

“To date the federal and provincial governments have not taken the concerns seriously of impacted first nations. They claim there is no proof the oilsands are adversely effecting communities. The project is seen as being in Canada’s national interest and that it must go ahead.”

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that Indigenous communities must have free, prior and informed consent before any projects like the Keystone XL get the go-ahead.

The U.S. State Department has opted to hold a new round of public consultation hearings in six different locations throughout impacted areas on it’s soil into the XL expansion after they release a final environmental impact statement on the project.

A decision is expected near the end of 2011.

Keystone refused to be interviewed for this article.

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