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House Republicans seek to force State Department action on Keystone XL.

A House committee approved a bill by a vote of 33-13 on June 15 which would force the U.S. State Department to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, an expansion of an existing TransCanada pipeline which would bring oil from Alberta, Canada, and North Dakota to U.S. refineries. The North American-Made Energy Security Act H.R. 1938-was approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee with strong Republican and modest Democratic support. The bill says President Obama must issue a final order approving or disapproving the project no later than 30 days after the issuance of the final environmental impact statement but in any event, no later than Nov. I, 2011.


The Keystone extension has been controversial. Advocates and critics sparred one day after the bill passed the House committee in a hearing on June 16 called to discuss needed changes to pipeline safety laws. Rep. Henry Waxman D-CA), the top Democrat on the full Energy and Commerce Committee, complained about passage of H.R. 1938 the day before. He started out by saying recent pipeline incidents resulting in loss of life, the latest in Pennsylvania in February, are the "canaries in the coal mine." He then went on to say oil companies are rapidly and dramatically expanding the quantity of crude they are moving through U.S. pipelines. He cited concerns raised about the environmental impact of diluted bitumen, which is what the Keystone XL would carry, and said those risks need to be evaluated before the Keystone XL pipeline is approved, not after.

Anthony Swift, a policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, gave subcommittee members a long, technical dissertation about the environmental dangers and increasing quantities of diluted bitumen one variety of tar sands-flowing through U.S. pipelines. He added that TransCanada's existing Keystone pipeline, one of the first pipelines dedicated to moving diluted bitumen from Canada to the United States, has had 12 leaks over the last year; its first year in operation. He used that statistic to assail the State Department's latest environmental review of the project, which determined, according to Swift, the Keystone XL pipeline will have a leak due to pipeline corrosion once every 3,400 years and a leak due to flooding and washout once every 87,600 years. He argued that the State Department is too incompetent to assess safety risks, and that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration PHMSA), which has no role in the XL environmental assessment, should be taking the lead.

Rep. Lee Terry R-NE), responded to Waxman saying the State Department has been studying the Keystone XL expansion for three years and "has been sitting on a foot and a half stack of environmental impact studies." He accused the State Department of "irresponsible foot dragging."

Cynthia L. Quarterman, administrator at PHMSA, laid out for committee members new fees she wants to charge pipeline companies. This would include reimbursement from project applicants for design review, consulting and field oversight that the agency performs for new pipeline construction projects over 100 miles in length.

Chris Helms, CEO of NiSource Gas Transmission & Storage, and chairman of the INGAA board's task force on pipeline safety, didn't object to that new fee, which is already part of the Senate bill. But Helms wants relatively minor changes to the Senate language. Addressing the current fee structure, Helms went on to argue that user fees paid by transmission pipelines to PHMSA are three times larger than they should be given the programs PHMSA funds. His point was that distribution pipelines should be paying higher fees because the majority of PHMSA grants and budget go toward insuring the safety of intrastate pipelines.

Proposed 4G satellite service raises GPS Interference questions

A critical report from a Federal Communications Commission advisory committee on June 30 was the latest hitch in the plans of a company called LightSquared to offer new 4G wireless service to broadband users. LightSquared would share some of the broadband spectrum used by global positioning system GPS-service providers, which has caused users of GPS services, such as pipeline and underground construction companies, to worry about interference with their mapping efforts. Earlier this year, the FCC gave LightSquared conditional approval to use the 10 MHz spectrum it owns providing the interference problem could be solved.

But the report on June 30 from the Global Positioning System Industry Council asserted that LightSquared planned operations in the 10Mhz spectrum could negatively affect 500 million GPS receivers used by public safety agencies, construction companies and others. That report followed by one week approval by the House Appropriations Committee of an amendment which would allow FCC approval in fiscal 2012 only if interference issues are settled. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has supported the LightSquared application because it will create jobs and provide new broadband service in rural areas, especially via use of spectrum that is currently underused.

On the heels of the advisory committee report, LightSquared submitted to the FCC proposed changes to its operational plan which would allow it to get up and running now while the interference issue is settled, hopefully by 2015, the date the company originally expected to be at full service. This short-term solution involves using an alternative block of spectrum located further away from GPS frequencies and reducing its base station power by more than 50 percent. LightSquared has argued that the interference problems are the result of "the GPS device manufacturer's decision over the last eight years to design products that depend on using spectrum assigned to other FCC licensees."

EPA gives ground on Greenhouse gas monitoring

The Environmental Protection Agency bowed to complaints from the natural gas and petroleum pipeline industries and softened some of the monitoring requirements for greenhouse gas emissions GHG-which went into effect starting March 31, 2011. The EPA stepped back from elements of what is called the Subpart W requirements for the industry that the agency issued in late 2010. In that final rule, the agency restricted pipeline companies from using best available monitoring methods BAMM to determine leaks of fugitive and vented emissions from various compressor equipment and pipeline pumping equipment. BAMM allows companies to estimate emissions and is less costly than the prescriptive monitoring requirements.

INGAA and the API filed lawsuits in early 2011 asking for broader use of BAMM, and the agency has now, via a proposed rule issued on June 28, given them new leeway, retroactive to March 31.

by Stephen Barlas, Washington Editor
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Title Annotation:WASHINGTONwatch
Author:Barlas, Stephen
Publication:Underground Construction
Date:Aug 1, 2011
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