Job-Creating Keystone Pipeline Affects Endangered Beetle, Says State Dep't

September 1, 2011 - 12:26 PM

Palin Finalized 20-Year Quest for Pipeline Deal in First 20 Months (image)

(AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – In its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the Keystone XL pipeline, which would create thousands of jobs and transport 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to Oklahoma and Texas, a State Department official said its investigation found “no significant impact to most resources” along the path of the 1,700-mile project. But the State Department also said the pipeline could adversely affect the American Burying Beetle, an endangered species.

Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the State Department, said during an Aug. 26 conference call with reporters that there could be some impact on the beetle’s habitat. The bug was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1989.

“The FEIS does have a summary of findings, and what that summary states is that there would be no significant impact to most resources along the proposed pipeline corridor,” Jones said in answering a question from a Washington Post.

“There are some areas of impact that have been identified,” she said. “These include one that we touched on in the previous question regarding cultural resources, and I said, there’s been a program agreement put in place to address some of that. There’s also an adverse effect that is identified regarding the American Burying Beetle, as it is an endangered species, and there are – there’s a detailed biological assessment in the FEIS on that.”

Jones then added that the TransCanada Keystone Pipeline Project, which applied for a presidential permit from the State Department in 2008, would have to comply with U.S. laws and regulations if the project is approved, including protecting the red and black Burying Beetle that feeds on carrion.

She said TransCanada has “agreed to take the necessary mitigation steps” to protect the bug.

Keystone pipeline

(Map from TransCanada Web site)

The oil industry in the United States, however, is focused on the jobs and revenue the pipeline could generate. The American Petroleum Institute (API), which represents more than 470 U.S. oil and natural gas companies, issued a press release praising the results of the FEIS.

"The nation's quintessential shovel-ready project is a step closer to reality," Cindy Schild, refining manager at API, said in a statement. "That's good news for tens of thousands of Americans who stand to find new jobs when this pipeline project is finally approved. If the State Department gives the final okay, hiring could begin immediately in hundreds of American companies in the Midwest and across the country."

API also cited the latest results from the Canadian Energy Research Institute that shows the combined benefits of all present and proposed oil importation projects from Canada could result in 600,000 jobs and generate $775 billion in U.S. Gross Domestic Product between now and 2035.

Jones said that because of “an adverse effect that is identified regarding the American burying beetle,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had been asked to develop a “biological opinion” on the beetle.

Tom Buckley, public affairs specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told CNSNews.com that the “biological opinion,” or BO, on the American Burying Beetle, is done in compliance with the Endangered Species Act and is not a “policy document” but a scientific opinion.

“The primary goal of a BO is to ensure that the proposed federal action won't reduce the likelihood of survival and recovery of the listed species,” Buckley said. “A biological opinion can include conservation recommendations to minimize or avoid possible adverse effects on listed species or their critical habitat.”

“It can also impose reasonable and prudent measures needed to minimize any harmful impacts, and can require monitoring and reporting to ensure adequate protection compliance,” Buckley said.

Buckley said the beetle was once found “throughout the eastern U.S.” but is now known to exist in eight states. Three of those states – South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas – would be traversed by the pipeline and two – Oklahoma and Texas – are the delivery hubs for the operation.

In 1991, Fish and Wildlife produced an 81-page “recovery plan” to “reduce the immediacy of the threat of extinction of the American Burying Beetle” and to “improve its status from endangered to threatened.”

A May 17, 2011 posting on the Fish and Wildlife Web site discusses the results of current surveys about the beetle, including the lack of definitive information on the insect’s habitat and decline.

Under “Habitat,” the postings states: “Data is lacking pertaining to American Burying Beetle reproductive habitat requirements, but species experts assume that they are more restrictive in selecting their reproductive habitat than feeding habitat.”

The posting also states “Cause of Decline: The cause for the decline of this species is not clearly understood.”

The State Department is in charge of approving the Keystone XL project because it involves a foreign nation, Canada. The department issued an environmental impact statement as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Officials at the State Department have said the approval process is “on track” to “make a determination by the end of the year.”

Now that the FEIS has been released, a review process begins “to determine if the proposed project is in the national interest,” according to the State Department. This “broader evaluation” involves eight other federal agencies and includes “economic, energy security, foreign policy and other relevant issues.”

Several public meetings also have been set up in Washington, D.C. and in six states where the pipeline will traverse.