Well, the New York Times (NYT) did it again. They have asserted that a source says something it actually did not say when you go and look at the original documents being discussed. Sadly, the uber-topic is the Keystone XL Pipeline...again. I'm beginning to doubt that anyone at the NYT can appoach this subject objectively. The original NYT editorial can be found here:


The editorial is a commentary on the EPA's review of the US State Department Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS). A copy of the letter can be seen here:


There are multiple distortions and demonstrable misstatements in the editorial about the EPA letter, but for the sake of not excessively beating the dead horse subject of the NYT objections to this pipeline, I will restrict myself to just one of the more blatant examples of spin.

The editorial states:

(The State Department's) biggest problem, the (EPA) agency said, is a flawed assumption that distorts all of its analyses: that “oil sands crude will find a way to market with or without” the Keystone pipeline. This is a kind of magical thinking. If this pipeline won’t do, the State Department argues, other pipelines will be built or rail traffic will be ramped up. One way or another, the department says, oil sands production will go ahead full speed. For a variety of reasons, not least the cost of rail transportation, the E.P.A. has serious doubts.

That's not really what the EPA letter said. The EPA did not say the DSEIS assumption concerning the inevitability of Alberta oil sands development was flawed. Rather, the EPA argued that the DSEIS conclusion was based on incomplete economic modeling and rigor. To wit:

Although the DSEIS describes the GHG (green house gas) intensity of oil sands crude, the DSEIS nevertheless concludes that regardless of whether the Project permit is approved, projected oil sands production will remain substantially unchanged. This conclusion is based on an analysis of crude oil markets and projections of oil sands crude development, including the potential for other means of transport to bring oil sands crude to market.

The EPA went on to say:

Because the market analysis is so central to this key conclusion, we think it is important that it be as complete and accurate as possible. We note that the discussion in the DSEIS regarding energy markets, while informative, is not based on an updated energy-economic modeling effort.

Nowhere did the EPA label the DSEIS conclusion as an "assumption" nor did the EPA ever state that it doubted the State Deparment's argument or call it "flawed." What the EPA did say was that the economic analysis lacked sufficient rigor and details to support the statement the Albertan oil sands would be developed no matter what means of shipment were available.

The EPA uses its own two-part ranking system to evaluate environmental impact statements. The first part deals with its own conclusion about the environmental risks and hazards of a project. The second part deals with the reasoning behind its evaluation. The hazards and risks are rated as "lack of objections", "environmental concerns", "environmental objections", and "environmentally unsatisfactory." The reasoning is described as "adequate", "insufficient information", and "inadequate."

The EPA gave the DSEIS a rating of "Environmental Objections - Insufficient Information." In other words, the EPA has objections to the DSEIS because it did not have enough information in areas of environmental concern. The economic modeling was a chief concern because the State Department's most important arguement for the pipeline was the inevitability of Albertan oil sands development. The EPA objected and aksed for more modeling and market analysis.

Contrary to the NYT, The EPA letter did not say that the State Department:

"gave short shrift to the corrosive effect of the oil and its dangers to the vital aquifer underlying part of the pipeline’s latest route."

I have no idea where the term "corrosive" came from. It's not used at all in the EPA evaluation letter. Granted, the EPA had two other major objections to the DSEIS, both on the grounds of insufficient information on environmental, not economic, concerns. The first deals with the oils sands product that is pumped in a pipeline, called dilbit. Dilbit is a relatively new form of pipeline product and the growing experience around the world with dilbit spills has shown that it is harder to remediate compared to regular crude. Because dilbit spills are more difficult to deal with, especially in surface waters, the EPA wanted to see a spill prevention and remediation plan in or with DSEIS based on the unique characteristics of dilbit. The other objection dealt with the lack of any discussion of possible alternative routes for the pipeline which could potentially minimize the exposure of the North Great Plains aquifers and rivers to potential pipeline spills. Again, as in the case of the economic modeling, the EPA asked that alternative routes be addressed. Nowhere in the letter did the EPA call the DSEIS flawed or faulty or incorrect. The EPA charged that the DSEIS was incomplete and expressed willingness to work with the State Department in filling in the information it wanted to see.

While I understand the reasoning behind the EPA request for rigorous economic modeling of the impact of transportation mode and availability on oil sands development, one could argue alternatively that it's unnecessary and moot. The reason is very simple supply and demand. The population-driven demand for fuels is increasing and the supply of fuels is finite. The supply of cheap fossil fuels is in demonstrable decline which is why we are now seeing the expansion into difficult fuels to extract like shale-based natural gas and oil sands. The pursuit of expensive fuels wouldn't be happening if the cheap fuels weren't already gone. Until and unless cleaner forms of energy become economically viable and/or politically acceptable, fossil fuels like oil sands will be developed. It's a matter of when, not if. So in that respect, the EPA demand for economic modeling is moot, especially in the long term.

There is one other thing that the EPA showed no sensitivity to or awareness of regarding the development of the Alberta oil sands. Those are not our oil sands. They're Canada's oil sands, and it is up to the people, government and businesses in Canada as to whether those oil sands are exploited. If the Canadians decide that the oils sands will be exploited, then they'll be exploited regardless of what the EPA and New York Times think.