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Unlike Keystone XL, new tar sands pipeline gets expedited review thanks to State Dept. bypass

Unlike Keystone XL, new tar sands pipeline gets expedited review thanks to State Dept. bypass
While the Keystone XL pipeline remains mired in controversy between oil interests and environmental advocacy groups, another tar sands pipeline that will run for hundreds of miles through the American midwest looks to be on the fast track for approval.

With space on pipelines transporting oil sands from producers to refineries almost at capacity, Canada’s largest pipeline company Enbridge is looking to build a new 600-mile-long line that will carry Alberta oil sands from Flanagan, Illinois 100 miles southwest of Chicago to a terminal in Cushing, Oklahoma and then onto Gulf Coast refineries, reports the AP.

Enbridge, perhaps hoping to avoid the delays that have hampered construction of Keystone XL, has sought an expedited permit review by the US Army Corps of Engineers for the planned Flanagan South pipeline.

Doug Hayes, a lawyer working on behalf of Sierra Club, the environmental advocacy group, cites suspicions over Enbridge’s strategy of seeking regulatory approval for its new pipeline under the Nationwide 12 permit process, bypassing Clean Water Act requirements that include public notification and environmental reviews.

By seeking approval for a pipeline that will ultimately run for hundreds of miles in smaller portions, the company would thus avoid regulations that apply to large utility projects with multiple water crossings.

"This is a 600-mile project that will clear everything in its path for a 100-foot right of way, and they're treating it as thousands of separate, little projects," said Hayes.

Legally, Flanagan South differs from Keystone XL in that the new extension will originate within US territory, thereby not requiring the same State Department approval. Environmental activists are apprehensive about the pipeline regardless, pointing to the Enbridge Michigan pipeline spill that dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo river three years ago.

Mark DuCharme with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says the massive clean up following that spill has been tough owing to the river’s water levels at the time of the pipeline’s eruption, which were at flood stage.

"The river flooded up out of the banks, into the flood plain and extended out into people's properties," DuCharme told Michigan’s WLNS.

In the hopes of reassuring homeowners and others regarding its new pipeline, Enbridge has scheduled a number of 'open houses' in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois in a bid to pitch the project to the public.

The Flanagan South plan has attracted little public attention so far, with a handful of Sierra Club protesters turning up last week at one of the town meetings in Marshall, Kansas, 90 miles east of Kansas City.

The massive pipeline corporation has been touting the number of short-term construction jobs to be brought in by the new project, which also resulted in prospective pipefitters showing up at the Marshall open house.

Still, property owners in the region slated to be impacted by Enbridge’s new pipeline do not feel the company is being entirely forthcoming.

Mike Diel of Macon, Missouri, tells the AP he has had no luck getting Enbridge or the Corps of Engineers to provide specific details about the pipeline, including a precise map or copies of emergency response plans.

"We're all worried about oil spills and the tar sands getting into the drinking water. Until I know where the pipeline is going, how am I supposed to know what I'm supposed to be worried about?" Diel said.

Under its current course the new Flanagan South pipeline would cross both the Missouri and Mississippi rivers as well as hundreds of smaller tributaries before reaching an existing hub to distribute tar sands oil to refineries throughout the Gulf.

A spokeswoman with the Army Corps' Kansas City office last Tuesday referred the AP’s inquiries on the new project's permit status to a regulatory colleague who did not respond.