A US wildlife advocacy group is voicing its concern that construction of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline from northern Alberta to Texas through the midwest could render the endangered whooping crane extinct in North America.
The pipeline project is set to be constructed along the 2,700 km migration route of the birds traveling between the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf Coast of Texas and Wood Buffalo National Park in the NWT.
Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition (ESC), is calling the proposal, yet to be approved by the Obama administration, “absurd.”
“This pipeline simply cannot be built without putting the whooping crane and as many as 10 other endangered species at great and unnecessary peril,” she said. “Despite that, the State department recently published its Final Environmental Impact Statement asserting that there would be no significant impacts along the proposed corridor.”
She said the State Department’s decision to exclude analysis from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) regarding the pipeline ignores the potential impacts on the endangered whooping crane and, therefore, the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.
The ESC’s concern surrounds TransCanada’s environmental track record with respect to its existing Keystone pipeline.
“TransCanada would like the world to believe that their pipeline is relatively safe, claiming just one predicted spill in the first seven years,” said Huta. “Yet TransCanada’s existing Keystone Pipeline has experienced 12 spills in just 12 months of operation.”
Five major pipeline spills have taken place in the US in the last two years. The most recent occurred in July beneath the Yellowstone River in Montana, where an ExxonMobil pipeline leaked 1,000 barrels of oil into the waterway.
Huta said a massive spill from a bigger pipeline, like the Keystone XL, could wipe out the remaining 74 pairs of cranes.
“Deepwater Horizon mercilessly demonstrated the near impossible task of cleaning oil from a marsh or wetland,” she said. “And this oil – tarsands oil – is much more corrosive, toxic and difficult to clean up. Once coated with sticky oil, the birds would be unable to insulate and regulate their temperatures and could slowly die from hypothermia or acute toxicity.”
Huta also said the cranes would be put at further risk by power lines that would be constructed along the pipeline route. Collisions with power lines are currently the main known cause of death for migrating whooping cranes.
The final decision on constructing the Keystone XL rests with US President Barack Obama and will take place before the end of the year. Public hearings will continue throughout the states into November.