TULSA, Okla. (CN) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a nationwide permit that will help push a 485-mile oil pipeline project through with minimal red tape, environmentalists claim in federal court, saying the project that will turn more than 130 acres of forested wetlands between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast into scrub-shrub wetlands.
Sierra Club Inc., Clean Energy Future Oklahoma and the East Texas Sub Regional Planning Commission say that the Corps issued NWP 12 in February that will allow it to skirt a provision of the Clean Water Act that would require the agency to pursue individual permits for the Keystone Pipeline Gulf Coast Project.
The project is part of a larger venture called the TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, according to the lawsuit, filed in District Court in Tulsa. Construction of the 1,384-mile, 36-inch diameter pipeline has been divided into two separate projects, including the Keystone Gulf Coast Pipeline Project, the enviros say. Once complete, it will extend from Cushing, Okla. to Nederland, Texas. If the two segments of the project are completed, the connected pipeline will transport about 830,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude oil from Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast, according to the complaint.
The NWP "authorizes 'activities required for the construction, maintenance, repair and removal of utility lines and associated facilities, including pipelines, in waters of the United States, provided the activity does not result in the loss of greater than a half-acre of waters of the United States for each single and complete project,'" according to the lawsuit.
The environmentalists say there is a catch.
Nationwide Permit 12 "also allows linear utility lines such as crude oil pipelines to use NWP 12 repeatedly for each water crossing," the groups state. "There is no limit to the number of times a utility line can use NWP 12, nor is there a limit to the total number of acres of wetlands that a utility line can destroy."
The definition of a "single and complete project" was split into two separate definitions: "single and complete linear project" and "single and complete non-linear project," the complaint says. Projects deemed non-linear are not allowed to be "piecemealed" to avoid limitations set by an NWP authorization, according to the lawsuit. However, the enviros claim that projects deemed "linear," can.
"[Nationwide Permit 12] thus allows linear utility projects to use NWP 12 separately for each individual water crossing," the enviros state.
"The result of NWP 12 is to allow the Corps to 'piecemeal' large interstate pipeline projects like the Keystone Pipeline Gulf Coast Project into several hundred half-acre 'projects' so as to avoid the individual permit process under section 404 of the CWA, which would require public notice and comment and an analysis of the overall project's impacts and alternatives pursuant to the [National Environmental Policy Act] and the CWA," the groups state. "Under NWP 12, a major utility would almost never require a comprehensive environmental review of the project's impacts."
The enviros say that the Corps' failure to provide an environmental impact statement and its finding of "no significant impact" violate the NEPA and the Administrative Procedures Act.
The project will require a 110-foot-wide right-of-way that will lead to the deforestation of 137 acres of wetlands, the enviros claim. The groups also say that tar sands oil is particularly hard on the environment.
"As compared to conventional crude oil, tar sands crude oil is heavier, more corrosive, and more viscous," the groups say. "As such, it is more difficult to clean up when released into the environment."
The enviros further claim that NWP 12 violates federal law in other ways. For example, the Corps issued the NWP without making a final 'minimal environmental effects' determination, the action says.
"Instead, it relies on Corps district engineers to make that determination on a case-by-case basis without any opportunity for public comment on that determination," the groups state.
The Corps also decided that the permanent conversion of forested wetlands to scrub shrub wetlands does not count toward the half-acre limit set by NWP 12, according to the complaint. The environmentalists claim that fact alone will contribute to unlimited deforestation in violation of section 404(e) of the CWA.
"Indeed, the project proponent, TransCanada, has submitted pre-construction notifications ... to three Corps districts for this project and the Corps has granted authorization in at least two of the three districts, which means TransCanada can begin construction immediately," the groups claim.
Lieutenant General Thomas Bostick, Major General Michael Walsh, Colonel Michael Teague and Colonel Christopher Sallese are also listed as defendants in their official capacity.
The groups ask the federal court to declare that NWP 12 is null and void and bar construction of the pipeline.
The enviros are represented by G. Steven Stidham of Sneed Lang Herrold in Tulsa, Okla., and Douglas Hayes and Eric Huber with Sierra Club in Boulder, Colo.