Keystone Pipeline Could Push Endangered Whooping Crane Into Extinction

February 3, 2014
Whooper - Green title image                                                                                       

Leda Huta , Executive Director, Endangered Species Coalition


Read more:  Keystone Pipeline Keystone XL Pipeline Endangered Species Endangered Species ActWhooping-Cranes-Population Green News

If you were to choose a route through which to move toxic, highly corrosive, sludgy crude oil, would you place it on the same narrow corridor used by one of the world’s most endangered birds? The Canadian energy company TransCanada did and the Obama administration is on the verge of approving that absurd proposal.

Whooper Migration Pathway map. USFWS
Whooper Migration Pathway map. USFWS.

If approved by the administration, the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline will move a half million+ barrels daily of Canadian crude 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada to the Texas coast  as soon as 2013. TransCanada would like the world to believe that their pipeline is relatively safe, claiming just one predicted spill in the first 7 years. Yet, TransCanada’s existing Keystone Pipeline has experienced 12 spills — in just 12 months of operation.

Despite assurances by pipeline operators, spills continue. The July spill of a much smaller pipeline under the Yellowstone River in Montana released 1,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone. The Keystone XL would be 3 times as large, carrying 600,000 of oil per day. There have been five major pipeline spills in the United States in the last 24 months. Adding nearly 2,000 miles of high-pressure pipeline carrying one of the most corrosive and dirty fuels known to man is a disaster in the making.

That doesn’t sound safe, particularly not for the one of the most highly endangered birds in the world — the Whooping crane. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) calls the Whooping crane one of the most famous symbols of America’s dedication to saving its wild national heritage. Unfortunately for the crane, however, it uses the same 1,700-mile route as the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.

Whooper Keystonee Oil map.
Whooper Keystonee Oil map. – From the Department of State

Whooping cranes follow the proposed path of the pipeline annually each spring, as they migrate from Texas to their breeding grounds in Canada. Along the way, they depend on the rivers, marshes, wetlands and streams for stopover and feeding habitat. Since the pipeline’s proposed route crosses many of these habitats — including the Platte River in Nebraska, one of the most important feeding and resting locations — miles of these critical stopping points would be at risk of being fouled with sludgy, toxic tar-sands oil every day of the year.

Scientists are deeply concerned about the potential harm to Whooping Cranes. The Society for Conservation Biology — the world’s largest international conservation science society — has recently released a press release sounding the alarm about the cranes. For instance, arecent report found that a major spill on the Platte River could result in 5.9 million gallons of toxic, corrosive tar-sands oil being dumped into the Platte.

A worst-case scenario per their research would result in nearly 8 million gallons of oil being spilled. A catastrophe of this magnitude would almost certainly decimate wildlife and potentially all that remains of this population of whooping cranes — just 74 breeding pairs.
Deepwater Horizon mercilessly demonstrated the near impossible task of cleaning oil from a marsh or wetland. And this oil — tar-sands 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. Imagine the brown pelicans in the Gulf but with much thicker oil (and much more endangered birds).

In addition to the grave risk of catastrophic spill, whooping cranes would be put at still further risk by the installation of aerial power lines that would be constructed to power pumping stations on the proposed pipeline route. Collisions with power lines are already the largest known cause of death for migrating Whooping cranes. This proposal would result in hundreds more miles of aerial lines throughout the birds’ migrating path, compounding the likelihood of disaster. These aerial lines won’t be built without the pipeline and the pipeline won’t be built without them.

This pipeline simply cannot be built without putting the whooping crane and as many as 10 other endangered species at great and unnecessary peril. Despite that, the State department recently published its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) asserting that there would be no significant impacts along the proposed corridor. Alarmingly, the State Department declined to include any analysis from the soon to be completed USFWS biological opinion regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline. In doing so, the State Department has completely ignored the impacts of the proposed pipeline on the highly endangered Whooping crane and in so doing, ignored the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

The Obama administration could announce its decision whether to block this remarkably flawed proposal at any time. The White House needs to hear from you. Please go to Tell President Obama to Reject the Keystone XL! to tell the President to block the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Photo Credits: 
Migration Pathway — From the US Fish & Wildlife Service;   Proposed Keystone Expansion Route — From the U.S. Department of State

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Advocate Editorial Board opinion: One survey of whoopers isn’t look at complete picture


  • Originally published January 7, 2014 at 6:30 p.m., updated January 7, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.

The whooping cranes have been in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge since November. The endangered birds will spend the winter and early spring months here before flying back to Canada in April.

The Aransas flock is the last remaining natural migratory flock, and we are proud to know it has a safe refuge in our area. The cranes are part of an important ecosystem balance that both private citizens and government agencies have worked hard to maintain. But some elements of those preservation efforts are still adjusting.

According to a previous article, one group, the International Crane Foundation, says the method used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to survey the population of cranes is providing an incomplete set of data. The previous method employed was a census conducted by Tom Stehn, retired whooping crane coordinator for the wildlife service, that attempted to count each individual crane throughout the season using weekly flights over the refuge. Now, the survey method looks at a portion of the population over a one-month period and uses a mathematical equation to estimate how many cranes there are this year.

In order to fill in the blanks, the foundation is conducting its own count along 10 miles of shoreline up the Intracoastal Waterway on the east side of Blackjack Peninsula – about 20 percent of the cranes’ habitat – for the third year. The count is meant to examine the status of a subset of the population.

We are glad to see both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a private nonprofit are collecting information on this endangered species. Whooping cranes rely on a delicate balance that includes freshwater flow, water salinity, food availability and more. The survey method, while not as specific as a census, offers a general spectrum of the number of cranes in the refuge, but the limited time used to count the cranes seems counterintuitive. The crane population can fluctuate as the season progresses. Birds do not die during a specific time period. It would be better to find a way to offer updated surveys throughout the season to keep tabs on the population rather than taking a count at the beginning of the season and hoping there are no significant changes.

We applaud everyone who plays a part in protecting this important, valuable species. But because the species is so important to the Aransas refuge ecosystem, we encourage the government to develop a more extensive counting system that will provide a more complete picture of how the population changes throughout the season. The more data that is available, the better we can protect these endangered birds.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.


Northern Journal reports Oilsands Pipeline Spills in Canada


The Northern Journal is an independent newspaper covering news and events in Northern Alberta and across the Northwest Territories.

Environment — January 27, 2014 at 8:15 PMFrom Northern Alberta

Fourth pipeline spill found in northern Alberta

by Maria Church


PhotoApache Corp.

A 42-hectare area near Zama City in northern Alberta was destroyed when 15.4 million litres of wastewater spilled following a pipeline breach on May 5, 2013.

Apache Corp. is responding to its fourth pipeline spill in the last year on its property in northern Alberta after a leak that released 1.6 million litres of toxic wastewater onto the nearby ground was discovered Thursday.

The Texas-based oil and gas producer informed the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) of the leak Thursday morning, shortly after an Apache employee discovered produced wastewater issuing from a water injection pipeline at Belloy Field, 40 km northwest of Whitecourt, Alta.

According to reports, the leak spread an estimated 200 metres from the pipeline, spilling down an embankment and entering a small, unnamed creek.

Wastewater produced during oil and gas extraction contains heavy metals, salt and other minerals, as well as trace amounts of hydrocarbons.

The company has stated there is no danger to the public and no known impacts to wildlife at this time.

After notifying AER, Apache dispatched a team to the spill area to begin remediation efforts and monitor impacts on the environment.

Thus far, air quality monitoring has discovered no evidence of hydrogen sulfide, a highly poisonous chemical used in oil and gas production, at the spill or cleanup site.

The company has launched an investigation into the cause of the leak.

Last year, Apache was faced with three pipeline leaks on its properties in northern Alberta, including two near Zama City, one of which released the largest volume for a pipeline spill in recent North American history after 15.4 million litres of wastewater contaminated a 42-hectare wetland area in June.

The company announced the results of its investigation into the June spill in October, which it said was caused by stress corrosion cracking in the water injection pipeline.

According to the company, a pinhole in the plastic liner of the pipe allowed water to leak through and mix with the sulfur gas causing corrosion and cracking of the exterior steel bands.

A week after those results were released, another spill was found near Zama, estimated to have released 1.8 million litres of wastewater. A second, previous leak released a smaller, unnamed amount earlier that summer.

Apache stated it would be installing real-time monitoring on nine of its water injection wells in the Zama operations area through SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition).

As of December, the company had treated and released 110,000 cubic metres of wastewater from the Zama spill back into the environment.

The company is continuing desalination of the affected area, as well as water and wildlife monitoring and soil sampling. According to their website, vegetation renewal is pending.


Environment — January 20, 2014 at 8:30 PMFrom Northern Alberta

Cold Lake ‘shocked’ by fourth leak from CNRL’s oilsands

First Nation councillor says they need more access to information

by Maria Church  

Photo: Emma Pullman

Leaked bitumen pools in the wetlands near CNRL’s Primrose oilsands site last summer, which is located on the traditional territory of the Cold Lake First Nation.

Cold Lake First Nation leaders are crying foul after they said they learned about a fourth leak discovered on Canadian Natural Resource Ltd.’s (CNRL) Primrose Pad 30 – located on their traditional territory – in early January through media reports instead of the company or Alberta Environment.

“The Dene Nation was shocked to learn that CNRL had yet another spill within their territory,” the nation stated in a press release late last week.

CNRL rep Zoe Addington told The Journal in an email that the incident, which occurred Jan. 3, was caused by a wellbore failure below the surface.

The failure did not cause a spill or leak to the surface, Addington stated, and there has been “no impact to the environment nor potential danger to people.”

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) is currently investigating the incident that caused 27,000 litres of bitumen to be released underground, according to company numbers.

AER spokesperson Darin Barter confirmed that the incident was subsurface with no impact to the environment. He said the leak, which included steam, crude bitumen and produced water, has been contained.

Cold Lake in the dark

Cold Lake councillor and former chief Walter Janvier told The Journal last Thursday that the nation didn’t hear about the incident until a week after it happened through the media.

“This is another spill that has occurred and, similar to the last, the company has continuously not cooperated with the nation and not provided proper technical information so we can make a good assessment of what’s going on,” he said.

Cold Lake recently had a meeting with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) about remediation, cleanup and prevention of bitumen leaks, but Janvier said the government has been either reluctant or unable to push the oilsands company.

One in string of leaks for CNRL

Last summer, after CNRL’s in situ operations near Cold Lake released millions of litres of bitumen into the surrounding forest and water bodies, ESRD issued a protection order that included forcing the company to drain a lake as part of the clean up.

“(ESRD) says they are dealing with it, but all it is is just cleaning up the surface. The main problem is coming from underneath,” Janvier said.

Janvier said he would like to know what kind of pressure is being forced into the ground in the in situ drilling process and what kind of chemicals are being used, among other things.

“Our concern is the impacts on human health,” he said. “Our traditional people still consume a lot of the various animals that we hunt and fish for. A lot of these animals end up having a lot of the contaminants from what they are eating and the water. We need the scientific data to find out if these animals are safe to eat.”

Legal action considered

Janvier said that Cold Lake is standing in solidarity with the “Honour the Treaties” concert tour by Neil Young currently raising money for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s legal fees against the government and oilsands companies.

Legal action against CNRL is not out of the picture for Cold Lake, he said.

“We are taking all measures that are within our means,” Janvier said. “That includes utilizing our legal system, utilizing our lawyers, utilizing our consultants and also our elders and all the people we can call upon to work out a way we can cause some kind of positive change.”


Keystone Pipeline vs. Whooping Cranes and Other Wildlife

The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the controversial Keystone Pipeline has been released for review. This pipeline would transport tar sands through 875 miles of the endangered whooping crane migratory route.

Whooping crane current-and former range and migration route

Whooping crane current and former range and migration route

 Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) contends that the pipeline is an unneeded and foolish project. An accidental spill of oil from the pipeline could have a serious adverse impact on whooping cranes and other wildlife species and valuable ground water supplies. The SEIS concluded that of the fourteen endangered species who frequent the pipelines route, only a beetle would be threatened. 

Whoopers 2-ad-1-juv-and-3-sandhills. photo by-Peggy-Diaz

Whoopers – 2 adults and 1 juvenile with 2 sandhills.  photo by Peggy Diaz

 Construction of the pipeline would produce 3,900 temporary jobs and only 50 permanent jobs. An NBC TV report closed with an admission that many of the officials who served on the impact committee were associated with people with pipeline connections.

For more information click on the following links:

Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS)
Executive summary