25 October 2011

Biological Opinion Issued for Keystone XL Pipeline

A biological assessment regarding potential impacts of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline was issued September 29th by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and flowers were considered. For birds such as the Eskimo Curlew, interior Least Tern, Piping Plover, Whooping Crane and nearly all other species mentioned, the conclusion and rationale for their "effect determinations" was they were not present or that current "conservation measures" were adequate.

The primary finding was the potential impacts to the American Burying Beetle, with a determination that habitat and individuals would be a "adversely affected" and mitigatory steps would be required.

Surveys for this invertebrate were conducted in the project area during 2009 and 2010, according to the BA document. In 2011, a TransCanada financed project was taken to trap and relocate American Burying Beetles from the Keystone XL pipeline corridor in the eastern sand hills. The goal was to "clear" this species from the right-of-way prior to September 1.

Particular Reclamation and Post-construction Activities and Conservation Measures" along the project right-of-way, would include:

  • alleviating soil compaction
  • revegetation of project lands
  • a monitoring program
  • establishing a conservation trust for the beetle

The Blowout Penstemon had a determination that "habitat would be avoided."

Range of the American Burying Beetle in Nebraska, 1998 to 2010 The red dots indicate known presence. Image courtesy of the biological assessment.

The majority of the biological assessment concerns the federally listed, endangered American Burying Beetle, including the establishment of a conservation trust.

"A Habitat Conservation Trust (Trust) would be established in each state where impacts to ABB are likely to occur, including: south of Highway 18 in Tripp County, South Dakota; Keya Paha, Rock, Holt, Garfield, and Wheeler counties in Nebraska; and Hughes, Coal, Atoka, and Bryan counties in Oklahoma. The purpose of the Trusts is to offset the impacts to ABB habitat from construction and operation of the Keystone XL pipeline and promote conservation of the ABB. The amount of the Trusts would be computed based on the number of acres affected, quality of the acres impacted and average land values. Compensation would be based on total acres impacted and would be modified by habitat quality rating multipliers with prime habitat compensation at 3 times the total impact acres, good habitat at 2 times the total impact acres, fair habitat at 1 times the total impact acres, and marginal habitat at 0.5 times the total impact acres.

"Trust monies ... would be deposited in each state by Keystone within 6 months of approval of the Presidential Permit with an organization or entity familiar with managing funds for the benefit of public trust resources. Management fees would also be paid by Keystone to the funds management entity."

A "Habitat Conservation Trust" for the burying beetle would be used for species management, as indicated in Appendix D of the biological assessment. The agreement as defined would be between the Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of State and TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, LP.

"The American Burying Beetle Habitat Conservation Trust (Trust) will be used to acquire lands and easements from willing sellers, and to develop conservation plans and agreements with landowners for protecting and enhancing American burying beetle habitat within its range. Additionally, up to 10 percent of the Trust funds may be used for appropriate research such as re-establishment of ABB on disturbed sites such as the Keystone XL pipeline ROW."

The "compensatory mitigation" for temporary or permanent impacts to beetle habitat, were defined as follows:

South Dakota - $632,447
Nebraska - $1,978,312
Oklahoma - $376,491
Overall $2,987,250

Although this document has been prepared, it has not been signed by the parties involved, and would not be until the pipeline would receive approval, according to the field supervisor of the Nebraska field office of the FWS.


Habitat for the American Burying Beetle in the Nebraska sandhills counties stretch of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline was classified under the category of temporary loss, and also as to whether it could be considered "prime" (1399.2 acres) with lesser amounts rated as poor (34.7 acres), marginal (41.7 acres), fair (120.6 acres) or good (186.1 acres). Overall, there would 1,782.1 acres of ABB habitat impacts.

In South Dakota the acreage is 629.6 and in Oklahoma, 1835.8 acres.

There is a set protocol outlined in the BA to address the presence of the ABB and how to deal with different situations. An annual report would also have to be submitted by the Department of State to document the "monitoring accomplished and progress of restoration of Project lands. The report would detail and document the number of acres affected by Project activities , and the number of acres meeting reclamation stipulations of the bond."

There would also be a "Reclamation Performance Bond" to ensure "Native prairie affected by the Project in Nebraska and South Dakota would be restored to the quality of the natural communities adjacent to the Project lands."

Consultation started in April 2008 with the pipeline developer, as document in the BA. The Nebraska Field office in Grand Island was the lead in preparing the 86 page assessment and appendices. Other state offices were also involved.

The Fish and Wildlife Service will also be involved with biological assessments for the construction of transmission lines to provide power to pipeline pumping stations. Potential impacts on the ABB are included in the biological assessment.