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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Keystone XL Pipeline Project: Key Issues



Paul W. Parfomak
Specialist in Energy and Infrastructure Policy

Robert Pirog
Specialist in Energy Economics

Linda Luther
Analyst in Environmental Policy

Adam Vann
Legislative Attorney


In May 2012, Canadian pipeline company TransCanada reapplied to the U.S. Department of State for a Presidential Permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would transport crude oil from the oil sands region of Alberta, Canada, to the existing Keystone Pipeline System in Nebraska. It also could accept U.S. crude from the Bakken oil fields in Montana and North Dakota. A second segment of the Keystone XL pipeline system, the Gulf Coast Project, is proceeding separately to connect existing pipeline facilities in Oklahoma to refineries in Texas. When completed, the entire Keystone XL pipeline system would ultimately have capacity to transport 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day to U.S. market hubs. TransCanada submitted the May 2012 permit application after its 2008 Keystone XL permit application was denied.

The State Department has jurisdiction over the Keystone XL pipeline’s approval because it would cross the U.S. border. Before it can approve such a permit, the department must determine that the project is in the “national interest,” accounting for potential effects on the environment, economy, energy security, and foreign policy, among other factors. Environmental impacts are considered under the National Environmental Policy Act, as documented in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). For the 2008 permit application, a final EIS was issued in August 2011, followed by a public review period. Largely in response to public comments and efforts by the state of Nebraska, the State Department determined that it needed to examine alternative pipeline routes that would avoid the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region of Nebraska, a sand dune formation with highly porous soil and shallow groundwater that recharges the Ogallala aquifer.

The Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-78) required the Secretary of State to approve or deny the original 2008 project application within 60 days. On January 18, 2012, citing insufficient time under this deadline to properly assess the reconfigured project, the State Department denied the Keystone XL permit. Since then, TransCanada has worked with Nebraska officials to identify a pipeline route avoiding the Sand Hills. Its May 2012 permit application reflects that effort. The State Department has begun the NEPA process anew, but will largely supplement the August 2011 final EIS to include analysis of the new route in Nebraska, as well as analysis of any significant environmental issues or information that has become available since August 2011. The department estimates that it will determine whether to approve or deny the new Presidential Permit by early 2013.

Since the State Department’s denial of TransCanada’s original permit application, Congress has debated legislative options addressing the Keystone XL pipeline. The North American Energy Access Act (H.R. 3548) would transfer permitting authority for the Keystone XL pipeline project to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, requiring issuance of a permit within 30 days of enactment. Several other bills (H.R. 3811, H.R. 4000, H.R. 4301, S. 2041, and S. 2199) would immediately approve the 2008 permit application filed by TransCanada, allowing for later alteration of the pipeline route in Nebraska. A House bill (H.R. 6164), the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act (S. 3445), and S.Amdt. 2789 would eliminate the Presidential Permit requirement for the reconfigured Keystone XL pipeline as proposed in TransCanada’s permit application filed on May 4, 2012. S. 2100 and H.R. 4211 would suspend sales of petroleum products from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve until issuance of a Presidential Permit for the Keystone XL project. Although some in Congress have asserted congressional authority over Keystone XL, changing the State Department’s role in issuing cross-border infrastructure permits may raise questions about the President’s executive authority. H.R. 3900 would seek to ensure that crude oil transported by the Keystone XL pipeline, or resulting refined petroleum products, would be sold only into U.S. markets, but this bill could raise issues related to international trade agreements.



Date of Report: September 13, 2012
Number of Pages: 42
Order Number: R41668
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Weather-Related Power Outages and Electric System Resiliency



Richard J. Campbell
Specialist in Energy Policy

High winds, especially when combined with precipitation from seasonal storms, can cause damage to electricity utility systems, resulting in service interruptions to large numbers of electricity customers. While most such power outages are caused by damage from trees and tree limbs falling on local electricity distribution lines and poles, major power outages tend to be caused by damage to electricity transmission lines, which carry bulk power long distances. Depending on the severity of the storm and resulting impairment, power outages can last a few hours or extend to periods of several days, and have real economic effects. Power outages can impact businesses (primarily through lost orders and damage to perishable goods and inventories), and manufacturers (mainly through downtime and lost production, or equipment damage). Data from various studies lead to cost estimates from storm-related outages to the U.S. economy at between $20 billion and $55 billion annually. Data also suggest the trend of outages from weather-related events is increasing.

Suggested solutions for reducing impacts from weather-related outages include improved treetrimming schedules to keep rights-of-way clear, placing distribution and some transmission lines underground, implementing Smart Grid improvements to enhance power system operations and control, inclusion of more distributed generation, and changing utility maintenance practices and metrics to focus on power system reliability. However, most of these potential solutions come with high costs which must be balanced against the perceived benefits.

A number of options exist for Congress to consider which could help reduce storm-related outages. These range from improving the quality of data on storm-related outages, to a greater strategic investment in the U.S. electricity grid. Congress could empower a federal agency to develop standards for the consistent reporting of power outage data. While responsibility for the reliability of the bulk electric system is under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (as per the Energy Policy Act of 2005), no central responsibility exists for the reliability of distribution systems. One possible option could be to bring distribution systems under the Electric Reliability Organization for reliability purposes. Recovery after storm-related outages might be enhanced by a federal role in formalizing the review or coordination of electric utility mutual assistance agreements (MAAs). This would not necessarily mean federal approval of MAAs, but may help in the cooperative coordination of additional federal and state resources, especially in a wide, multi-state weather event. While there has been much discussion of transmission system inadequacies and inefficiencies, many distribution systems are in dire need of upgrades or repairs. The cost of upgrading the U.S. grid to meet future uses is expected to be high, with the American Society of Civil Engineers estimating a need of $673 billion by 2020. While the federal government recently made funding available of almost $16 billion for specific Smart Grid projects and new transmission lines under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, there has not been a comprehensive effort to study the needs, set goals, and provide targeted funding for modernization of the U.S. grid as part of a long-term national energy strategy. Such an effort would also require decisions about the appropriate roles of government and the private sector.

Power delivery systems are most vulnerable to storms and extreme weather events. Improving the overall condition and efficiency of the power delivery system can only serve to improve the resiliency of the system, and help hasten recovery from weather-related outages. Ultimately, however, electric utilities are responsible for this infrastructure. They are in the business of selling electricity, and they cannot sell electricity if their power delivery systems are out of service.



Date of Report: August 28, 2012
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R42696
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Monday, September 10, 2012

Nuclear Power Plant Security and Vulnerabilities


Mark Holt
Specialist in Energy Policy

Anthony Andrews
Specialist in Energy and Defense Policy


The physical security of nuclear power plants and their vulnerability to deliberate acts of terrorism was elevated to a national security issue following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Congress subsequently enacted new nuclear plant security requirements and has repeatedly focused attention on regulation and enforcement by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). More than a decade after the 9/11 attacks, security at nuclear plants remains an important concern.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT05, P.L. 109-58) imposed specific criteria for NRC to consider in revising the “Design Basis Threat” (DBT), which specifies the maximum severity of potential attacks that a nuclear plant’s security force must be capable of repelling. In response to the legislative mandate, NRC revised the DBT (10 C.F.R. Part 73.1) on April 18, 2007. Among other changes, the revisions expanded the assumed capabilities of adversaries to operate as one or more teams and attack from multiple entry points.

To strengthen nuclear plant security inspections, EPACT05 required NRC to conduct “force-onforce” security exercises at nuclear power plants at least once every three years. In these exercises, a mock adversary force from outside a nuclear plant attempts to penetrate the plant’s vital area and simulate damage to a “target set” of key safety components. From the start of the program through 2010, 136 force-on-force inspections were conducted, with each inspection typically including three mock attacks by the adversary force. During the 136 inspections, 10 mock attacks resulted in the simulated destruction of complete target sets, indicating inadequate protection against the DBT, and additional security measures were promptly implemented, according to NRC.

Nuclear power plant vulnerability to deliberate aircraft crashes has been a continuing issue. After much consideration, NRC published final rules on June 12, 2009, to require all new nuclear power plants to incorporate design features that would ensure that, in the event of a crash by a large commercial aircraft, the reactor core would remain cooled or the reactor containment would remain intact, and radioactive releases would not occur from spent fuel storage pools.

NRC rejected proposals that existing reactors also be required to protect against aircraft crashes, such as by adding large external steel barriers, deciding that other mitigation measures already required by NRC for all reactors were sufficient. In 2002, NRC ordered all nuclear power plants to develop strategies to mitigate the effects of large fires and explosions that could result from aircraft crashes or other causes. NRC published a broad final rule on nuclear reactor security March 27, 2009, including fire mitigation strategies and requirements that reactors establish procedures for responding to specific aircraft threats.

Other ongoing nuclear plant security issues include the vulnerability of spent fuel pools, which hold highly radioactive nuclear fuel after its removal from the reactor, standards for nuclear plant security personnel, and nuclear plant emergency planning. NRC’s March 2009 security regulations addressed some of those concerns and included a number of other security enhancements.



Date of Report: August 28, 2012
Number of Pages: 15
Order Number: RL34331
Price: $29.95


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List of Submissions to Congress Under Section 18 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA)


From: Curry Hagerty, Specialist in Energy and Natural Resources

This memorandum responds to requests for a list of submissions to Congress mandated under Section 18 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA).1 The most recent Section 18 submission was on June 28, 2012, when the Obama Administration submitted a five-year plan to Congress and announced the availability of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).2 Legislative interest in the Obama submission includes the House Committee on Natural Resources scheduling a mark-up session for H.R. 6082 on July 18, 2012. H.R. 6082 was introduced on July 9, 2012, to (among other purposes) adopt a statutory lease sale schedule as a “replacement” to the Obama Administration Section 18 lease sale schedule.3

Provided below are the following: (1) an overview of OCSLA Section 18 requirements and a list of the eight Section 18 submissions to Congress starting with the most recent submission on June 28, 2012; (2) a basic discussion of legislative interest in these submissions; and (3) a list of the documents that accompany these submissions (Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, maps and technical reports).4



Date of Report: July 16, 2012
Number of Pages: 7
Order Number: M-071612
Price: $19.95


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