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Pipeline Inspector-Turned Whistleblower Calls Keystone XL a Potential “Disaster”

By Stephen Lacey  

"Pipeline Inspector-Turned Whistleblower Calls Keystone XL a Potential “Disaster”"

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Mike Klink: Let’s be clear — I am an engineer; I am not telling you we shouldn’t build pipelines. We just should not build this one.

By forcing the White House to make a decision on the politically and environmentally-toxic Keystone XL pipeline as part of an agreement reached in December to extend the payroll tax cut, Republicans are being lambasted by environmental groups for undercutting the federal environmental review process.

Now a whistleblower is claiming that the company overseeing the development of the proposed project, TransCanada, also has a track record of undercutting quality at the expense of the environment — further calling into question the decision by Congress to prevent a new federal environmental impact study for Keystone XL.

Mike Klink is a former inspector for Bechtel, one of the major contractors working on TransCanada’s original Keystone pipeline, completed in 2010. Klink says he raised numerous concerns about shoddy materials and poor craftsmanship during construction of the pipeline, which brings tar sands crude from Canada to Midwestern refineries in the U.S. Instead of actually addressing the problems, Klink claims he was fired by Bechtel in retaliation. He filed a complaint with the Department of Labor in March of 2010, and made his story public last fall.

Klink, who says he’s speaking as an engineer and not an environmentalist, has just published a scathing op-ed in the Lincoln Journal Star criticizing Keystone XL, a proposed extension of the current tar sands pipeline network that would bring crude down to refineries in the Gulf Coast, crossing a major aquifer along the way:

As an inspector, my job was to monitor the construction of the first Keystone pipeline. I oversaw construction at the pump stations that have been such a problem on that line, which has already spilled more than a dozen times. I am coming forward because my kids encouraged me to tell the truth about what was done and covered up.

When I last raised concerns about corners being cut, I lost my job — but people along the Keystone XL pathway have a lot more to lose if this project moves forward with the same shoddy work.

A recent environmental impact statement — outsourced by the State Department to another major TransCanada contractor — found that there would be “limited adverse environmental impacts” associated with the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline. Opponents of the pipeline cried foul, saying it was yet another major conflict of interest between the State Department and TransCanada.

Klink’s assertions about poor management of the first Keystone pipeline provide yet more ammunition for critics of the pipeline:

What did I see? Cheap foreign steel that cracked when workers tried to weld it, foundations for pump stations that you would never consider using in your own home, fudged safety tests, Bechtel staffers explaining away leaks during pressure tests as “not too bad,” shortcuts on the steel and rebar that are essential for safe pipeline operation and siting of facilities on completely inappropriate spots like wetlands.

I shared these concerns with my bosses, who communicated them to the bigwigs at TransCanada, but nothing changed. TransCanada didn’t appear to care. That is why I was not surprised to hear about the big spill in Ludden, N.D., where a 60-foot plume of crude spewed tens of thousands of gallons of toxic tar sands oil and fouled neighboring fields.

TransCanada says that the performance has been OK. Fourteen spills is not so bad. And that the pump stations don’t really count. That is all bunk. This thing shouldn’t be leaking like a sieve in its first year — what do you think happens decades from now after moving billions of barrels of the most corrosive oil on the planet?

Let’s be clear — I am an engineer; I am not telling you we shouldn’t build pipelines. We just should not build this one.

White House officials say the 60-day timeline forced by Congress on the Keystone XL pipeline will force the Administration to deny the project. This is exactly what Republicans want — but only to make the pipeline an election issue, not to consider the myriad environmental issues being raised.

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26 Responses to Pipeline Inspector-Turned Whistleblower Calls Keystone XL a Potential “Disaster”

  1. catman306 says:

    Has anyone ever heard of a pipeline that has never leaked? What does it say about oil pipelines if no one knows of any?

  2. BBHY says:

    Another announcement today that PetroChina has purchased the remaining 40% of the MacKay River oil sands in Alberta. Is there any doubt now that the Keystone XL oil will be bound for China and other parts of Asia, instead of providing the much claimed “energy security” for the US?

    • Kathleen Green says:

      Nope, no doubt. It’s sad to know that there are people who would sell off the resources needed to sustain North America, in order to make a lot of money.

      I know this is crazy talk but in the absence of oil&gas, maybe we’ll figure out a new way to produce mass power.

    • Lea Matthews says:

      I recently read an article that says we are exporting more oil than we are importing. So all the talk about there being such a shortage that we have to accept this pipeline, or drill in Gulf coast or Alaska are pure bunk. If we kept the oil here instead of exporting it and combined that with higher demands for cars MGP regulations it sound like to me we would be okay. Oil is finite, it will run out sooner or later so why don’t we make steps now to replace it with green energy solutions. Also, I just found out that refinery is going to is Valero, so if you have gas stations in your area like we do in Texas stop buying from them.

    • Stig says:

      GM, Ford and Chrysler are planning to sell a lot of cars in China, however, that is only if enough fuel is available. Who after all, would buy an expensive auto, if there is no gasoline to put in the tank. And tarsands oil is key, regardless the extreme dangers that shipping and burning it pose to the lives of people and the environment.

  3. PatrioticLiberalJoshuan says:

    A new/old comment format? If so, I won’t miss the facebook based one at all.

  4. PatrioticLiberalJoshuan says:

    At the very least, President Obama should say that Congress left him no time to thoroughly consider the safety of Keystone XL and, therefore, he is denying the project. He could remind the Republicans of their “1% doctrine” regarding pre-emptive war when they complain.

  5. facts lean left says:

    This pipeline is a disaster in the making, in every way. It will enrich a few, and kill many, in the long run.

  6. fj says:

    Question: ” . . . what do you think happens decades from now after moving billions of barrels of the most corrosive oil on the planet?”

    Answer: A lot worse than Superfund site Newtown Creek in Greenpoint, Brooklyn one of the most polluted industrial sites in America containing an estimated 30 million gallons of spilled oil from the Greenpoint Oil Spill that was twice the oil of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. (wikipedia.org)

  7. Anne says:

    The Government Accountability Project (www.whistleblower.org) is an excellent resource for Mr. Klink, if he does not know that already. He will likely need to continue to arm himself with legal protections and information, and I can attest to the excellence of GAP in providing both. Meanwhile, good for you, Mike Klink. Our nation needs more of you to speak out and tell truth to power.

  8. I once worked for Brown & Root, Inc. out of Houston, TX and I can attest to construction companies doing everything in their power to cut corners and intimidate quality control inspectors. The ones who caved and falsified documentation in the course of their duties were called “pencil whippers”. Certain companies are guilty as charged, with that said as a former Bechtel inspector myself I find it hard to believe that Bechtel is in this category.
    1) The facts about pressure tests (hydrostatic or pneumatic) are you checking the integrity of the metallurgical bonds “welds” and not the mechanical system per se, if a valve packing or seal in a mechanical joint leaks during a pressure test does mean a failure of the system as a whole, these leaks may and sometimes do stop when the pressure is reduced to the design pressure values. These leaks are deemed mechanical in nature and should be recorded for future corrective action, if the pressure test parameters were met in the designated time span required by API or ASME code then the test can and will be validated as acceptable.
    2) Certified Material Test Reports (CMTR) shows the chemical and physical characteristics of steel properties. All supplied material must have documentation as to the material type and grade required by contract. Some components and appurtenances sometimes contain impurities which cause weldability issues. This occurs more so in the use of exotic steels (used in pumps and valves) therefore the joining of dissimilar metals sometimes can be a tedious and exhausting process.

    I would have to know a lot more than what I’ve read so far than what some Civil Engineer has to say about anything dealing with welding issues.

    • Brooks Bridges says:

      For Lunny and jason:

      12 spills in one year sounds like something is very wrong.

      Is that a spill rate that is common to oil pipelines?

      If not, could you speculate on what else may have caused the spills if Klink’s stated causes are incorrect?

      • oil this gas says:

        not common at all, a single leak on a new pipeline is almost unheard of in the first year of operations unless it is caused by operator neglect at one of the pigging sites or during operations servicing. it is UNCOMMON to have a leak in the first five years of operations if a pipeline is properly serviced. this is because with proper servicing they can identify possible failures before they happen and have them repaired.

        it also depends on what they are flowing through the pipeline, sweet dry gas is one thing, sour oil with sand is a totally different beast. the stuff out of the oil sands is horrible crap, it needs to be heated, its horribly corrosive on the pipe fittings and valves. if it is allowed to cool it is nearly solid, which in a pipeline creates slugs which can create a whole new host of issues in the pipeline.

  9. jason says:

    after working on a pipeline, i have seen good and bad. but as far as safety or construction of the pipeline was never in question. everything was and is top quality. no ifs ands or butts. i have seen welders go thru tests for 2 days before they can even get to weld on the pipeline.
    the steel i have read that they had some trouble with it, as they were sourcing it over seas. now all of it will come from flordia at least for keystone xl.
    besides if china gets the oil. do you think the pipeline they build will be better? they cant even build a toy right.

    • J. Bob says:

      It’s refreshing to hear from actual experience.

      All one has to do is look at the 1000′s of miles of pipelines currently in the US. That is still the safest way to transport our energy. Think of what truck & oil tank car collisions have done in the past.

      Even electrical lines have their “leakage”.

  10. Calvin K Lunny says:

    if a valve packing or seal in a mechanical joint leaks during a pressure test it does NOT mean a failure of the system. IT APPEARS I LEFT OUT THE WORD NOT IN MY PREVIOUS POST.

  11. ALFO says:

    The time is now,identify all of the guilty parties,this is a calculated decision with intended consequences that will be classified as cost of doing business.
    PS Thank you for eliminating the facebook comments.

  12. Mike Roddy says:

    Upper Big Branch Mine, Deepwater Horizon, Keystone- spills and deaths are just items on a spread sheet to the management teams from Massey, BP, and TransCanada. It’s the new macho: be a suit who is tough in the face of casualties, as long as the cost/benefit ratio works.

    This is a spiritual failure, ours as well as theirs, since nobody seems willing to put these guys in jail, where they belong.

    • Iain says:

      There are lot of people willing to put these people in jails. The problem is that none of these people run the jails!

  13. Iain says:

    I did some research awhile back and the XL is the final phase. There are already 3 pipelines I believe, at least 2, that cross our border. The XL pipeline is not a new thing…it is the final phase of a rather old thing.
    http://theenergycollective.com/david-lewis/69677/keystone-xl-just-one-head-hydra?utm_source=tec_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter

  14. Uncle B says:

    Don’t like it? Shut ‘er down! Canadian oil to go off Canadian West Caost to Asia at world prices anyway. No hurt feelings! China’s oil giant just bought even more of Tar Sands anyway and intend huge Thorium reactors for steam extraction there, and power to liquify Natural gas now wasted in processing to go to Asian markets too! Canadians rejoucing, learning Mandarin in private schools now, public schools soon, along with French, English. All to do business with the rising Pan Eurasian Empire as it reaches even into the core of the North American Continent for its oil supply while America hesitates and loses out! Love y’all but the world can’t wait around for your constipated Congress who need mostly castor oil to “Shiite or get off the pot” !

  15. Please understand that from everything I’ve seen this will be an export pipeline with the oil going overseas and not used to meet the US energy needs. If so, that nullifies any energy independence arguments.
    http://www.tarsandsaction.org/spread-the-word/key-facts-keystone-xl/

  16. Speaker of the Earth says:

    As people of the nation are trying to make a better earth……by going green and here the government an other companies are trying to hurt the earth by putting a an oil pipe line in it….Why cant people see that by doing this it will hurt EVERYONE……not just the people who live along the pipeline but others will see changes in the clairty of the already tainted water….PLEASE PLEASE….dont do it……Why wouldnt you think of what comes after you….your children your grandchildren……its sad that most only see $$$$$$$…..when many thing are more valuable than the all mighty dollar……..

  17. We the people should demand paid inspectors in every county the pipe goes through along with a Native American Inspector of every nation that will be affective through out the intire pipe line The inspector should be selected from within the tribal nation that is effected,This will insure proper place ment of pipe in the ground and pipe welds will be inspected. all inspectors should have invirormental understanding of the clean up process etc..This is just a short piece of concern if this line goes forward.many other limits can be involved.I myself hope this line will not go through as a x pipe liner we have more than anough in the ground all ready.

  18. Bob says:

    Why would anyone believe that if this pipeline is installed, It would get refined in texas and supplied to our market.Maybe a very small share to pacify. magine how cheap it would be. But no, that oil would be shipped around the world for all possible monetary gain while we buy at opec prices from others to use here. It’s a money making machine for some and a sad price we pay when disaster strikes. Then everybody plays the blame game followed by lawsuits etc. Haven’t we gone this route a few times now. End dependence on oil and get with the program of a safer cleaner country. Grand kids will appreciate it i am sure.

  19. john atcheson says:

    Leaks are to GHGs as fleas are to jet airliners. Look, the issue — the giant pachyderm in the parlor — is carbon.

    Leaks are regrettable and cause some harm; GHG of the magnitude released by the tar sands are an existential threat.