Synthetic crude oil hasn’t yet entered the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline, but a report released Tuesday by non-profit consumer rights group Public Citizen says the pipes are already bending, sagging and peeling to the point of a possible spill or leakage of toxic tar sands.
Drawing on the accounts of landowners, citizens and former workers of TransCanada, the report documents alleged construction problems and engineering code violations along the Texas portion of the pipeline, proved by what the group says is a staggering amount of excavations to correct dents and patch holes. Public Citizen is calling on the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration to review TransCanada’s construction quality assurance records for possible federal violations, and perform a complete re-testing of the pipeline to see if the repairs work.
“The government should investigate, and shouldn’t let crude flow until that is done,” Public Citizen’s Texas office director Tom Smith said in a statement. “Given the stakes — the potential for a catastrophic spill of hazardous crude along a pipeline that traverses hundreds of streams and rivers and comes within a few miles of some towns and cities — it would be irresponsible to allow the pipeline to start operating.”
One of the landowners cited in the study is David Whitley, a self-described “go-along guy” who owns an 80-acre plot of land in Texas which the pipeline crosses.
At first Whitley cooperated with TransCanada’s construction crew and did not dispute construction of the pipeline, deciding that “I wasn’t going to let it give me any more gray hairs,” Whitley said on a conference call with reporters. His attitude changed, however, when workers returned months after construction to do a visual inspection. The workers dug a hole in the ground of Whitley’s property, and he got his first look at Keystone.
“It changed my attitude seeing what was running underneath my property,” Whitley said, noting that there were two red marks on the pipeline that said “dented, cut out.” The pipeline, he said, was resting on a rock.
The report cites more than 125 excavations in 250 miles of possible problems with pipe that had been buried for months. The report says TransCanada is touting the excavation and subsequent pipe replacements as a demonstration of its commitment to safety, but Public Citizen’s report says the company is in danger of of repeating its tainted history of problems with pipeline construction and safety. From the report:
During the construction of Keystone I, TransCanada pledged to meet 50 special conditions. But more than 47 anomalies along the line in four states had to be retested, and the Keystone I line spilled 12 times in the first year of operation.
In July 2011, TransCanada’s Bison natural gas pipeline exploded within the first six months of operation, blowing out an approximate 40-foot section of pipe. TransCanada had been warned of potential quality problems with construction and inspection.
In the 1990s, Iroquois Pipeline Operations, a subsidiary of TransCanada Pipelines Ltd., and four senior executives pleaded guilty to knowingly violating environmental and safety provisions of the pipeline construction permit. Iroquois executives had promised a pipeline of exceptional safety.
The report also calls on Congress to hold oversight hearings to make sure that PHMSA investigates and addresses the safety of the pipeline. Smith said PHMSA should perform two tests: A so-called “Hydro test,” which pressurizes the pipeline to levels higher than it would normally experience, and an “caliper inline inspection,” which would look for problems on the inside of the pipeline.
“The consequences of a failure would be grave,” Smith said. “Our goal is to try and make sure if it operates it is operated as safely as possible and that the line itself secures the product to make sure that we don’t create additional problems down the line.”