Keystone XL

TransCanada's Keystone XL South Pipeline Set To Begin Operations Today

Today, January 22, the southern portion of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline is set to become operational, although environmentalists and Texas homeowners are continuing to fight against it.

TransCanada is surely celebrating now that it has a pipeline system in place connecting the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast refineries and export terminals — via the combination of the original Keystone pipeline running from Alberta to Cushing, Oklahoma and the pipeline it connects to, Keystone XL's southern half (now rebranded the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project) which President Obama fast-tracked via executive order nearly two years ago.

But nobody except the pipeline's owners knows exactly what will be transported through the Gulf Coast pipeline. TransCanada declined to reveal this important information, citing the confidentiality of their commercial contracts. Jeannie Shiffer, a spokesperson for the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's (PHMSA), part of the Department of Transportation, confirmed that, “PHMSA doesn't require pipeline operators to report crude oil types.” 

This leaves landowners and first responders in a precarious situation in the inevitable case of a spill. As tar sands pipeline spills in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Mayflower, Arkansas have made clear, tar sands dilbit is more toxic than conventional oil and requires a different spill response effort.

State Dept's Keystone XL Contractor, ERM Group, Also OK'd Controversial Pebble Mine in Alaska

A DeSmogBlog investigation has revealed Environmental Resources Management Inc. (ERM Group) — the contractor performing the U.S. State Department's environmental review for the northern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline — gave the greenlight to Alaska's controversial Pebble Mine proposal in June 2013.

The proposed Pebble Mine, located in Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska, contains mineable gold and copper. It's also a major hub for fishing and the seafood industry, leading the Center for American Progress to call the battle over Pebble Mine a “resource war.”

“Bristol Bay…is home to the world’s largest commercial sockeye salmon fishery,” explains a November 2013 EarthWorks blog post. “The devastation caused by a massive open pit mine would linger in perpetuity affecting not just Bristol Bay, but the commercial fishing industry everywhere in the Pacific Northwest.”

Michigan Judge Dismisses Charges Against Activist Who Protested Inside Enbridge's 6B Pipeline

Chris Wahmhoff

When Kalamazoo activist Chris Wahmhoff walked up to the fourth floor of the Calhoun County Circuit Court on Monday and checked the docket, he found his case sandwiched between three other cases also involving Enbridge — a telling sign of the times.
When Judge James Kingsley started speaking in the courtroom, Wahmhoff thought all was lost. He hung his head and waited, as the five minutes the judge spoke dragged on. 

Then there was just thing magical moment of him saying ‘but,’ ” Wahmhoff says. He lifted his head to hear the judge say he would quash the motion. Wahmhoff immediately jumped from his seat and cheered, accompanied by a room full of supporters.

Then we were very heavily scolded by the judge, who said they were going to arrest every one of us,” he said with a laugh.

Days Before Casselton Oil Train Explosion, Obama Signed Bill Hastening Fracking Permits on ND Public Lands

On December 20, both chambers of the U.S. Congress passed a little-noticed bill to expedite permitting for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on public lands in the Bakken Shale basin, located predominantly in North Dakota. And on December 26, President Obama signed the bill into law. 

Days later, on December 30, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) freight train owned by Warren Buffett carrying Bakken fracked oil exploded in Casselton, North Dakota. Locals breathed a smoky sigh of relief that the disaster happened outside the town center. In July 2013, a “bomb train” carrying Bakken oil exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people

Dubbed the “Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Streamlining Act,” the bill passed unanimously in the Senate as S.244 and 415-1 in the House as H.R. 767, with Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) serving as the sole “nay” vote and 16 representatives abstaining. Among the abstentions were representatives Peter Defazio (D-OR), Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Campbell (R-CA).

H.R. 767's sponsor is North Dakota Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, who received $213,150 from the oil and gas industry prior to the 2012 election, and an additional $29,000 for the forthcoming 2014 elections.

Cosponsors include Wyoming Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis ($109,050 from the oil and gas industry pre-2012 election, $28,500 in the 2014 election cycle), South Dakota Republican Rep. Kristi Noem ($95,501 from the industry pre-2012 election, $20,400 pre-2014) and Montana Republican Rep. Steve Daines ($124,620 pre-2012 election and $87,412 pre-2014).

S.244 is sponsored by Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), who has taken $291,237 from the oil and gas industry since his 2010 election to Congress. Cosponsor Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-NDreceived $111,050 from the oil and gas industry since her 2012 electoral victory.

Looking Back at 2013: Photos of Climate Chaos, Natural Disasters, Heartache and Hope

Today, we wrap up 2013 with a slideshow of photographs taken this past year by DeSmog contributor Julie Dermansky. We’re grateful to have Julie on our team, and as you can see from her photographs, she witnessed some awe-inspiring and awful scenes in 2013.

A self-described Accidental Chronicler of Climate Change, Julie lives in New Orleans and has traveled the globe reporting on some of the most important stories of our times through her photojournalism and writing — Hurricanes Katrina and Ivan, Superstorm Sandy, earthquake-ravaged Haiti, the BP Gulf oil disaster, war-torn Iraq, genocide in Rwanda and lots more.

She joined DeSmogBlog in August, and quickly became an invaluable member of our team with her in-depth multimedia coverage of the Louisiana sinkhole, the battle over the southern half of Keystone XL, the fracking bonanza in Texas, the ongoing fallout of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and more.

Sit back and take a journey through Julie’s lens as we remember some of the biggest disasters and climate stories of 2013.

Dollarocracy: U.S. Congressmen Refuse to Address Keystone XL Southern Half Spill Concerns

What's the U.S. congressional response to the safety issues with the 485-mile southern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline raised by Public Citizen's Texas office? Mostly what Simon & Garfunkel called “The Sound of Silence” in their famous song.

DeSmogBlog contacted more than three dozen members of the U.S. Congress representing both political parties to get their take on Public Citizen's alarming findings in its November investigation (including dents, metal that had to be patched up and pipeline segments labeled “junk”), but got little in the way of substantive responses.

Set to open for business on January 22approved via an Executive Order by President Barack Obama in March 2012 and rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline Project” by TransCanada, the southern half of the pipeline has garnered far less media coverage than its U.S.-Canada border-crossing brother to the north, Keystone XL's northern half.

Over two dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote a letter to President Obama on December 12 expressing concern over the conflicts-of-interest in the U.S. State Department's environmental review process for the northern half of the line.

But none of them would comment on concerns with the southern half of the line raised in the Public Citizen report after multiple queries via e-mail from DeSmogBlog.

Keystone XL Fork in the Road: TransCanada's Houston Lateral Pipeline

Only Barack Obama knows the fate of the northern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  But in the meantime, TransCanada is preparing the southern half of the line to open for commercial operations on January 22.

And there's a fork in that half of the pipeline that's largely flown under the radar: TransCanada's Houston Lateral Pipeline, which serves as a literal fork in the road of the southern half of Keystone XL's route to Gulf Coast refineries.

Rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline” by TransCanada, the 485-mile southern half of Keystone XL brings a blend of Alberta's tar sands crude, along with oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin, to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas. This area has been coined a “sacrifice zone” by investigative journalist Ted Genoways, describing the impacts on local communities as the tar sands crude is refined mainly for export markets.

But not all tar sands and fracked oil roads lead to Port Arthur. That's where the Houston Lateral comes into play. A pipeline oriented westward from Liberty County, TX rather than eastward to Port Arthur, Houston Lateral ushers crude oil to Houston's refinery row

“The 48-mile (77-kilometre) Houston Lateral Project is an additional project under development to transport oil to refineries in the Houston, TX marketplace,” TransCanada's website explains. “Upon completion, the Gulf Coast Project and the Houston Lateral Project will become an integrated component of the Keystone Pipeline System.”

Broken Trust: Victims of Pipeline Spills Tell Their Stories

Evaluating pipeline safety is the business of engineers and scientists, but evaluating the human cost of transporting hazardous materials near people’s homes is best left to those who’ve experienced the fallout.

Homeowners shared their experiences with industry insiders at the New Orleans Pipeline Safety Trust conference in New Orleans late last month.

On March 29, Exxon's Pegasus pipeline burst in Mayflower, Arkansas, releasing up to 7,000 barrels of diluted bitumen. That's where Ann Jarrell and her family lived, just outside the evacuation zone set by government officials — a zone she believes was too small because it didn’t reflect the fact the pipeline was carrying diluted bitumen, which is more toxic then crude oil.

Bitumen is diluted with a mixture of undisclosed toxic emulsifiers to help it flow through pipelines — a factor homeowners, government officials and first responders appear to often be left in the dark about.

On the day of the spill, Jarrell's daughter Jennifer, who lived in her house with her infant son, suggested they leave because of the smell. She learned in school that in the case of a spill, if you can hear it, see it, smell it or touch it, you need to leave the area immediately. Jarrell called the local police and asked about evacuating. She was told if there wasn’t oil on her land, she didn't need to leave her home. So Jarrell and her family stayed. But, she told the room full of industry insiders, “I should have listened to my daughter.”  

Ann Jarrell, Homeowner from Mayflower, Arkansas ©2013 Julie Dermansky

Federal Pipeline Safety Agency Approves Startup of Keystone XL Southern Half

DeSmogBlog has learned that TransCanada cleared the final hurdle for the southern half of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, receiving a green light last week from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) following a review of several safety concerns.

TransCanada announced this week that it has begun injecting oil into the southern half of its Keystone XL pipeline in preparation for commercial operations.  

Leading up to PHMSA giving Keystone XL south the go-ahead to start up, Public Citizen raised several questions about the safety of the pipeline. 

Will TransCanada respond to greivances raised about dents, faulty welding, pipeline material designated “junk” and other issues raised in the consumer advocacy group's November investigation? And what about September 10 and September 26 warning letters obtained by Public Citizen raising similar concerns from PHMSA to TransCanada?

Both TransCanada and PHMSA have provided DeSmogBlog answers to these questions.

Rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline Project” by TransCanada, the 485-mile Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas Keystone XL southern half — approved via a March 2012 Executive Order from President Barack Obama — is set to open for business by mid- to late-January.

TransCanada Begins Injecting Oil Into Keystone XL Southern Half; Exact Start Date A Mystery

Keystone XL's southern half is one step closer to opening for business. TransCanada announced that “on Saturday, December 7, 2013, the company began to inject oil into the Gulf Coast Project pipeline as it moves closer to the start of commercial service.”

The Sierra Club's legal challenge to stop the pipeline was recently denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, so the southern half, battled over for years between the industry and environmentalists, will soon become a reality.

According to a statement provided to DeSmog by TransCanada, “Over the coming weeks, TransCanada will inject about three million of [sic] barrels of oil into the system, beginning in Cushing, Oklahoma and moving down to the company’s facilities in the Houston refining area.”

In mid-January, up to 700,000 barrels per day of Alberta's tar sands diluted bitumen (dilbit) could begin flowing through the 485-mile southern half of TransCanada's pipeline, known as the Gulf Coast Project. Running from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas, the southern half of the pipeline was approved by both a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 12 and an Executive Order from President Barack Obama in March 2012.

BloombergThe Canadian Press and The Oklahoman each reported that the Gulf Coast Project pipeline is now being injected with oil. Line fill is the last key step before a pipeline can begin operations. 

“There are many moving parts to this process – completion of construction, testing, regulatory approvals, line fill and then the transition to operations,” TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard told DeSmog. “Line fill has to take place first, then once final testing and certifications are completed, the line can then go into commercial service.”

Residents living along the length of the southern half will have no clue about the rest of the start-up process, as TransCanada says it won't provide any more information until the line is already running. “For commercial and contractual reasons, the next update we will provide will be after the line has gone into commercial service,” the company announced.

When DeSmog asked whether the company is currently injecting conventional oil or diluted bitumen sourced from the Canadian tar sands, TransCanada's Howard replied: 

“Many people like to try and categorize the blend, etc., however we are injecting oil into the pipeline. As you’ve likely seen me quoted before, oil is oil and this pipeline is designed to handle both light and heavy blends of oil, in accordance with all U.S. regulatory standards.

I am not able to provide you the specific blend or breakdown as we are not permitted (by our customers) from disclosing that information to the media. There are very strict confidentiality clauses in the commercial contracts we enter into with our customers, and that precludes us from providing that. The reason is that if we are providing information about a specific blend, when it is in our system, etc. – that has the potential to identify who our customers may be or allow others to take financial positions in the market and profit from that information when others do not have access to the same information. This has much farther reaching impacts for the financial markets (and ultimately all of us).”


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