Exclusive: Release of Inspection Reports From TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline Expose Risk of Future Spills

The US government agency responsible for interstate pipelines recorded a catalog of problems with the construction of TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline and the Cushing Extension, a DeSmog investigation has found.
Inspectors at the US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) observed TransCanada’s contractors violating construction design codes established to ensure a pipeline’s safety, according to inspection reports released to DeSmog under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Evan Vokes, former TransCanada materials engineer-turned-whistleblower, told DeSmog the problems uncovered in the reports show issues that could lead to future pipeline failures and might also explain some of the failures the pipeline had already suffered.
Vokes claimed PHMSA was negligent in failing to use its powers to shut down construction of the pipeline when inspectors found contractors doing work incorrectly. “You cannot have a safe pipeline without code compliance,” Vokes said.

Keystone Pipeline Mishap Has TransCanada Scrambling Again

Landowners’ worst fears came true,” Jane Kleeb, the head of Bold Nebraska, told DeSmog after news broke about the latest Keystone pipeline oil spill. “When you have a pipe running through your farm or ranch-land all you think about is: it could break today.” 
On Saturday afternoon that fear was realized by a Hutchinson County, South Dakota land owner.  Loern Schulz found oil in surface water near the Keystone pipeline’s right-of-way and reported the spill. 
By Sunday, TransCanada had shut down the Keystone Pipeline, which originates in Alberta, Canada, and goes to Steele City, Nebraska. But the rest of its U.S. pipeline network is operational. 
The Keystone connects to the Cushing Extension pipeline that ends in Cushing, Oklahoma, where it connects to the Keystone XL’s southern route, renamed the Keystone Gulf Coast Pipeline when the project was split into sections. The Gulf Coast line moves product from Cushing to Nederland, Texas, providing TransCanada a route to move Canadian tar sands bitumen to the Gulf of Mexico for refining and export. 
Though President Obama rejected the northern Keystone XL route last year, which would have stretched from Alberta to Cushing, TransCanada has transported Canadian tar sands crude via its Keystone pipeline network since early 2014, when the Gulf Coast pipeline started operations
TransCanada didn’t have a representative at the potential spill site until Sunday. But by Monday, when the media broke the news, TransCanada had blocked off the area, making documenting the contaminated area from the ground impossible.

[UPDATE APRIL 8: KCCI reports that TransCanada now believes the Keystone pipeline has leaked about 16,800 gallons in South Dakota, a dramatic increase from initial estimates.]

TransCanada Cries Foul Over New Keystone XL Security Risk Analysis

It doesn’t take much to hurt the dirty energy industry’s feelings.  Less than a day after NextGen Climate released a report detailing the vulnerabilities of the Keystone XL pipeline to a terrorist attack, the company fired back at the group claiming that they were being singled out.

The report was commissioned by NextGen Climate and produced by David Cooper, a retired Command Master Chief Navy SEAL, who was part of the team that took down Osama bin Laden. 

In his report, Cooper lays out some of the easier ways in which a terrorist can take advantage of the pipeline’s vulnerabilities.  He described the pipeline as a “soft target,” meaning that it doesn’t move, it doesn’t change, and there are huge blindspots along the route. 

DeSmogBlog’s Steve Horn spoke with Cooper about the report, and you can read that story here.

Reuters has more:

Attackers could damage remote pump stations along the pipeline's route in the northern Great Plains with just 4 pounds (1.8 kg) of readily available 1960s-era explosives, Dave Cooper, a former Navy Seal, said in the 14-page NextGen report released Wednesday.

NextGen Climate was founded by billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer who has been a target of the dirty energy industry since emerging on the political scene where he has vowed to spend millions in the next U.S. elections to unseat climate change denying and anti-environment candidates.  

Steyer’s name being behind the report has opened up the door for attacks from the industry, and TransCanada has wasted no time in trashing the new report. 

According to The Hill, TransCanada rejected the NextGen study, issuing the following statement:

The "Significance" Trap: New Economic Analysis Finds that Keystone XL Would Increase Tar Sands Production, Carbon Emissions

In its environmental assessment of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. State Department severely underestimated the project’s impact on oil production, and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s according to a rigorous economic analysis published in a new report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative. Researchers found that, if constructed, the Keystone XL pipeline would increase global greenhouse gas emissions by roughly a whopping 5 gigatons over the course of its lifetime. For some perspective, that’s the equivalent of the annual emissions from 1,400 coal-fired power plants or 1 billion automobiles, according to the report’s authors.

As you may recall, in a speech last June at Georgetown University, President Obama explicitly stated that he would approve the pipeline “only if this project doesn’t significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

In its recent environmental assessment, the State Department’s suggested that the pipeline is “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands,” thereby implying that it would pass President Obama’s stated climate test.

However, the Carbon Tracker report, called Keystone XL: The “Significance” Trap (pdf), proves otherwise.

Using the State Department’s own numbers, Carbon Tracker researchers determined that the Keystone XL pipeline, if constructed, would increase the rate of extraction of tar sands, to the tune of roughly 510,000 barrels per day of bitumen (or roughly 730,000 barrels per day of DilBit, after dilution to allow it to flow through the pipeline). As Carbon Tracker researchers put it, “There is over 510kbpd of bitumen production which would benefit from even the narrowest improvement of margins.”

D.C. Court Rules Against Environmental Transparency, Threatening Public Health and Democracy

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that trade deals can be exempted from federal disclosure laws. The case revolved around a classified document related to an FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) that contained information about environmental and public health and safety concerns.

The suit was filed by EarthJustice and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), with CIEL President Carroll Muffett issuing the following statement after the ruling:  “It is with great irony that at a time when reports about government intrusion into individual privacy are escalating by the day, the U.S. government would go to such lengths to protect the confidentiality of its trade negotiations—the terms of which will have real impacts on its citizens. By denying the public access to these negotiations, the US has created a fundamental barrier to the development of democracy. Most troubling, we have already seen the US aggressively pushing information in a similar black box in other trade negotiations, like the recently announced Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union.

EarthJustice has more:

Texas Refineries And Chemical Plants Releasing Tens Of Thousands Of Tons Of Pollution

A damning new report from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) reveals some startling information regarding pollution in the state of Texas. According to the report, oil refineries and chemical plants in the state are releasing tens of thousands of tons of pollution every year, without as much as a peep from state regulators or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.)

Most of these emissions are the result of industrial accidents and other “equipment malfunctions” taking place at processing plants across the state. Among the more dangerous chemicals being released into the atmosphere and surrounding environment are sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, both of which are major contributors to ozone depletion.

A few highlights from the new report:

Every year, refineries, chemical plants, and natural gas facilities release thousands of tons of air pollution when production units break down, or are shut off, restarted or repaired. Most of these “emission events” release pollution through flares, leaking pipelines, tanks, or other production equipment. Information obtained from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for the last three years shows just how significant that pollution can be.

Between 2009 and 2011, emission events at chemical plants, refineries, and natural gas operations released a combined total of more than 42,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and just over 50,000 tons of smog- forming Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), according to industry reports filed with TCEQ. See Table 1. These releases are in addition to the amounts released year-round during so-called “normal operations,” and are usually not included in the data the government uses to establish and enforce regulations, or to estimate their health impacts. Natural gas operations — which include, well heads, pipelines, compressors, boosters, and storage systems — accounted for more than 85% of total sulfur dioxide and nearly 80% of the VOCs released during these episodes. Both pollutants are linked to asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments, and can form fine particles that contribute to premature death from heart disease.

Upsets or sudden shutdowns can release large plumes of sulfur dioxide or toxic chemicals in just a few hours, exposing downwind communities to peak levels of pollution that are much more likely to trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory systems. The working class and minority populations typical of neighborhoods near refineries and chemical plants bear the brunt of this pollution.

What To Expect When You're Electing: Part 2 - Mitt Romney

In Part 1 of this series, we explored the overall environmental issues that are facing the U.S., mostly as a part of coordinated attacks by politicians in Washington. In the next few articles, we’ll take a look at what each candidate has said or done in regards to both environmental and energy issues.

At this point in the race, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States, a title that will become official after the Republican convention in August. Because Romney previously served as a governor, we have the benefit of looking at what he’s actually done when placed in charge, not just committee votes or proposed legislation.

And just like his record on other issues, Romney’s environmental record is one that has constantly changed to fit the political landscape. He has somehow managed to take both sides of virtually every major environmental issue, with his recent positions being more in line with that of the extremist, climate change denying branch of the Republican Party.

But the shift in ideas and rhetoric for Romney (which has quickly become his trademark as a candidate) is actually also in line with that of other major Republican candidates.

B.C. Protest This Saturday to Stop Warren Buffett's BNSF Coal Trains

Warren Buffett, the third wealthiest man on the planet (net worth: $44 billion), often referred to as the “Oracle of Omaha,” is the target of a May 5 action called for by Stop Coal B.C. Well, not Buffett directly, but a rail company he owns through his massive holding company, Berkshire Hathaway: Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway.

BNSF Railway is the second largest freight rail company in the United States and the exclusive carrier of thermal coal from coal basins in the northwestern U.S. to docks in British Columbia, where the dirty coal is exported to the global market, primarily to Asia.

The action calls for activists to blockade BNSF's four coal-loaded freight trains from reaching their final destination for the day and in the process, risk arrest. It is part of's broader “Connect the Dots” event taking place on Saturday, with actions planned throughout the world.

The Stop Coal B.C. call to action reads,

Obama Sojourns to "Pipeline Crossroads of the World" for Campaign Speech

It's the multi-pronged fight that never seems to end.

The Alberta Tar Sands have been near the forefront of the North American energy and climate debate, thanks in large part to growing public concern and grassroots efforts like Tar Sands Action, a campaign led by climate activists to block construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The temporary derailing of Keystone XL by President Obama - who in January delayed permission to construct the pipeline for the foreseeable future - was labeled a “victory” by many activists. 

But complicating the “victory” narrative, Obama later granted permission to TransCanada Corporation to build the southern segment of the pipeline, the Cushing Extension, sometimes also referred to as the Cushing Marketlink Project, which will run from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas

Pandering to Big Oil, Obama will visit Cushing on Thursday, the self-proclaimed “Pipeline Crossroads of the World,” to give a stump speech for his 2012 election campaign.

The Stillwater News Press explained the rationale for the visit this way:

The White House has announced the president will be in Cushing Thursday to discuss his 'all-of-the-above' energy policy…Thursday appears to some locals as an opportune time for Obama, who said he supports the southern leg, to get on board on the northern segment of the 36-inch pipeline from Canada.

CBC News reports that “Obama will make a speech at a storage yard that's holding pipes to be used to build the pipeline.” 

As the old adage goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” 

Warren Buffett Exposed: The Oracle of Omaha and the Tar Sands

Credit: Pete Souza, Office of the President

On January 23, Bloomberg News reported Warren Buffett's Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), owned by his lucrative holding company Berkshire Hathaway, stands to benefit greatly from President Barack Obama’s recent cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline

If built, TransCanada's Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline would carry tar sands crude, or bitumen (“dilbit”) from Alberta, B.C. down to Port Arthur, Texas, where it would be sold on the global export market

If not built, as revealed recently by DeSmogBlog, the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side, and could include increased levels of ecologically hazardous gas flaring in the Bakken Shale, or else many other pipeline routes moving the prized dilbit to crucial global markets.

Rail is among the most important infrastructure options for ensuring tar sands crude still moves to key global markets, and the industry is pursuing rail actively. But transporting tar sands crude via rail is in many ways a dirtier alternative to the KXL pipeline. “Railroads too present environmental issues. Moving crude on trains produces more global warming gases than a pipeline,” explained Bloomberg.

A key mover and shaker behind the push for more rail shipments is Warren Buffett, known by some as the “Oracle of Omaha” – of “Buffett Tax” fame – and the third richest man in the world, with a net worth of $39 billion. With or without Keystone XL, Warren Buffett stands to profit enormously from multiple aspects of the Alberta Tar Sands project. He also, importantly, maintains close ties with President Barack Obama.


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