Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) this week revealed that he is preparing legislation and hearings on improving pipeline safety. In reality, he’s just solidifying his support of the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, a boondoggle for the Koch brothers who control nearly 25% of the dirty tar sands oil already entering the U.S. from Canada. Koch Industries is poised to grab an even bigger share of that figure if the Keystone XL pipeline is built, sending more dirty tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries – if it doesn’t leak out along the way, that is.
Although Upton’s House Energy and Commerce Committee “does not have primary jurisdiction over the nation’s 2.3 million miles of hazardous liquids pipelines,” Ed Sackley, Upton’s district representative said that Upton will likely hold hearings anyway and “move something in the 112th Congress.”
“We are still in the midst of crafting legislation to adequately address and improve pipeline safety,” Upton’s office said later Monday. “Some changes to current law might include increased financial penalties for spills, new rules for incident reporting time frames and new requirements for pipeline control technologies that could help prevent accidents and ensure quicker recovery should a spill or explosion occur.”
Pipeline safety has become an increasingly controversial issue, especially after the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Kalamazoo spill in Michigan last year. Upton’s interest in pipeline safety legislation, however, more likely comes from the fact that he is a key supporter [PDF] of the Keystone XL project which awaits presidential approval. The U.S. State Department is undertaking an extensive review on whether or not to proceed.
The Keystone XL pipeline will transport Alberta tar sands oil which is proven to be much dirtier, and more highly corrosive and damaging to America’s aging pipeline infrastructure than regular dirty oil. That could turn out to be a deciding factor if the State Dept. decides not to sign off on the project.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Pipeline Safety Trust, the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club published a report [pdf] last month highlighting the many dangers that will come with the project because tar sands oil is more “acidic, thick, and sulfuric than conventional crude oil.” Transporting this more destructive oil has led to many more spills in Canada:
Alberta’s hazardous liquid system had 218 spills greater than 26 gallons per 10,000 miles of pipeline caused by internal corrosion from 2002 to 2010, compared to 13.6 spills greater than 26 gallons per 10,000 miles of pipeline from internal corrosion reported in the United States…
Dirty energy magnates the Koch brothers wish to grow their stake in the tar sands and maintaining Upton and his Committee’s support are keys to doing so. Backing his 2010 re-election bid, Upton received $10,000 from the Kochs. Additionally, the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) also reports [PDF] that during the 2010 election cycle, the Kochs and their employees contributed some $279,500 to 22 Republicans on Upton’s Committee.
On the first day of the new congress, and after his appointment as the Chairman of the House Committee of Energy and Commerce, he met with their representatives to discuss energy policy and the EPA’s use of clean air rules to control carbon emissions [PDF]).
If Upton were serious about pipeline safety, his legislation would at the very least consider differentiating between normal oil and the dirtier and more leak-prone tar sands oil. The European Union is doing so as it prepares a new Fuel Quality Directive [pdf] which accounts for the much higher carbon footprint from tar sands oil.
As of yet, though, Upton’s office is not prepared to recognize that the tar sands are any different from other oil crisscrossing aging U.S. pipelines:
“We do not believe oil sands should be treated differently through this legislation, as pipeline construction permit reviews take into account the type of material flowing through the line.”
The key beneficiary of this “safety” legislation will be the Koch brothers, not the public whose safety and health will be put at risk by the dirty tar sands traveling through the Keystone XL pipeline if it gets approved.