Due to Spills, TransCanada Keystone Pipeline Shuts Down … for a Day

Reader Contribution by Cote Smith
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Last Friday, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) made big news when it indefinitely shut down production of TransCanada’s Keystone I pipeline. The bigger news, however, is that the shutdown only lasted a day. After being issued a Corrective Action Order on June 3 due to two spills in May (one of which released 400 barrels of oil), on June 4, TransCanada submitted its required re-start plan to PHMSA. The plan, which was to include steps to perform pipeline repairs, as well as detail any modifications made to equipment and facilities, was approved by the PHMSA on Saturday, and production of the pipeline resumed on Sunday.   

While TransCanda has satisfied the requirements of the PHMSA, concerns still remain. The pipeline, which stretches 1,316 miles from Alberta, Canada, all the way down to Cushing, Okla., runs in close proximity to “populated areas, water bodies and public roadways.” And with 12 different spills reported within the last year — all of which TransCanada has labeled as minor — it’s no wonder that Jeffery Weise, PHMSA associate administer, argues in his statement “that a failure to issue this [Corrective Action] Order expeditiously to require immediate corrective action would result in likely serious harm to life, property and the environment.”

These developments arrive on the heels of TransCanada’s proposal for an even larger U.S-Canada pipeline — the Keystone XL, which would carry 900,000 barrels of oil per day across the Yellowstone, Missouri and Red Rivers, as well as the Ogalla Aquifer, the largest aquifer in the United States. The proposal has been met with opposition on the state level, as well as from the Environmental Protection Agency, which on Monday issued a letter criticizing the State Department’s analysis of the proposed project as having “insufficient information.” Among other criticisms, the EPA claims the State Department fails to recognize that some of the low-income communities “may have limited emergency response capabilities and consequently may be more vulnerable to impacts from spills, accidents and other releases.”

Making matters more difficult is that tar sands oil, the type of oil transported in the current pipeline, is more corrosive and acidic than standard crude oil, and thus more likely to cause spills and damage surrounding communities. And as the Nation Resources Defense Council reports, because of the oil’s thicker composition, cleanup of any spill is particularly challenging.       

A decision on TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline was initially expected by the end of the year, but with the problems surrounding the Keystone I, and increased pressure from state lawmakers to delay the ruling to allow for more careful analysis, an answer might not come until well into 2012.

Photo by iStockPhoto/Don Wilkie

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