Saturday, June 1, 2013

What TransCanada’s CEO Is Not Saying About The Keystone Tar Sands Pipeline

TransCanada has lobbied the U.S. government to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, hoping to transport the heavy, bitumen-laden tar sands crude oil to coastal refineries in Texas. The corporation’s Chief Executive Officer Russ Girling said in an interview scheduled to air this weekend on Bloomberg Television that rejecting the pipeline would increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Girling said that currently, the U.S. imports more crude in tankers that run on oil — so approving the pipeline would allow the U.S. to use more oil from Canada, transported by pipeline and not by tanker. Girling said:

“If you deny the pipeline it’s a lose-lose. We lose jobs. We lose economic development and we lose energy security. And it likely leads to greater emissions in GHG.”

The problem is, this is not really what would happen if the pipeline is constructed. The State Department’s draft environmental assessment report said:

There is existing demand for crude oil, particularly heavy crude oil at refiners in the Gulf Coast area, but the ultimate disposition of crude oil transported by the proposed Project, and any refined products produced from that crude oil, would be determined by future market forces.

Which of course means that there is no assurance that the oil transported by the pipeline would not be refined and exported on tankers of their own, destined for other countries. The global oil market does not operate in nearly so zero-sum of a game. Morover, gas prices for U.S. consumers would increase, not decrease, according to recent reports.

Additionally, as the EPA made clear in its public comment submitted to the State Department’s draft report, the pipeline itself will emit greenhouse gases as tar sands crude is not going to pump itself down the length of the pipeline: power is required. EPA recommended using renewable resources, something TransCanada has not said it would do.

Furthermore, the emissions that would be released by the extraction, transportation, and burning of the tar sands oil in Alberta are not inevitable: Reuters found that the alternatives to the Keystone pipeline (like using trains) are so difficult and untenable that the pipeline is essentially the only feasible way those emissions would occur.

To be fair to TransCanada, it is easy to think a pipeline would be a more direct and safe method of getting a fluid from Point A to Point B. Yet the northern leg of the pipeline only exists in the hopes and dreams of TransCanada executives and lobbyists who think the project would be a huge boon — it is easy to think American citizens would have to wait until it is built to see who is right.

Fortunately, the United States already has a sort of test case: the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline is more than 75 percent complete across stretches of Texas and Oklahoma, which developers expect to complete by the end of 2013. The project that has not been approved by the State Department and White House is the as-yet-unbuilt northern leg. How is the southern portion doing?

Not so well, it turns out. Public Citizen reports that in just one 60-mile stretch north of the Sabine River in Texas, landowners have observed TransCanada and its vendor Michaels digging up buried sections of the pipeline, reportedly to address “dozens of anomalies, including dents and welds.”

Per Public Citizen’s release:

The pipeline problems are marked with stakes. A marked section will have a stake that reads “Anomaly” and a number on one end of the section to be excavated, said Public Citizen’s Rita Beving, who has been working with landowners along this and other tar sands pipelines in Northeast Texas. A nearby second stake will often read “Dent” or “Weld,” she said. Residents saw these stakes and pipeline spray painted with “Dent” and “Cut Out,” and observed contractors spraying the new pipe with coating.

“The company does not have to reveal what happened, but seeing a completed pipeline having welds and dents cut out is reminiscent of other infamous low-quality pipelines built by a variety of companies that PHMSA has identified in the last few years,” said former TransCanada engineer Evan Vokes. “The odds are not favorable to avoid a leak when we are seeing problems such as these with a newly constructed pipeline, and a leak poses dangers for the people who live along this route.”

The first Keystone pipeline, originating in Canada and terminating in Illinois, had 12 spills in its first year, ranging from 2 gallons to 21,000 gallons. This is the largest number of spills during any U.S. pipeline’s first year in history. That such a new pipeline had so many problems directly refutes arguments that spills of older tar sands pipelines (like Exxon’s Pegasus spill in Arkansas in April) are a reason to build new, “safer” ones like Keystone XL.

So is this project (the northern Keystone leg) actually going to happen? TransCanada CEO Girling certainly seems to think so, telling Bloomberg Government: “I remain extremely confident that we’ll get the green light to build this pipeline.”

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