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TransCanada Begins Injecting Oil Into Southern Leg of Keystone XL Despite Reported Anomalies

Even with hundreds of structural problems and two warning letters, the Canadian company moves forward on plans on its pipeline, inspected and found to exhibit both weld flaws and denting.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Rena Schild

 

This piece originally appeared on Truthout, and is reprinted here with their permission.

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TransCanada has begun its initial start-up process on the southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline despite hundreds of reported anomalies in the pipe. Grassroots activists are calling on regulators to issue a corrective action order that would halt the start of commercial operations.

After years of struggle on the part of grassroots activists, advocacy organizations and landowners threatened by the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline across Oklahoma and Texas, TransCanada has begun the preliminary start-up processes by injecting the pipeline with oil—despite hundreds of reported anomalies in the pipeline.

The start-up comes after two letters from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) warned that the company was in violation of safety regulations in September.

TransCanada announced it began injecting the pipeline, known to the company as the Gulf Coast Project, with oil last weekend. The company will be injecting about 3 million barrels of oil into the pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma, in the coming weeks as it prepares for the official start of commercial operations.

But the official start date is still up in the air, because TransCanada is not releasing any further information about additional start-up processes to anyone, not the landowners, first responders or government officials. But it is providing “general guidance” to its customers.

“We are not going to be in a position to provide an update on when the Gulf Coast Project will go into commercial service. We have provided general guidance to our customers, based on the contracts we have in place with them,” TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said in statement.

Howard maintained that TransCanada is injecting “both light and heavy blends of oil” into the pipeline but declined to identify the exact blend because of confidentiality clauses in the commercial contracts the company maintains with its customers.

The 485-mile pipeline is expected to carry more than 700,000 barrels per day of Canadian tar sands diluted bitumen from Cushing, Oklahoma, to Port Arthur, Texas, by mid-January. President Obama announced he would expedite the construction of the pipeline during his "all of the above" energy speech in Cushing in March 2012.

But in two warning letters to TransCanada in September, PHMSA identified hundreds of anomalies with the pipeline, including flaws in the welds and with pipeline coating. PHMSA states  in one letter that 205 of 425 welds in one section of the southern segment needed repairs.  In another letter, PHMSA found problems after the pipeline was inspected and stated that 98 sites were excavated because of other damages and flaws to the pipe. PHMSA cited rocky backfill in trenches used around the pipeline that may have caused dents found in the pipe.

The letters state that TransCanada is subject to a civil penalty fine not to exceed $200,000 per violation per day the violations persist, but the PHMSA has so far failed to assess any such fine.

Kathy DaSilva is a grassroots activist in Nacogdoches, Texas, who has documented much of the damage and other anomalies to the pipe. She organizes with Nacogdoches County STOP (Stop Tar sands Oil Permanently) and the Tar Sands Blockade.

DaSilva documented how in one section of the pipeline, the pipe was sagging because of inadequate support. She said that as the pipe began to sag, increased pressures caused the welds to split open in some areas. She said many of those issues were corrected by the end of September, around the same time the warning letters were issued from PHSMA. But DaSilva said that when activists went back to observe places where the pipeline had been dug up, many of the same issues remained, such as rocky trenches, inadequate welds and support structures.