On July 26, the House passed a bill mandating a decision on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline by November 1. This bill is unlikely to pass the Senate and become law, mostly because it would speed us toward a pipeline that could have a disastrous effect on U.S. waters and communities. What the public wants is better pipeline safety, not acceleration of a pipeline that would threaten the Yellowstone River, the Nebraska Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer. The more the public learns, the more concerned they get. It is ironic that in the wake of the Yellowstone River oil spill and on the anniversary of the yet-to-be-cleaned up Kalamazoo River tar sands oil spill, the House would act so contrary to the public concerns about pipeline safety. In fact, to heighten the irony, tomorrow, the House Energy Committee will discuss a draft pipeline safety bill that would require a study of the impacts of raw tar sands oil such as would be carried in the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Before Tuesday night’s vote, more than 22,000 National Resources Defense Council activists wrote to their members of Congress asking them to vote “No” on the bill. The National Farmers Union also wrote to Congress today on behalf of farmers, ranchers and rural communities opposing the bill and urging that no fixed deadline for making a decision be put in place. The League of Conservation Voters wrote to Congress asking for a “No” vote and noting that this vote might be included in their 2011 Scorecard of environmental votes. Yesterday, the White House issued a statement opposing the bill. That’s a lot for the House to disregard as they did that night.
TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would not carry conventional oil, but raw tar sands bitumen diluted with liquid natural gas. Diluted bitumen is more corrosive and abrasive to the inside of a pipe and there is strong evidence that it is more likely to cause pipeline failures. Tar sands pipeline leaks can be more difficult to detect and once spilled raw tar sands is more difficult to clean up.
The recent spill of over 40,000 gallons of oil into the iconic Yellowstone River is unfortunately one of many recent pipeline tragedies that have left communities asking why their safety is left in the hands of oil and gas companies.
Diluted bitumen was in the Enbridge pipeline one year ago today when it ruptured and flooded one million gallons of tar sands into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. EPA is still cleaning up the Kalamazoo and recent discoveries of tar sands contamination of Lake Morrow’s sediments mean the cleanup is likely to last months longer.
The State Department has been superficial in its examination of safety issues – but pointing to how many pages of pipeline safety analysis are in the environmental review as they do, doesn’t mean that review was thorough and science-based. In fact, the State Department’s safety review has been minimal.
TransCanada claims it does not need new studies or regulations to deal with safety in its pipelines. However, TransCanada’s first Keystone pipeline has had over 30 leaks just in its first year of operation in the US and Canada. And just last week, TransCanada’s natural gas pipeline in Wyoming exploded. TransCanada had said that this natural gas pipeline was an example of its most stringent safety standards. This should be additional reason for U.S. regulators to take a careful look at any proposed TransCanada tar sands pipeline.
The American public does not want to put the Yellowstone River, the Nebraska Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer in the hands of a company such as TransCanada. No one should be rushing this pipeline without the thorough and science-based review the American public deserves. Not Congress and not the State Department. What we need is to protect our waters, lands and public safety. This does not include another tar sands pipeline.
Susan Casey-Lefkowitz is a program director at the NRDC’s offices in Washington, D.C. She is a frequent contributor to Switchboard, the NRDC staff blog.