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Pipeline Corrosion and Safety Issues Take Spotlight in Keystone XL Debate

Canadian regulators question the report, and TransCanada defends safety record, as a key U.S. senator endorses approval for the controversial pipeline

By Elizabeth McGowan

Feb 18, 2011

WASHINGTON—Environmental organizations are recommending that the U.S. State Department put a controversial and potentially dangerous Alberta-to-Texas oil pipeline on hold until safety issues are fully understood and addressed via government oversight.

Pipelines transporting oil sands crude raise the risk of spills and damage to waterways, aquifers, ecosystems and communities because they are carrying a highly corrosive and acidic blend of diluted bitumen and volatile natural gas liquid condensate, according to the report released this week.

And the researchers are standing by their conclusions about the dangers of pumping Canadian heavy crude across this country's mid-section, despite their research being challenged by an Alberta regulatory authority as being flawed and misleading.

The Natural Resources Defense Council joined research forces with the Pipeline Safety Trust, the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club to publish "Tar Sands Pipeline Safety Risks."

"As Canada delivers a greater and greater percentage of our oil, their corrosive products will take a greater and greater toll on our pipelines," report co-author Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of NRDC’s international program, told reporters in a Wednesday teleconference. "As we saw in the Kalamazoo River last summer, there is real danger if we continue to ignore this problem. We need new safety standards in the United States that ensure our protection from raw tar sands oil in our pipelines."

At issue is Keystone XL, a 1702-mile, $7 billion pipeline that Calgary-based TransCanada wants to construct from tar sands mines in its home province of Alberta to oil refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. The State Department is in the midst of updating a draft environmental impact statement for the project.

Map of Keystone and Keystone XL pipelines

Due to the international nature of Keystone XL, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's team is tasked with granting a thumbs up or down to TransCanada's request for a presidential permit to build and operate infrastructure being designed to pump up to 900,000 barrels of heavy crude daily.

A decision on the multi-billion dollar proposal is expected in the second half of this year. The Canadian National Energy Board approved its portion of the project in March 2010.

"Tar sands extraction in Canada destroys boreal forests and wetlands, causes high levels of greenhouse gas pollution, and leaves behind immense lakes of toxic waste," the report states. "Less well understood, however, is the increased risk and potential harm that can be caused by transporting the raw form of tar sands oil [bitumen] through pipelines to refineries."

TransCanada Defends Safety Record

A spokesman for TransCanada, which already operates two other oil pipelines in this nation's heartland, says safety is paramount and that Keystone XL will be monitored 24/7.

"We are building the newest pipeline in North America," TransCanada's Terry Cunha told SolveClimate News, adding that satellite technology sends data every five seconds from 16,000 data collection points to a monitoring center. "We have a world-class control center that has both global and local leak detection systems that allows us to promptly detect a leak of any size. Pumps and motors at any station can be remotely started and stopped."

Cunha pointed out that thousands of miles of pipeline crisscross North America and that they are the safest and most efficient way to move energy products.

More Imports, Higher Risk

Who's invested in Canadian oil?

Every barrel of tar sands oil contributes three times as much CO2 as normal crude from those evil monsters in the MidEast.

Ten years from now, if approved, the pipelines will be owned by low-maintenance spinoff companies, who will declare bankruptcy and throw the expense of cleanups on the taxpayers of Canada and the USA.

Acidic, sulfurous oil sludge and solvent here and there. What's not to like?

Build the refineries in Canada.

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