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Latest Pair of Oil Accidents Fuel Opposition to Keystone Pipeline Extension

The BP crisis first provoked a closer look at Keystone XL a year ago as environmental security became a national concern

By Stacy Feldman, SolveClimate News

May 12, 2011
Rainbow Pipeline Spill

With reporting by Elizabeth McGowan

With the oil industry under the national spotlight, environmental advocates are pointing to a pair of recent oil spills to bolster their campaign against a much-disputed Alberta-to-Texas tar sands pipeline that could win U.S. approval by the end of the year.

The organizations say this month's oil accidents in North Dakota and Alberta are more evidence that TransCanada's 1,702-mile, $7 billion Keystone XL line should be put on hold until safety issues are resolved through government oversight.

Helping their cause is the heightened scrutiny of the oil industry due to rising gas prices, Middle East unrest and the debate over domestic energy production. Small oil spills that don't typically garner much attention are currently grabbing global headlines.

For Calgary-based TransCanada, which is trying to gain the advantage in the high-stakes public relations battle for Keystone XL, the extra scrutiny comes at an unfortunate time.

Last Saturday, a valve broke at a pumping station in southern North Dakota along the first leg of its Keystone pipeline system. The breach released about 500 barrels of Canadian heavy crude inside the facility and set off a geyser of oil that reached above the treetops in a nearby field. It was only ten months ago that the pipeline from Alberta's oil sands mines to refineries in Patoka, Illinois.

TransCanada says it shut down the line nine minutes after a drop in pressure was detected, and  before local landowner Bob Banderet alerted emergency operators about the spouting crude. It was the 11th accident reported at a station on the line since May 21, 2010. The others gushed less than a barrel each. The pipeline will on Saturday.

"They said this couldn't happen," Banderet , referring to conversations he previously had with TransCanada officials. "It's a once in a thousand year occurrence, and here it is right in front of you."

Once in Seven Years?

According to TransCanada's official risk assessments, , a leak of 50 barrels or more on the Keystone system is predicted to occur once every seven years, but the pipeline's 24 above-ground pumping stations were not part of the risk analyses.

Some green groups immediately latched onto the opportunity to criticize Keystone XL.

"TransCanada's first tar sands oil pipeline into the U.S. has sustained spill after spill," Alex Moore, dirty fuels campaigner at . "The Obama administration must investigate this serious pipeline spill and keep the current public comment period on the Keystone XL proposal open until that investigation is complete."

Anthony Swift, an attorney at the , said the spill portends "worse things to come."

"The Keystone pipeline is not going to get any stronger or safer than it is now, as many of the with hot, high pressure diluted bitumen pipelines — including internal corrosion, abrasion and stress corrosion cracking — only weaken pipelines over time," he on his blog.

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