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Nebraska Water Scientists Warn of Oil Pipeline's Risk, Call for More Study

A single study by the U.S. Geological Survey in Minnesota is the sole source for what scientists know about crude oil behavior in aquifers

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jun 15, 2011

The Houston-based alliance bills itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with 160-plus affiliates that include energy consumers and producers and tens of thousands of consumer advocates. Media watchdogs label it an oil industry .

Call for More Hearings

Advocates such as Ken Winston, policy director with the Nebraska Sierra Club, have joined forces with legislators and green groups to try to force the State Department to extend its comment period on the second draft of its environmental impact statement.

Ideally, they want Clinton to organize several public hearings in each affected state along the 1,375-mile mapped out U.S. portion of the pipeline. They are not at all satisfied with the State Department’s plans to schedule public meetings in Washington, D.C. and all states but Kansas within 30 days after it issues a final environmental review of the pipeline.

“I think it’s going to be kind of a free-for-all,” Winston said. “I don’t know how you comment on something after it has already been put in place. It’s as if they already built a road through your front yard and now you can say whether you like it or not.”

The State Department’s meeting announcement last week comes on the heels of the Department of Transportation’s decision to temporarily shut down a similarly named tar sands pipeline that TransCanada began operating a year ago. That two-years-in-the making pipeline, called simply Keystone, has experienced a dozen spills in 12 months. It carries heavy crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to its southern terminus in Cushing, Okla., and its eastern terminus in Patoka, Ill.

Back on June 3, federal regulators with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued TransCanada with what’s called a corrective action order after determining that Keystone was “an imminent threat to life, property and the environment.” The pipeline was allowed to begin operating under restricted conditions two days later after the Canadian oil pipeline giant agreed to meet at least 14 requirements related to safety and staffing.

Environmental organizations have long expressed concern about PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman’s connections to the industry. President Obama nominated her to the position in September 2009.

Before leading PHMSA, Quarterman provided legal counsel for Enbridge Energy Partners as a partner with the Washington office of the large and influential law firm Steptoe and Johnson. Prior to that, from 1995 to 1999 she served as director of the much-maligned Mineral Management Service, a section of the Interior Department ordered to reinvent itself after the April 2010 BP oil spill.

Leaks Undetectable for Weeks?

Over at , oil infrastructure analyst Anthony Swift is nervous about the real-time leak detection system TransCanada has slated for Keystone XL. Why? His research shows that those sensors can neither detect pinhole-size leaks nor alert authorities about spills smaller than 700,000 gallons per day.

Swift pointed to a situation where up to 63,000 gallons of oil seeped from a tiny opening about the size of a pinhole on the Norman Wells pipeline operated by Canada-based Enbridge Energy Partners in the Northwest Territories.

At first, Enbridge officials estimated the size of the leak to be much smaller when they learned about it May 9. Upon closer examination, however, they couldn’t determine exactly when or how the leak began.

“An undiscovered three-week spill could contaminate a large … chunk of the Ogallala Aquifer half a mile long,” Swift said. “Responders will not be able to simply remove the contaminated soil. They will have to pump contaminated water out, which will draw more water into the area of contamination. In short, a Keystone XL tar sands spill in the Ogallala Aquifer would be a disaster.”

Attachment Size
Gates and Woldt Letter on Keystone SDEIS.pdf 32.21 KB

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