There Will Be Tar Sand

Tarry Canadian bitumen is barreling its way to Texas via the Keystone XL pipeline. Will it bring energy independence or environmental calamity?

Nearly 150 people were sickened. Many along the river were told it was not safe for them to remain in their homes. Enbridge bought out 130 homeowners in a cleanup that has cost some $725 million and continues to climb. The largest onshore spill in history didn't receive that much attention, though, because BP had only just sealed its Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico.

In October, the EPA sent Enbridge notification that it would need to continue dredging the bottom of the river. Two years later, an oil sheen still coated the surface.

From TransCanada's perspective, comparing Keystone XL, a brand-new, largely uncompleted line, to the aging Enbridge line is unfair. "It's like saying a 1960 Toyota had an accident, so don't buy a 2015 Ford," says spokesman David Dodson.

Cherokee County Sheriff's deputies drag a protester who had tied himself to heavy equipment used to clear the Keystone XL's path through East Texas.
Brandon Thibodeaux
Cherokee County Sheriff's deputies drag a protester who had tied himself to heavy equipment used to clear the Keystone XL's path through East Texas.
Landowner Mike Bishop is suing TransCanada to prevent it from building the pipeline across his land.
Brandon Thibodeaux
Landowner Mike Bishop is suing TransCanada to prevent it from building the pipeline across his land.

Yet even TransCanada's Keystone I, placed into service in 2010, had a rough first year, with 21 spills in Canada and the United States. Most were small, but one resulted in the loss of 400 barrels in North Dakota. Fifty barrels constitutes a "significant" spill in federal regulators' eyes. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration shut it down temporarily.

Because TransCanada predicted 1.4 significant spills per decade for that line, its first year doesn't leave much room for error for the rest of the decade. In fact, some experts are wary of the company's spill estimate for Keystone XL, too: 10 spills of 50 barrels or more over its 50-year lifespan. Dr. John Stansbury, a University of Nebraska researcher who consults for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, believes TransCanada is underestimating both the number of potential spills and their volumes. Using a methodology similar to Keystone I's calculations, Stansbury believes Keystone XL will suffer 91 major spills over its lifetime. What's more, TransCanada estimates that in the case of a spill, it could shut down the flow of bitumen in 11.5 minutes. Stansbury estimates it could take as long as two hours.

A larger pipeline, Keystone XL could release in 42 minutes as much diluted bitumen as Enbridge did over the course of hours in Michigan.

TransCanada's Dodson points out that Keystone XL will be the most advanced pipeline ever constructed. Pipeline operators monitoring sensitive telemetric equipment can operate valves along its course, capable of isolating sections of pipe should they rupture. But such features come standard on any oil pipeline. Keystone XL will not, for example, have hydrocarbon-detecting cables that identify small leaks, preventing them from becoming large spills.

And if Enbridge taught us anything, it is that the most sophisticated monitoring equipment in the world cannot overcome human error. For this reason, even Nebraska Governor David Heineman, a Republican, pleaded with TransCanada to reroute the pipeline around the Sandhills.

The pipeline company was doing that very thing when the GOP-controlled U.S. House of Representatives handed President Obama a broad payroll tax cut package in December 2011. Included in the bill was a provision forcing the president to render a decision on the Keystone XL within 60 days of its passage. But pipeline route negotiations were still under way, and the State Department had not completed its national interest assessment. The president had no choice but to deny the Keystone XL. He urged TransCanada to reapply for the northern segment.

On the other hand, the southern segment, Obama assured the company, would be expedited. He signed an executive order cutting through any red tape along its trail through the East Texas pines to the Gulf Coast. The stage was set for a battle that was lost before it began.


Outside the tiny chapel in Reklaw, Texas, an elderly gentleman in overalls gave me directions to the mayor's house. You couldn't miss it. Just look for the big school bus. I pulled past a small green section of hay field along the narrow road leading to Mayor Harlan Crawford's white farmhouse. Parked along the side of the house was the Rusk County bus. Crawford has ferried generations of Reklaw children to and from the school for decades, almost as long as he's been mayor. His small pickup sat in front of the house, affixed with an "Impeach Obama" bumper sticker. A liberal environmentalist, I concluded, did not live here.

Crawford, 77, a 23-year Air Force veteran with vivid blue eyes and cropped white hair, stepped out onto the front porch. He was sturdy and tanned and gave the impression of a man whom folks look to for leadership. And so this whole pipeline debate, which had become so political, was anything but for Crawford. He was just watching out for his own.

The Keystone XL isn't some abstraction to him; it is two miles away, crossing the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, which provides all of Reklaw's water and portions of municipal water supplies to Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Tyler and College Station.

Reklaw, population 379, was founded in 1902 with a grant from a local landowner named Margaret Walker. Since a Walker, Texas, already existed, they simply spelled the name backward for the new town. Like most small East Texas towns, the young people don't stay here. Its aging population, often below the poverty line, can't afford to buy up surface water rights like the bigger cities.

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26 comments
rusknative
rusknative

no one living in Douglas has an IQ greater than 54. especially exjarheads.

rusknative
rusknative

not like the USA doesn't have VAST amounts of OUR OWN CRUDE under public land and offshore to develop and provide for our OWN petroleum products without needing to process Canadian stuff or South American stuff....but NO, the EPA and lib obamabots and the treehuggers are too stupid for solutions...they just want to live on borrowed debt money and smoke dope.

rusknative
rusknative

the Hispanics that are moving into and going to dominate all East Texas Love pepper spray...put it on their food...the hippy wannabe protestors are nannyboys.

fernaldus
fernaldus

Actually, Ozarka has sucked up all the good water.

cesar39nt
cesar39nt

how sad the gov. of Texas has no soul, our beloved state soon will be a dump ground for oil waste, and the conservative base sees nothing wrong with poisoning the water, then the food supply chain, and soon enough they will blame anyone for allowing them, to poison their own families? with the toxins from the project the conservatives sponsor, and our governor or his cronies, stand to make a fortune, just for making a few thousand of their very own constituents children mentally retarded, or physically handicapped, or dying, or all the above! shame on the republicans as long as they get paid they care not for any living thing themselves included.

pooua
pooua

Right, because East Texas isn't the birthplace of the modern U.S. oil industry and doesn't have a speck of petroleum product in any of its pristine, like-mountain-water-quality water! East Texans are the soul of Conservatism, representing the intellect and grace for which Conservatives and Libertarians have become famous; that's why they were targeted with this *monstrosity*! 

I lived in Longview for 5 years, with regular trips to Henderson, Kilgore, Gilmer and Marshall. I began filtering my drinking water for the first time in my life while I lived there, because I suspected that some brain-eating something in the water must explain East Texan behavior. When I expressed my suspicion to an industrial water quality worker, I was surprised that he only nodded his head and said, "It's benzine." Incidentally, the only pure water in Longview (and much of East Texas) is sucked up for use by Texas Eastman for use in chemical manufacturing; they couldn't use the Sabine River water, because it's too polluted! That's the water East Texans drink! 

I was so glad when I finally moved out of East Texas!

lobar
lobar

Another great mess rented Perry has gotten us into,,,disgusting and smelly crap,,,hope it all lands inside his drinking water and as he is washing his corrupt body,,may it stick to his horrible hair. GREED, and more GREED, thats what its all about.

kenneth51
kenneth51

What a great article about this horrible pipeline filled with toxic diluted bitumen, deceit and corruption. Thank you so much for spreading the truth. Our public officials should be so ashamed of themselves !!!!

sidewalkastro
sidewalkastro

You would think there would be a much bigger stink about this pipeline. A foreign country forcing its way across the most conservative part of Texas, tearing up the land and major potential for very toxic spillage. Conservatives are so easily bought and sold. Just wait until the first major spill, there be much hand wringing and kiss your drinking water goodbye.

PerryMoore
PerryMoore

Around here, we call them the Land Rapists. You ought to see what they have done to some of the most beautiful parts of Texas, and they shit on the property owners to boot.

bifftannen
bifftannen

This will not lower gas prices one iota. You've been fed a load of crap, and cut your own throat for pennies. Even if it did, this isn't worth it no matter what.

kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

"Cherokee County Sheriff's deputies wearing straw cowboy hat".....you gotta love the deep south!  Betcha none of them "be's" fat either-right?

rusknative
rusknative

@cesar39nt our "beloved state" has had lead smelters, oil wells and slag pits, chemical waste dumps, an army arsenal in Red River filled with unbelievable trash as well as Karnack chemicals, and a Gulf Coast that brought permanent tar balls to the beaches....and the locals infected the water supplies for years with Flourides.


give me a break with the Pristean beloved state of Texas...you live in some kind of la la land.

rusknative
rusknative

@kimfeil thirty people got shot in Chicago yesterday....get rid of guns and bring on oil.

director21
director21

@pak152 Where have you been? We have been expecting you to show up ever since we lambasted Trinity East at the CPC hearing on December 20. Cat get your tongue?

joearpaio
joearpaio

@sidewalkastro It's like the disconnect between the attitude of the crowd who says "don't touch our guns" and who also say "wire tapping American citizens without a warrant in the name of fighting (non-white) terrorists is fine".  Such hypocrisy.  

"TransCanada had "34 eminent domain actions against landowners in Texas"" Nice job, Koch bros.

markzero
markzero

@sidewalkastro I would think true conservatives would be up in arms against this simply because of the "exemption in state law that allows for-profit enterprises to condemn private land if they cannot reach a deal with the landowner," as Brantley put it.

rusknative
rusknative

@PerryMoore most of the property owners are dumb as bricks anyway, and fouled up their own land already....anywhere that hosts the world MUD races is too stupid to need education nor housing.

pak152
pak152

@director21 @pak152 nope busy working. finally realized that the anti-fracking crowd doesnt want to deal with facts that run counter to their beliefs. ad hominem attacks on those who offer a counter view result in shutting down discussion. . anti-frackers are much like the anti-gun crowd.
ttfn

kenneth51
kenneth51

@rusknative LOL - Spoken like a true idiot. So you now know most of the property owners in East Texas. What an ass.

 
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