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?

"If something does happen, where are we going to get our water?" Crawford wonders.

Tiny Reklaw itself couldn't get so much as an audience with the state and federal entities pulling the pipeline's strings, so Crawford pitched town leaders in nearby Gallatin and Alto on joining with Reklaw to form a sub-regional planning commission, a governmental entity both the state and feds would have no choice but to recognize, even if it represented a population of only some 2,000. He found a sympathetic ear in Roberta Colkin, a nurse and member of the Gallatin town council.

"Nobody knows what's in this diluted bitumen. It is proprietary information," she told me on a recent afternoon at her home, built in a clearing in the pine woods. "We're close enough that if something happens, our local volunteer fire department will be called in." They don't have the training or the equipment to handle a spill, she says.

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.

A response crew, the pipeline company says, should arrive at the scene of a spill within two hours, but Crawford and Colkin had seen no spill plan from the company.

The problem is, there aren't any hard-and-fast rules dictating how extensive a pipeline's spill-response assets should be, and no laws outlining what kinds of leak detection and prevention measures pipeline operators should take. The Texas Railroad Commission, the state regulator, doesn't have that kind of authority over interstate pipelines. And the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, which does, uses only "performance-based" guidelines. That means it is all left largely to TransCanada's good judgment. PHMSA's guidelines are the pipeline-safety equivalent of a "smiley face that says drive safely" in place of speed limits, says Carl Weimer of the Pipeline Safety Trust. The National Transportation Safety Board called PHMSA regulations "weak," "giving too much authority to the regulated."

What's more, diluted bitumen has never been piped in the volumes Keystone XL will import, yet no study has been completed on the potential wear and tear of the substance on pipelines. The National Academy of Sciences is conducting a review of existing literature, but it won't research diluted bitumen's toxicity or its behavior in water when spilled. The industry disputes the idea that diluted bitumen is any different than other heavy crude oils, yet it is apparently distinct enough that it isn't subject to an excise tax like conventional crude.

Even if the odds of a spill were small, there were simply too many unanswered questions, too much that could not be replaced, and too much at hazard. The Keystone XL will cross the nearby Angelina River twice. Something, town leaders said, had to be done.

But none of them had the money to mount a legal challenge to TransCanada, a corporation with assets valued at nearly $50 billion. Instead, they joined Sierra Club in a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which would issue permits for the southern section through Oklahoma and Texas. In June, they filed suit in an Oklahoma federal court. The streamlined approval process could not account for the East Texas wetlands that would be irrevocably altered by the pipeline, they argued. The EPA had said as much the year before. The agency sought to coordinate with the corps to minimize the pipeline's footprint, but was apparently rebuffed. The president's executive order authorizing a speedy approval process had clearly been heeded.

The judge refused to grant an injunction. As the litigation continues in a federal appeals court, the machinery is already in motion, the pipeline's forward progress inexorable. Michel's, a pipeline construction company from Wisconsin, has set up a compound not far from Reklaw, down State Highway 204. Some 800 workers, half of them from Wisconsin, had 120 miles of pipe left to lay in early November. They expect to finish by summer 2013. Crawford's case hasn't even been scheduled yet.

"We just keep on fighting it," he said wearily. "That is all we can do."


A diluted bitumen highway will bisect 64-year-old Mike Bishop's 20 acres in Douglass, a town of 500 bordered by the Angelina River in Nacogdoches County. The enthusiastically profane ex-Marine and retired chemist stalked across his property on a recent evening, smoldering. He gestured to the assorted scars his land bore — the partially bulldozed cane he was hoping to turn into biofuel; the fruit trees he's had to dig up; the clear-cut woods behind his tiny cabin. He still remembers waking up one night to a glowing in his back pasture. Piles of bulldozed wood, he said, were doused with diesel and still burning.

Since the day in 2008 when surveyors first showed up on his property unannounced, he says, impotent rage has eaten at him. "It's like something is happening to you, and you have no control over it." He ran the first surveyors off. TransCanada succeeded in getting a temporary restraining order against him. The surveyors, he says, returned the same day, this time with a Houston lawyer and a sheriff's deputy. When they left, he didn't hear from them again for another year. Then they made him a low-ball offer to compensate him for the 36-inch pipeline they would soon bury through the middle of his land. "It was a fucking slap in the face."

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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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