In a matter of weeks, crude oil will begin flowing through the Gulf Coast portion of the Keystone pipeline in Texas. The question watchdog group Public Citizen asks: Is it ready? That's because, with the help of landowners along the line's course, they say they've identified 125 separate instances in which lengths of the pipeline have been excavated.
As we reported back in May, TransCanada, which owns Keystone, told Unfair Park it had replaced nine sections "to protect the integrity of this pipeline." The response came after Public Citizen released photos of 9-foot lengths of pipe in East Texas spray painted with words like "DENT" and "CUT OUT." In an email to Unfair Park, a TransCanada spokesman confirmed that it had replaced some 700 feet of pipeline due to "construction impacts," amounting to roughly "3.100 of one percent" of its overall length.
"The fact that the anomalies on the exterior of the pipe were discovered in the first place is a direct result of the 57 special safety conditions we agreed to implement on this project and Keystone XL, many of which are not required by regulation but are standard practice on all TransCanada pipeline construction projects," the spokesman said.
In a press conference Tuesday, a former TransCanada engineer and whistleblower, whose tip led to an investigation by the Canadian government, said the excavations worried him.
"If you'd followed code you would not have these problems," said Evan Vokes. "This pipeline has now been exposed to a very large amount of construction activity, and with construction activity comes damage."
David Whitely, a farmer whose 88 acres Keystone traverses, said he'd heard a great pounding one day, like a "pile driver," somewhere out in his pastures Later, he found an unearthed section of pipe spray painted with the word "DENT," and a huge, buried boulder sitting in its 40-foot trench. Whitely figured they must have been chipping away at it with a track hoe. Contact with the boulder, he believes, is what dented the pipe in the first place. Now he fears that when the line is exposed to the weight of 700,000 barrels per day, the boulder will damage it again.
"One hundred feet from that spot is a feeder creek that goes into larger creek and a few miles down to Mt. Pleasant's water supply," he said.
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The report goes on to identify potential trouble spots where peeling patch coating has been applied to dings; sections where the line sags under its own weight because of insufficient support beneath it; and spots where the field coating could lead to corrosion. In one 60-mile stretch, landowners say they were told by pipeline workers that as many as 40 "anomalies" were found.
"The number of potential issues that are raised, and the quality control problems concern me as well," said Mohammad Najafi, director of the Center for Underground Infrastructure Research at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Public Citizen is calling on TransCanada to perform additional testing to ensure the line's integrity, and on Congress to order federal pipeline regulators to conduct a quality assurance review of the Keystone's construction.
A TransCanada spokesman dismissed the report as an "amalgamation of subjects we have dealt with and responded to in the past."