Landowners along the nearly 500-mile southern section of the Keystone XL pipeline say contractors have been excavating long-buried lengths of pipe to repair apparent defects. They've documented stakes jutting from turned-up dirt near the pipeline right-of-way through East Texas that read, "anomaly," "dent" and "weld." They've seen sections of excavated pipe -- some buried for as long as six months -- spray painted with the words "cut out."
"Here this pipeline has been in the ground for months and now they're here again," Winnsboro landowner David Whitley told Public Citizen. "An independent TransCanada inspector has told me there are all these anomalies on land up and down the pipeline along this 60-mile stretch, including the one on my property they are digging up now."
A TransCanada spokesman tells Unfair Park the company uses water pressure, remote sensors, ultrasonic tools and X-rays to identify "imperfections" in the pipeline often caused by construction and refilling the trench. "We have identified nine sections that we will replace," the spokesman said. "By law, we are required to replace a minimum of nine feet -- meaning that in total we are replacing about 81 feet of pipeline in the interest of safety and making sure that we do everything reasonable to protect the integrity of this pipeline that will operate for decades to come."
But rather than finding the inspection and repairs heartening, some of the landowners worry they're evidence of shoddy construction and harbingers of potential leaks on their land. The pipeline is intended to transport 700,000 barrels of oil per day. About a week ago, a spokesman said the line was 75 percent completed. If TransCanada receives approval to construct the northern segment of the pipeline, connecting Texas Gulf refineries with Canada's oil sands mines, it will move diluted bitumen, a heavy substance that has proven difficult to clean up in Michigan following a massive pipeline rupture.
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Evan Vokes, the whistle-blower and former TransCanada engineer who claimed its corporate culture shortchanged quality for frugality, spurred an audit of the company by the Canadian government. He told Public Citizen that the repairs in East Texas may not be a good sign. "The odds are not favorable to avoid a leak when we are seeing problems such as these with a newly constructed pipeline, and a leak poses dangers for the people who live along this route."
There's a video on YouTube with images of marked up pipe and footage of crews sandblasting replaced sections in the pines around Winnsboro. Blair Wright, an elderly gentleman in suspenders, points along with his wife at mounds of earth in the clear-cut right-of-way where TransCanada has exhumed its buried pipeline. "It makes you wonder, five years, 10 years from now, what's going to happen."