Earlier this month, three East Texas hamlets with a collective population of fewer than 2,000 souls filed suit in a federal court in Oklahoma City to halt construction of the southern half of The International Pipeline Formerly Known as Keystone XL. The Keystone was to be a massive piece of infrastructure capable of carrying some 700,000 barrels of diluted bitumen mined from the forests of Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries. The cities of Reklaw, Alto and Gallatin feared a pipeline rupture and the impact it could have on their main source of water -- the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer. The pipeline's route also would carry it past Lake Columbia, Marvin Nichols Reservoir and George Parkhouse Reservoir, all municipal water prospects for Dallas.
The towns sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent the issuance of the final permit TransCanada would need to begin construction, but on Friday the company announced it had received it. Construction, the company announced, could commence "within weeks."
The three tiny towns may be down, but they aren't out. Not yet. On Friday, a federal judge in Oklahoma City will decide whether to issue a preliminary injunction against the corps. If Judge David Russell declines, they have few options, says Rita Beving, a consultant for the towns.
The pipeline became a political line in the sand in late 2010. Republicans called it a job creator and a source of oil from a friendly country. Democrats warned of the environmental risks posed by its cargo -- fossil fuel whose extraction more closely resembles strip mining. Republicans forced President Barack Obama to make a rushed, up-or-down call on the project, so he took the State Department's advice and denied the permit.
TransCanada split the pipeline into two segments. Obama asked federal regulators to fast-track approval of the southern segment passing through Texas. Barring an injunction from a federal judge, the second segment will extend from an oil hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, to the Texas petrochemical locus on the Gulf of Mexico. The towns of Reklaw, Alto and Gallatin say the Corps of Engineers skirted a rigorous environmental impact analysis of more than 1,000 water crossings by "piecemealing" approval in half-acre segments.
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If the folks out in East Texas are afraid of a diluted biumen (DilBit) spill, it isn't as though they don't have reason. The bitumen, in its raw form known as tar sands, is diluted with benzene-laced natural gas liquids and pumped at high pressure and temperatures. Between 800,000 and a million gallons of it were spilled into a creek feeding Michigan's Kalamazoo River in 2010. The clean-up, at a cost approaching nearly $1 billion so far, is ongoing. Enbridge, the pipeline company, reportedly had some 800 smaller spills over the last decade.