Red Flags! Keystone XL tar sands pipeline bill would force approval while neglecting to protect our rivers and farms

refs KXL hearing c Jesse Coleman Jan 2012.JPG

Yesterday, hundreds of “referees” gathered on Capitol Hill and blew the whistle on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Those referees were back in action this morning at the House energy subcommittee hearing on a proposal by Representative Terry to approve the already rejected Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Red flags were waved as some members mischaracterized Keystone XL as a necessary project. And hands raised in goal signs as some members made the very valid point that a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline should not be rushed. Many members noted that Congress had not given the State Department enough time to reach a thorough decision on Keystone XL, especially as we do not even know the path that the pipeline would take through Nebraska. This is true and whether Congress tries to hide behind the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in mandating approval of Keystone XL or just does the job directly, energy projects need a thorough review with the opportunity for public input. Americans don’t want to see Congress in the business of issuing permits for what Representative Waxman called a “pet project” that would be rushed to approval and exempted from environmental laws to benefit the oil industry.

In his testimony, Jeffrey Wright, the FERC Director of the Office of Energy Projects which oversees interstate natural gas pipelines made it clear that this was a bill that did not give FERC any ability to get public comments, do an assessment or have any oversight.

Even more outrageous than Congress taking on permitting of a complex pipeline project, is allowing a foreign company to build a pipeline that would be exempt from the U.S. environmental laws that our domestic pipelines need to follow. The Terry bill is a pretty messy piece of legislation, but it seems to do just that. The Terry bill says that the permit will be the only legal authority aside from a few Department of Transportation and FERC requirements. Where does this leave us on the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act, and the rules on cultural preservation, rivers and wetlands?

These water laws are critical for protecting our health and safety from tar sands pipelines. I often hear people say that this is just another oil pipeline. But that is not the case. Keystone XL would carry raw tar sands – bitumen that has been diluted to make it liquid enough to flow through a pipe at high pressure.

We don’t have a lot of experience with this type of pipeline in the United States and what experience we do have has not been good. TransCanada’s first Keystone pipeline was supposed to have state of the art safety standards in place and only have 1.4 spills a decade. In its first year of operation, it leaked 14 times and at one point had to be shut-down as a threat to public safety – making it the newest pipeline to be subjected to such an action by federal regulators. And TransCanada may be cutting safety corners. A safety inspector on that pipeline said that he witnessed many bad practices from a safety perspective while working on the first Keystone tar sands pipeline. We also know that tar sands is harder to clean up. The spill of almost 1 million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan is still being cleaned up one and a half years later.

The last thing we want is for Keystone XL to spill and have it be the taxpayers, farmers and all those who use the water from the river or aquifer to bear the burden instead of TransCanada.

Bottomline? Congress is not a permitting agency and should not be in the business of approving projects – especially not projects that are meant to benefit Big Oil and not the American people.


For some color on yesterday’s referee action and an explanation of why the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will have Americans bear the risks of oil spills and climate change so that the oil industry can get a higher price for tar sands on the world market, watch this short video blog:

Thanks to Rocky Kistner for video production.