The Texas arm of activist group Public Citizen on Tuesday called for a halt to the scheduled start of TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL oil pipeline's southern segment from Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf of Mexico. It is slated to begin operations before the end of the year.
Claiming support from a former TransCanada engineer and others, Tom Smith, who directs the Texas office in Austin, said the group is asking for a Congressional oversight hearing on the pipeline and more safety testing by the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration (PHMSA).
During a conference call Tuesday, Smith offered testimonials from a former TransCanada engineer, a civil engineering third-party expert and a Texas landowner with about 2,300 feet of the project on his land. TransCanada has been building the approved portion of Keystone’s Gulf Coast Pipeline despite attempts to block it (see Shale Daily, Dec. 17, 2012).
A TransCanada spokesperson in Calgary said the demand by Public Citizen "doesn't really contain anything new -- it's an amalgamation of subjects we have dealt with and responded to in the past," including Internet blog posts. TransCanada officials contend that the pipeline is conforming to the highest standards ever imposed on an energy pipeline project.
"The Gulf Coast Pipeline will be the safest pipeline built in the United States to date," the spokesperson said. "No other pipeline has agreed to operate with all of the additional safety and operating procedures that TransCanada has. We have voluntarily agreed to 57 additional conditions with DOT's PHMSA."
A Washington, DC-based PHMSA spokesperson said its safety inspectors have been on site for 140 days during the Gulf Coast project's construction so far, "overseeing welding, coating, handling of pipe, backfilling, testing and other activities." She said PHMSA will "take the necessary action" to address a problem when it finds or receives evidence that something is wrong.
The landowner and the engineers, including former TransCanada engineer Evan Vokes, related their concerns about the pipeline, which they said needed to be retested either hydrostatically or with an inline, smart pig to examine the welds and the interior of the pipe.
Alleging various construction "anomalies," Smith said Public Citizen wants to require TransCanada to test the entire southern segment of the project before it is permitted to begin carrying oil produced from Canada oilsands.
"TransCanada has had a number of problems with their pipelines in the past," said Smith, noting that regulators should not accept the pipeline company's claim that its repairs and replacement projects done on portions of Keystone are just "an abundance of caution" for safety. "We've heard this before from the pipeline.”