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Enbridge storage tank - photo from Dan Riedlhuber, Reuters

Enbridge storage tank – photo by Dan Riedlhuber, Reuters

A second Canadian pipeline company has its permit tied up in the State Department’s approval process. Enbridge, Canada’s largest pipeline company, is trying to expand its Alberta Clipper line, but is now facing delays.

Enbridge started up its first phase of the line, which has a capacity of 450,000 barrels per day (bpd), in 2009, after obtaining a U.S. federal permit from the State Department. Enbridge is now looking to expand its capacity, but the State Department says it needs to do further environmental analysis before granting Enbridge the go ahead to expand its Alberta to Wisconsin pipeline.

Enbridge is not looking to build another pipeline; rather, they are trying to increase capacity by 120,000 bpd for a total of 570,000 bpd. Beyond that, they would like to expand from 570,000 bpd to 800,000 bpd in the near future, which is almost as much tar sands oil as the proposed Keystone XL would carry.

“Obviously, things take longer in this environment that we’re in. I don’t think we want to draw any conclusions about the political environment. It’s not something that we can control. What we control is the fullness of our application,” CEO Al Monaco told reporters and analysts on a conference call to discuss the company’s fourth-quarter results, which included a net loss. “In this case, this is a fairly routine matter. The pipeline’s already in the ground, so we’re hoping that we move this along as quickly as possible.”

Another Canadian pipeline company, TransCanada, has been seeking U.S. approval of their Keystone XL pipeline since 2008. The Keystone XL would cut across the heartland of America bring up to 830,000 bpd of Canadian tar sands into the U.S. The Keystone XL has become highly politicized with many environmental groups lobbying and taking direct action against the pipeline.

Although Enbridge has managed to escape the same level of scrutiny as their competitor TransCanada, they have still faced opposition from activists in Canada and Michigan.

Enbridge is also the company behind the largest on-shore oil spill in U.S. history. Enbridge spilled more than one million gallons of diluted bitumen (dilbit, or tar sands oil) into Talmadge Creek in Marshall, MI, which then flowed 30 miles downstream into the Kalamazoo River in the late summer of 2010. Enbridge has spent nearly a billion dollars trying to clean up the spill over the last three years, but latest reports confirm that there is still oil in the Kalamazoo River.

Enbridge also owns several other tar sands pipelines aroung the country, including the Seaway pipeline system in Texas. Enbridge is currently expanding the Seaway pipeline system by the process of twinning. The new twin Seaway line will be a 30-inch diameter pipeline, and havea capacity of 450,000 bpd. Company officials are expecting a service date in 2014.

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KXL Climate ChangeWith the release of the State Department’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, there has been a lot of buzz about the project. The report concluded that Keystone XL could create carbon pollution equivalent to nearly six million cars, or eight coal-fired power plants. Last Week the State Department began accepting comments from the public, and with only a few weeks (until Mar 07, 2014 11:59 PM ET) left the need for citizens to weigh in has never been more urgent. Now is the time to tell Secretary of State John Kerry that this dirty pipeline is not in our national interest.

This is our final opportunity to officially weigh in on the decision. Submit a comment right now to tell the Obama Administration that the “game over for the climate” Keystone XL pipeline is NOT in our national interest.

Here are some facts to consider including in your comment to Secretary Kerry and the State Department:

  • The evidence is clear that Keystone XL could increase production levels of tar sands oil in Alberta, and therefore significantly add to carbon emissions. The massive investment would lock us into dependence on this dirty fuel for decades, exacerbating carbon pollution just when we need to go in the other direction.
  • Beyond the effects on our climate, this dangerous pipeline would also put the water supply of millions of Americans at risk, including the precious Ogallala Aquifer, Platte and Niobrara rivers, and hundreds of individual families’ wells. After a year in which many communities were harmed by spills from existing pipelines, we cannot allow any more of the dirtiest, most toxic oil on earth to spill into our lands and waterways.
  • The jobs numbers touted by industry are exaggerated. Oil industry lobbyist and pro-pipeline politicians claim that the Keystone XL would create 20,000 to half a million jobs, but these jobs numbers are grossly exaggerated. Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline will only create about 3,900 jobs over a two year period, and after that the project would only provide jobs for 35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors.
  • The Keystone XL is an export pipeline. According to presentations to investors, Gulf Coast refiners plan to refine the cheap Canadian crude supplied by the pipeline into diesel and other products for export to Europe and Latin America. Proceeds from these exports are earned tax-free. Much of the fuel refined from the pipeline’s heavy crude oil will never reach U.S. drivers’ tanks. Therefore, not reducing gas prices for Americans.

This is our last chance to voice concerns to the State Department before the public comment period ends on March 7. We need to get our message across to Secretary Kerry, because what he says could be one of the biggest determining factors in President Obama’s decision.

Submit your comment: Keystone XL is NOT in our national interest.

In addition to submitting your comment electronically, comments may also be mailed directly to:

U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Energy Resources, Room 4843
Attn: Keystone XL Public Comments
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

#NoKXL

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TX Keystone Tar Sands - Carbon BombKeystone XL’s southern half is scheduled to start operating for commercial purposes tomorrow, Wednesday, January 22nd. As much as 700,000 barrels per day of bitumen extracted from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, could be pumped through Oklahoma and Texas, igniting the fuse to the greatest carbon bomb on the planet.

The southern leg, rebranded the “Gulf Coast Project” by TransCanada, stretches 485 miles from Cushing, Okla., to Texas Gulf Coast refineries in Port Arthur and Houston. Last month, on Saturday December 7, 2013, TransCanada began injecting crude oil into the Gulf Coast Project. Spokesman Shawn Howard said they planned to “inject about 3 million barrels of oil into the system” in the weeks leading up to the start of commercial operation. In an interview with Reuters, TransCanada’s CEO Russ Girling said that they are now connected from Canada to Texas through the existing Keystone pipeline.

“We are now actually connected all the way to the Gulf Coast,” Girling said. “So we actually have …a contiguous system that has the ability, once Gulf Coast is up and running, to deliver 600,000 barrels per day to the coast.”

TransCanada’s Gulf Coast Project may very well be up and running by tomorrow, but questions about the safety of the pipeline remain, as do concerns for those living along the path of the pipeline and in refining communities.

Full of Flaws

Since Public Citizen came out with its report last November (TransCanada’s Keystone XL Southern Segment: Construction Problems Raise Questions About the Integrity of the Pipeline), PMHSA, the federal agency that oversees pipelines, has not re-inspected Keystone XL South. Public Citizen’s report details hundreds of anomalies at over 125 sites along the Texas route, which includes: dents, sags, faulty welds, coating damage, insufficient support of pipe in trench and improperly handled soil. (See also CBS report)
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TransCanada had announced start up dates for the southern section of Keystone XL for January 3rd, then changed that to mid to late January, then announced startup began on Saturday, December 7th.

Keystone pipeline southern leg - 1Following reports of hundreds of flaws that could lead to spills in the southern segment of the Keystone XL, Texas residents and environmentalists today called for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to halt the start-up of the pipeline.

According to media reports, on Saturday, TransCanada started pumping oil through Keystone XL’s southern leg, which runs nearly 500 miles from Oklahoma to the Texas coast.

“Pumping highly toxic tar sands crude through that line is an irresponsible act that shows a complete disregard for both public and environmental safety,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office.

The grassroots organization Nagadoches County STOP, which has campaigned against the pipeline’s southern segment, said: “The problems associated with the pipeline’s construction directly impact our sense of security, the lives of our children, and where we live. For those of us along the pipeline, the struggle is personal. We have to protect the places and people we love. There have been far too many problems with this pipeline, and it’s running through our community without any clear, local preparation for addressing a spill or leak.”

In two September warning letters to TransCanada, PHMSA identified hundreds of problems with the pipeline. In one of the letters, PHMSA said that nearly 50 percent of the welds – 205 out of 425 – in a single section of the southern segment needed repairs.

In another letter, PHMSA said 98 sites were excavated because of other problems with the pipe, and rocky backfill used around the pipeline may have caused dents found in the pipe.

In its own study, Public Citizen documented that TransCanada had undertaken 125 excavations for possible “anomalies,” welds, dents and other problems that could lead to leaks and spills.

PHMSA’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) office has not yet provided records in response to multiple requests for information about those flaws and any attempts to correct them, but it did not meet the requests before the weekend pipeline startup.

In an email to Public Citizen, PHMSA FOIA office said it would take weeks to process Public Citizen’s request.

“Now the pipeline is being filled, and we have absolutely no idea whether it’s safe,” Smith said. “Both PHMSA and Congress have shirked their responsibility to the public and the environment. There were 14 spills along the first phase of Keystone XL in the very first 14 months of its operation. Congress and PHMSA should have taken it upon themselves to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

The southern segment crosses 631 streams and rivers in Texas alone, and it is located within miles of many cities and towns.

Public Citizen twice asked Congress to urge PMHSA to make sure that the flaws had been corrected and conduct other inspections to ensure that the pipeline is safe. “Now is the time for Congress to act before commercial operations begin,” said Smith.

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Congressional Oversight Hearings are Needed on the Keystone XL Pipeline Construction to Protect Health and Safety of the Public and Environment

Keystone pipeline southern leg - 1The bad news about the Keystone XL pipeline just keeps coming.

After months of research, Public Citizen has brought to light the grave risks posed by sub-standard construction of the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline. Poor welds, dents and other problems in the pipeline have led to TransCanada excavating it in 125 places to conduct repairs.

TransCanada’s poor safety record speaks for itself. The company’s Bison natural gas pipeline exploded within the first six months of operation, and the first phase of Keystone XL spilled 14 times in the first 14 months of its operation, according to the State Department’s August 2011 report on the pipeline.

Now TransCanada wants us to believe that all of the “anomalies” — that’s how they refer to over 200 instances of poor construction — have been identified and fixed and the pipeline is safe.

Say “no” to trusting TransCanada.

Ask Congress to hold oversight hearings on the pipeline before it is filled with toxic tar sands oil.

This pipeline is a disaster waiting to happen.

Not only is there a very real danger of the pipeline spilling toxic tar sands oil on private property and into waterways, but the climate change impact of the pipeline will undo all the progress we’ve made by reducing domestic use of coal.

The safety of the public and the environment must be protected.

Send a message to Congress asking for a full review of the pipeline’s construction practices to protect public safety and the environment.

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Three pinocchiosWashington Post’s “Fact Checker” took issue today with a misleading television ad, sponsored by TransCanada in support of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The ad, titled “TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline: Eliminate America’s reliance on foreign energy” urges Americans to support the pipeline on the basis that it would free the United States from its dependence on foreign countries for energy security.

After addressing the obviously ridiculous claim that imported tar sands from Canada qualifies as domestic energy, noting that “last we had noticed, Canada was still a foreign country,” the Fact Checker took a closer look at other claims made in the ad, including highly questionable job creation numbers.

Based on TransCanada’s history of having a complicated relationship with the truth, it should come as no surprise that this latest ad earned them “three Pinocchios”.

Thanks to Friends of the Earth for pointing this out to us today.

From the Washington Post:

The Pinocchio Test

The Fact Checker takes no position of the politics of the pipeline but TransCanada can’t have its cake and eat it too. The ad shouldn’t cite State’s induced-jobs figure while the company dismisses State’s more relevant calculation of the number of actual construction jobs created in a year. If the 40,000 jobs is good enough for the ad, TransCanada should also accept the 3,900 figure.

Meanwhile, the ad’s initial emphasis on dependence on Middle East oil is specious. Thanks to the fracking boom, the United States is increasingly energy independent — and much of the oil that is imported comes from friendly nations such as Canada. We realize that such ads often use shorthand, but the two main headlines in the ad claim that 40,000 jobs will be created and that the pipeline will eliminate reliance on foreign energy. The caveats in the voiceover don’t really excuse the shortcuts in the headlines.

We wavered between Two and Three Pinocchios. But ultimately we decided that given this is an ad for a pipeline to import Canadian crude oil into the United States, it’s really worthy of a late-night satire.

Three Pinocchios

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Dear Senators and Representatives,

Last Tuesday (Nov. 12), CBS reported that nearly 50 percent of the welds on a section of the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline were faulty. That revelation was based on a Sept. 26, 2013, warning letter to pipeline owner TransCanada from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).  It was part of a broader story about problems with Keystone XL’s southern segment that included Public Citizen’s own investigative report, also released last week.

In the report, we documented 125 excavations TransCanada made to remedy possible “anomalies,” welds, dents or other problems in the southern segment of the pipeline, which runs from Oklahoma through Texas. In conjunction with the report, we sent a letter on Nov. 11 to Congress asking for oversight hearings.

Since then, we have reviewed the two letters cited by CBS, reviewed other PHMSA warning and corrective action letters sent to TransCanada, and spoken to a PHMSA official about some of the correspondence.

The Sept. 26 letter from PHMSA to TransCanada said that “TransCanada experienced a high weld rejection rate” on the section of the pipeline known as “Spread 3” and that “205 out of the 425 welds, or 48.2 percent,” required repairs.  The letter explained that TransCanada employed a welding process that was not a “previously qualified procedure” and “failed to use properly qualified welders.”

In an earlier, Sept. 10 warning letter, PHMSA said field inspectors found dents in pipe that appeared to be the result of rocks in the backfill used around it. The letter said TransCanada did not ensure that the pipe was installed “in a manner that minimizes the possibility of damage to the pipe.”

Damon Hill, a Washington-based public affairs analyst for PHMSA, said in a phone interview that after the letters were sent, PHMSA had “gone out and conducted inspections.” However, he said he could not provide dates of the inspections, confirm that they focused on the problems identified in the letters, or give even an approximate time frame for providing information on the results of these inspections.

Hill said, “The results of the inspections won’t come out until we issue an enforcement order.” He also said, “You’re trying to get me to say something specific, and I am not going to tell you something specific.”

Meanwhile, that section of the pipeline is scheduled to be filled with tar sands crude within a matter of weeks.

The construction problems and the lack of information about inspections are particularly alarming because of TransCanada’s history. The first phase of Keystone XL spilled 14 times in the first 14 months of its operation, according to a U.S. State Department report, and TransCanada’s Bison natural gas pipeline exploded within the first six months of operation.

Moreover, the number of weld problems has implications for the entire southern segment. If 205 repairs are needed on a single section, how many flaws are there likely to be in the rest of the pipeline’s 485 miles?

In light of the above, we firmly believe that the following should take place:

  • PHSMA should ensure correction of the problems identified in its letters, inspect the corrected work, and make the process and results publicly available and readily accessible.
  • PHMSA should inspect all of the “anomalies” indicated by our report and make the process and results publicly available and readily accessible.
  • Because of the high number of problems identified in PHMSA letters and our report, PHMSA should inspect the entire southern segment of Keystone XL. PHMSA should conduct a quality assurance review, and because the quality of the welds is critical to ensuring that the pipeline won’t leak or rupture, another hydrostatic test and caliper inline test should be complete before it is filled.
  • Congress should conduct oversight hearings to ensure that the pipeline is safe for the public and the environment.
  • All of the above should be completed before the pipeline is filled with tar sands crude and put into use.

Our report and PHMSA’s own letters raise the specter of a pipeline rife with construction flaws from its start in Cushing, Oklahoma, to its end at Texas’s Gulf Coast. Congress has a responsibility to ensure that flaws already identified and any undiscovered flaws do not result in a public health or environmental disaster. Texas’ waters should not be put at risk of contamination from pipeline breaks or spills.

Sincerely,

Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director
Public Citizen’s Texas Office
1303 San Antonio St.
Austin, Texas
(512) 477 1155
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UPDATE:  If you didn’t catch the CBS national news report on Tuesday, November 12th on the problems with the Southern Segment of Keystone XL, click here.

Public Citizen Calls for Congressional Oversight Hearings and Delay in Startup 

As the Obama administration considers whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline’s northern segment, owner TransCanada faces serious questions concerning construction and pipeline integrity issues on the Texas portion of the pipeline that throw its safety into question, Public Citizen said today.

In light of the problems – documented in Public Citizen’s newly released report, “TransCanada’s Keystone XL Southern Segment: Construction Problems Raise Questions About the Integrity of the Pipeline” – citizens and elected officials should call for a delay in startup until an investigation into its safety is completed.

The report documents construction problems and apparent engineering code violations along the Texas portion of the southern segment of the pipeline. The full southern segment, scheduled to be filled with oil by the end of 2013, will run from Cushing, Okla., to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas. It traverses 631 streams and rivers in Texas alone (see http://texaspipelinewatch.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/watersheds.pdf).

The apparent problems documented in the report include pipe being installed as part of new construction that had excessive bending or sagging, and peeling patches of field coating applied to cover damage on pipe about to be placed into the ground.

The report also notes more than 125 excavations in 250 miles of possible “anomalies” on pipe that had been buried for months. Those anomalies included dents, sags and other problems that could lead to spills or leakage of toxic tar sands crude.

“The government should investigate, and shouldn’t let crude flow until that is done,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “Given the stakes – the potential for a catastrophic spill of hazardous crude along a pipeline that traverses hundreds of streams and rivers and comes within a few miles of some towns and cities – it would be irresponsible to allow the pipeline to start operating.”

Public Citizen also urges President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, when deciding on the northern leg of Keystone XL, to consider TransCanada’s record of construction problems and code violations, and the pipeline’s potential impact on the sensitive areas of the Ogallala aquifer, which provides drinking water for millions of people, and the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, which the pipeline route crosses.

The report, available at http://www.citizen.org/documents/Keystone report – November 2013.pdf, encapsulates information gathered by Public Citizen, whose consultant traveled the area from May through June. Public Citizen collaborated with former TransCanada engineer and whistleblower Evan Vokes, who worked for TransCanada from 2007 to 2012 in the division responsible for construction standards.

For the report, landowners were interviewed, excavation sites were observed, video was reviewed and hundreds of photos of damaged pipe and work sites were examined. Observers also flew over the pipeline route several times.

In some areas, observers noticed stakes marked with “anomalies,” placed by TransCanada, with companion stakes marked “welds” and “dents.” One landowner reported that TransCanada contractors said as many as 70 anomalies were found in a 60-mile stretch between the Sulphur and the Sabine rivers in Texas.

TransCanada has claimed that the excavation and replacement of new pipe demonstrates its commitment to implement 57 special conditions of quality assurance and to build a “state-of-the-art” pipeline.However, TransCanada has had a history of problems with pipeline construction and safety for two decades:

  • During the construction of Keystone I, TransCanada pledged to meet 50 special conditions. But more than 47 anomalies along the line in four states had to be retested, and the Keystone I line spilled 12 times in the first year of operation.
  • In July 2011, TransCanada’s Bison natural gas pipeline exploded within the first six months of operation, blowing out an approximate 40-foot section of pipe. TransCanada had been warned of potential quality problems with construction and inspection.
  • In the 1990s, Iroquois Pipeline Operations, a subsidiary of TransCanada Pipelines Ltd., and four senior executives pleaded guilty to knowingly violating environmental and safety provisions of the pipeline construction permit. Iroquois executives had promised a pipeline of exceptional safety.

Public Citizen is calling on the Pipeline and ­­Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) to review TransCanada’s construction quality assurance records, determine whether state and federal laws have been violated, and not permit the start of operations on the southern leg of the Keystone XL until the entire line has been hydrostatically retested – a sophisticated process that sends water through a pipeline at a specified level of pressure higher than the maximum operating pressure to test the integrity and strength of a pipeline. The southern segment also should be tested by an inline caliper device called a smart pig to look for integrity problems.

Public Citizen also calls on Congress to hold oversight hearings to ensure that PHMSA investigates and addresses the safety of the pipeline.

“TransCanada’s history with pipeline problems speaks for itself,” Smith said. “I fear we could be looking at another pipeline whose integrity may be in question.”

Citizens can:

  • Call upon Congress to hold oversight hearings to assure that the pipeline is retested and its safety is ensured;
  • Attend one of seven upcoming citizen hearings on the safety of the pipeline in East Texas (see http://texaspipelinewatch.org/calendar/ for schedule and addresses);
  • Meet with local first responders and ask county governments to develop tar-sands-spill- emergency response plan; and
  • Ask legislators to reform Texas common carrier laws pipeline and pipeline safety standards.

 

For  video of pipeline issues, see http://nacstop.org/EastTexasObserver.html.

June 16, 2013 tape

  • sagging, 4.38-4.59 minutes;
  • coating problem, 5.25-6.12 minutes;
  • anomaly mark, 6.24-7.10 minutes.

See May 31, 2013 tape

  • sagging, 26-31 seconds;
  • water, 4.59 minute
  • unsupported pipe, 4.29-6.20 minutes

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Julia Trigg Crawford, a Texas landowner fighting a legal battle with TransCanada over the rights to her family’s farm, will be in Washington on Thursday to testify in front of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice during a hearing on the Private Property Rights Protection Act. Ms. Crawford will be discussing her personal experience with the use of eminent domain by a foreign company, as it is being used by the Keystone XL pipeline.

The bill filed in the 112th Congress as H.R.1433 can be read here.

The hearing will begin at 9am ET on Thursday and may be covered on C-Span in case you want to catch Julia’s testimony.

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beforenafter1[1]The Keystone XL pipeline is embroiled in controversy from coast to coast. Environmentalists are rallied by its giant carbon footprint, the damage caused by spills, and the destruction of Canada’s boreal forests. Meanwhile, landowners are being forced to give up their property rights and cope with unacceptable safety issues.

More than thirty Texas waterways will be threatened by Keystone XL pipeline spills.  Tar sand is very difficult to clean up, especially in water.  And, Keystone XL is not required to pay the standard eight cents per barrel tax into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which means the cost to clean up any spills along the pipeline could become the tax burden of U.S. Citizens.  When tar sand comes into contact with water it begins to separate, leaving the heaviest, thickest product on the bottom.  Meanwhile, benzene and other airborne toxins are lifted to the surface of the water and evaporate into the atmosphere, directly threatening human life.

Burst pipelineLandowners in Texas have been confronted with having a tar sand pipeline cross their farms and ranches.  Ranchers and farmers have no choice where the pipeline lays down on their property.  The easement around the pipe is fifty feet wide, and there will be a kill zone around and under the pipe due to its temperature, which may exceed 158 degrees F. A running pressure of 1,600 pounds per square inch introduces the possibility of a stream with enough force to cut a person in two should a small rupture in the pipe occur.  But, problems with the pipeline do not stop at inherent danger.  The land owners are given a choice of payment for the easement, which requires them to pay taxes on the land under the pipe or, they can have the easement condemned, which leaves them without the right to use that property.  In truth, the land owners have no option when companies such as Keystone XL decide that a pipeline should cross their property, except to deal with the risks, or leave.

To make matters worse, the tar sands that would flow through the Keystone XL pipeline won’t even be used in the U.S. – they are destined for export to foreign countries.  So, we will incur the risks to our land and water and will suffer the consequences of climate change, but we won’t have any more energy security than we do now.  That’s a bad deal.  The risks associated with the Keystone XL pipeline are unacceptable. Most importantly, these risks are avoidable.  Let President Obama know that you want him reject the Keystone XL pipeline because the risks don’t outweigh the benefits.  The recently released draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) from the U.S. Department of State acknowledged that construction of the Keystone XL pipeline would create “numerous” and “substantial” impacts on the environment, but it claims the project is better than the alternatives.  If you disagree, as I do,  send comments on the draft SEIS via email to: [email protected]

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We Texans and Public Citizen  Support Crawford Family as Legal Action Continues Against Keystone XL Southern Segment – #NoKXL

Yesterday, Landowner Julia Trigg Crawford and her attorney Wendi Hammond announced that they have filed their appeal against TransCanada with the 6th Judicial Court in Texarkana.  The brief disputes TransCanada’s attempt at taking Crawford’s property on the basis that TransCanada has yet to prove the company is a common carrier, but is instead a private foreign company utilizing its pipeline for private gain.

“Our appellate brief is now in front the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and we are confident this panel of experienced judges will give all the issues the thoughtful consideration and thorough review they deserve,” noted landowner Julia Trigg Crawford.  “Since the lower court’s ruling against us in August we’ve worked diligently to elevate the dialogue around property rights and eminent domain abuse.”

“Since before 1920, the Texas legislature wisely limited the enormous power of eminent domain authority to a common carrier subject to the Texas Railroad Commission’s (RRC) jurisdiction and other legal requirements. In the Crawford family’s case, the RRC admitted it does not have jurisdiction over TransCanada’s pipeline, but the trial court allowed TransCanada to take the Crawford’s private land anyway,” commented Hammond, Crawford family farm attorney. “This decision highlights a serious problem, not just for the Crawfords, but for many families across Texas.  Now this important matter will be decided by a higher court.”

Groups including We Texans and Public Citizen are supporting Crawford and her family in their continuing resolve to pursue this landowner’s case to a higher court.  The groups view this precedent setting case as a private company attempting to take land for private use and foreign profit.

Debra Medina, executive director of We Texans, applauded the Crawford family’s courage in continuing their opposition to the taking of their property.  “We agree with the Crawford family in believing that there has been an erroneous ruling against them and hope that the appellate court will right that wrong.  In doing so, the court can protect not only the Crawford Family farm, but also set a precedent that will ensure the law is followed and all private property in Texas is duly protected.”

“What’s at stake here is whether the state should allow a public agency to allow condemnation for private gain. The Crawford case is emblematic of the failure of the Texas Railroad Commission to effectively ensure that companies doing business in Texas are indeed a common carrier,” commented Tom Smitty Smith of Public Citizen.  “The State has laid this burden of proving up common carrier upon landowners such as the Crawfords, while the proof should be incumbent upon those who want to business here in Texas. The entire process needs to be overhauled.”

“The Railroad Commission allowed TransCanada to have the status of a common carrier, yet the agency has stated that it doesn’t not have the authority to give eminent domain powers to TransCanada,” added Smith.  “TransCanada has yet to prove to the court that they are transporting the product for the public good or for the public for hire as required by law.”

“Currently, there is a loophole in Texas law that allows a company to simply check a box on a one page form at the Railroad Commission that allows companies to declare themselves a common carrier without any checks and balances,” noted Rita Beving, North Texas Public Citizen organizer.  “Last summer we started a dialogue with the Texas Land & Resource Management Committee regarding this problem.  We are hoping the matter of common carrier and eminent domain gets rectified during this year’s legislative session.”

“I’ve testified to legislative subcommittees at our state Capitol, shared my story with the Sunset Commission in their review of the embattled Texas Railroad Commission, and traveled to Washington, D.C. twice to speak to governmental agency representatives and support groups,” Crawford added.  “At the heart of this issue is the fact the Texas Railroad Commission has seemingly abandoned Texas landowners.  By their own admission, they are aware that companies use the T-4 form to demonstrate to the public that the company is operating as a common carrier pipeline with eminent domain authority when, in fact, the RRC operating permit provides no evidence of that fact at all.”

“What was once just the voice of Texas landowners is now a national issue, with all eyes upon Texas and how our Legislature will step up to repair this grossly flawed land condemnation process,” Crawford concluded. “I stand at the ready to continue shining a light on what’s really happening on the ground to Texas landowners as we protect our land, and we look forward to a positive outcome in our appeal.”

TransCanada has initiated construction of the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline along its 485-mile trek from Cushing to the Texas coast. TransCanada will pump Canadian tar sands crude or Dilbit to refineries on the Gulf coast.  The northern segment of the Keystone XL awaits approval by the State Department for its presidential permit.

In the meantime Enbridge, TransCanada’s Canadian competitor, has begun surveying for an additional twin line to the existing Seaway pipeline near the DFW area.  Both Enbridge’s 36-year old repurposed Seaway pipeline and the new twin line will carry tar sands from Cushing to the coast.  The dual Enbridge lines are expected to exceed Keystone’s capacity with 850,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude.

Enbridge is currently responsible for the largest and most expensive onshore spill in history.  The Michigan spill occurred in July 2010 carrying tar sands crude through a 43-year old repurposed line.  Two years and more than $850 million later, the spill is still being cleaned up on the Kalamazoo River.

“Landowner fights such as that of the Crawford family with TransCanada have sparked a new battle on a whole new front with another Canadian company,” Beving concluded.  “Many of us are now getting calls from landowners now worried about Enbridge, which also plans to carry dangerous Dilbit crude through its pipelines from Cushing to the coast.”

Click here to read a copy of the brief.

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Eight Tar Sands blockaders just climbed 80 feet into trees in the path of Keystone XL construction, and pledged not to come down until the pipeline is stopped for good. TransCanada workers are starting to arrive on the scene. The tar sands blockade folks will be tweeting and live blogging as today’s action unfolds so check for live updates throughout coming days…weeks?!

You shall not pass!

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UPDATE 10/2/2012 -

The court in Beaumont has given TransCanada the right to begin building portions of the Keystone XL Pipeline through Johnson County.

County Court at Law Judge Tom Rugg Sr. did blocked access to one parcel of disputed land until the company meets legal requirements giving proper notice to all parties.

Earlier, Rugg made clear that he believes Texas law required him to grant a writ of possession to TransCanada to construct parts of the politically controversial pipeline to carry Canadian tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries. He added that technical issues needed to be resolved first that his further ruling determined that TransCanada file two necessary surety bonds required by law of $20,000. He ruled. “As those bonds have two sufficient sureties, the statutory requirements for the issuance of writs of possession are now met.”

In a central matter in the case, Rugg said a different court would need to determine whether TransCanada is a common carrier with the power to seize land under eminent domain law.

UPDATE:  While Judge Rugg expressed regret for the lack of clarity from the higher courts. “I’m left with no guidance from Denbury,” he said.  He, nevertheless promised to rule by Sept. 24th.  We will let you know as soon as we hear about the ruling.

KEYSTONE PIPELINE V. TEXAS RICE FARMERS SET FOR HEARING – Must TransCanada prove common carrier status before trenching begins?  That is the question Polly Hughes of the Texas Energy Report poses in the article reprinted below.

A battle over the right of pipelines to seize private land heads to court again Wednesday when the Texas Rice Land Partners challenge TransCanada’s use of Texas eminent domain law.

TransCanada has begun construction of the southern leg of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline from Cushing, Okla., to Texas Gulf Coast refineries. The pipeline, which will carry oil sands, also referred to as tar sands, has stirred controversy with environmentalists who say a spill of the heavier diluted bitumen would be far more treacherous for waterways and aquifers than spills of ordinary crude oil.

“The Keystone XL crosses and exposes threats to water resources for the Carrizo- Wilcox Aquifer, which feeds and supplies water, drinking and agricultural resources for up to 10 million Texans,” Chris Wilson, an anti-tar sands activist opposing TransCanada’s pipeline told members of the Texas Railroad Commission Tuesday.

At issue in the Jefferson County Court at Law case in Beaumont is whether TransCanada has a right to take possession and begin trenching on land before the company proves its has eminent domain rights, according to the activist group known as TURF, Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom.

The defendants in the case, James and David C. Holland and the Mike Latta Family, make up the Texas Rice Land Partners who sued the Denbury Green Pipeline Co. over its right to seize land under eminent domain law and won at the Texas Supreme Court. The courtunanimously ruled that before the company could seize private property and claim eminent domain rights, it needed to prove it was a common carrier serving a legitimate public use. Merely self-declaring common carrier status by checking a box on a one-page administrative form at the Railroad Commission was not enough.

Debra Medina, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate who has taken up the eminent domain battle with parties opposing TransCanada, said the defendants will ask the court to require the company to prove its common carrier status and right to use eminent domain before it grants a writ of possession allowing trenching to begin.

She said 60 pipelines cross the Holland Family’s land, but only two – Denbury Green and TransCanada – have resorted to using eminent domain law rather than reach a mutually satisfactory financial agreement with the family.

“This landowner wants a fair price,” she said, adding that she thinks the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling means the burden of proof is on TransCanada and not the landowner.

Ramrodded by veteran reporter Polly Hughes, the Texas Energy Report’s Energy Buzz specializes in what is happening on the ground in Texas energy ranging from dedicated coverage of the Texas regulatory agencies to battles in the Legislature that affect the future of the industry.

Copyright September 11, 2012, Harvey Kronberg, www.texasenergyreport.com, All rights are reserved.  Reposted by TexasVox.org with permission of the Texas Energy Report.

We will report on the outcome of this court case when it becomes available.

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Wednesday evening, Lamar County Court at Law Judge Bill Harris sent an email from his iPhone (complete with new internet slang – MSJ and NEMSJ) ruling in favor of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, allowing them to act as common carrier and giving them the right to condemn land for use by a pipeline.

Dear Counsel,
My rulings as follows:
Transcanada’s MSJ is GRANTED (that’s internet slang for Motion for Summary Judgment)
Transcanada’s NEMSJ is GRANTED (I don’t know what NEMSJ is)
Crawford’s Plea to the Jurisdiction is DENIED

“The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that taking private property for the private use by a pipeline company requires proof that it will serve some common good – and that can’t be accomplished by merely filling out a form. We believe the judge made a number of mistakes and we will appeal. The supreme court has said that if there is any doubt that a pipeline is a common carrier, the judge has to rule against the pipeline company and he failed to do that,” said Wendi Hammond, the attorney for the landowner.

I guess what this particular judge is trying to tell us is what’s good for oil and gas is good for Texas – period.

“We may have lost this battle here in Paris, Texas, but we are far from done,” said Julia Trigg Crawford, landowner. “I will continue to proudly stand up for my own personal rights, the property rights of my family and those of other Texans fighting to protect their land. The Crawfords, and those who bravely stand with us, have plenty of courage to continue this fight, no matter what it takes.”

Read Julia’s impassioned statement below:

Anyone following this case knows my family and I were in it to win, so of course we are incredibly disappointed in today’s ruling….Disappointed that Judge Harris wholly dismissed our entire case with a 15 word ruling sent from his iPhone…  Disheartened that Texas landowners must still challenge oil corporations in court on what should be State-level permitting issues….and Disturbed that a foreign corporation like TransCanada is allowed to hide behind the skirt of the Texas Railroad Commission and its Common Carrier rubber stamp.

It is absolutely unbelievable to me eminent domain abuse continues in Texas given the revelations made during our court case.   With every turn we found black holes of responsibility, endless loops of (non)accountability, and the cart miles in front of the horse.  The Texas Railroad Commission says they have no power over eminent domain, yet turns a blind eye when pipelines under their jurisdiction state they indeed get the power from the Commission.  The Texas Supreme Court ruled in Denbury Green that “once a landowner challenges…., the burden falls upon the pipeline company to establish its common-carrier bona fides if it wishes to exercise the power of eminent domain”.  So we asked TransCanada to produce their tariff rate schedule, a requirement of all Common Carriers and therefore part of proving the right of eminent domain. TransCanada’s attorney refused to provide anything, responding in court that tariffs will be provided “about the time it gets ready to transport product on the line”.  That means they can’t even produce this proof they qualify as a Common Carrier until after the land is seized and the pipeline built.  Furthermore, the Writ of Possession was granted by the Court and served on us before the ruling was even made on whether TransCanada can legally take our land. There is no question the process is riddled with loopholes and flaws, and Big Oil certainly wants to keep it this way.

Somehow, someway, things must change.  If the courts will not address the problem, we will use our voices and votes to bring about change, and we will champion the cause with those who create the laws. Fortunately the dialogue in Austin has already begun, and we are deeply involved.  As our more enlightened State leaders address the issues with open minds, they admit there are still problems with the eminent domain process.  Thankfully they have begun the steps to shepherd change.

We may have lost this one battle here in Paris, Texas, but we are far from done.  I will continue to proudly stand up for my own personal rights, the property rights of my family, and those of other Texans fighting to protect their land. Winston Churchill once said “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”.  The Crawfords, and those who bravely stand with us, have plenty of courage to continue this fight, no matter what it takes.

Julia Trigg Crawford
Farm Manager, Red’Arc Farm
Direct, Texas

Tea Party leaders and environmentalists alike, but for different reasons, share the Crawfords’ disappointment with this ruling.

“Judge’s Harris disappointing decision today further highlights the vulnerable and precarious position that Texas landowners are in,” said Debra Medina, former Republican candidate for Governor. “These cases are often argued in county courts that are poorly equipped to assess such weighty legal questions.  These courts lack the resources to properly consider the complex and voluminous evidence assembled by multibillion dollar corporations.”

“These are pipelines carrying poisons, not for oil independence in our country, but for export, from a foreign land, through our pipelines, to a port that’s going to ship them to foreign lands. These aren’t common carriers for the common good of Texans — this is a pipeline designed to speed oil through Texas. There are no on or off ramps to this pipeline in Texas and as a result it should not have been permitted, implying they had the use of eminent domain to condemn Texans’ lands,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen.

“The Texas Supreme Court was clear in the Denbury ruling that private companies have to prove their project qualifies as a true ‘public use’ before it can exercise eminent domain. We’re disappointed in the Judge’s decision, but we’re confident that the Crawford family farm will eventually prevail. This decision puts the onus on the Texas legislature to remedy the outrageous eminent domain abuse taking place in our state,” said Terri Hall, Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. “The time for talk is over. Texans are losing their land because of poor oversight and the legislature’s refusal to address the heart of the problem. Texans aren’t going to accept the crumbs we’ve been handed, cloaked as eminent domain reform. It’s time to get serious before irreparable harm is needlessly inflicted upon Texans.”

Recently, the Texas House Land and Resource Management Committee met at the Capitol to hear invited testimony from Crawford and other interested parties regarding the dilemma of industries self-proclaiming they are common carriers with no review from any state agency as to whether a company is truly a common carrier or not. The House Energy Management Committee has also held hearing on pipeline safety issues.

Linda Curtis, director of Independent Texans, noted, “Ms. Crawford’s case is emblematic of the continuing struggle of Texas landowners being tread upon by a private company taking land for private use, and foreign profit.  TransCanada has yet to provide any evidence that they have the legal authority to seize property in Texas.”

“TransCanada used the Commission’s T-4 permit as an authorization to take Texans’ land for a private for-profit, foreign pipeline project.  There was no vetting or review by the Commission of a pipeline company’s self-designation as a common carrier and the commission says that it has no control over eminent domain.  The legislature needs to fix this mess and assure that landowners’ rights and the environment are protected,” said Chris Wynnyk Wilson of the Stop Tar Sands Oil Pipelines (STOP).

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According to TransCanada, they started construction on the southern leg of their highly controvertial tar sands pipeline on August 9th, even as a trial questioning their right to use eminent domain to take a Texas farmer’s land was scheduled to be held the following day.

At this time, Judge Bill Harris has not issued his final ruling but he did announced first thing the morning of the trial that there would not be a ruling in his courtroom on the pipeline’s status as a common carrier.  He did however, issue a writ of possession to the multinational company giving TransCanada legal possession of the Crawford family’s land and the right to begin trenching on that land at any point.  This emboldened TransCanada to issue a statement that was read on the Canadian National Broadcasting Network on Monday claiming that, “..On the issue of the common carrier status the ruling by Judge Harris reaffirms that TransCanada is a common carrier.” 

Seriously, no one has “verified” that they are a common carrier.  In fact, as far as we can tell, no one in the State of Texas takes ownership of the authority to determine if a pipeline company is a common carrier.

In Denbury Green vs. Texas Rice Land Farmers, the Texas Supreme Court recently upheld their ruling that a land owner has the legal right to challenge a pipeline company’s common carrier status. They also ruled that a pipeline company cannot conclusively acquire the right to condemn private property simply by checking the right boxes on a one-page form filed with the Railroad Commission.

Public Citizen’s Texas director, Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith, said “The answers we need may not lie ultimately in Judge Hill’s decision; the answer may be an appeals court. The final outcome will also be laid at the foot of the Texas legislature to do something about this kind of abuse. We have already begun the process of pointing out the grave inequities of companies being able to walk into the Railroad Commission saying ‘trust us, we’re a common carrier,’ and then seize eminent domain authority without the needed checks and balances or review by an authorized government agency. That needs to change with the next legislative session.”

For updates on the status of the trial and further legal action click here.

Back at the U.S. / Canadian Border

In the meantime TransCanada had to reapply for their presidential permit for a section of the planned Keystone XL pipeline from oil fields in Canada that would cross into the United States.  The earlier permit application was denied after lawmakers in Nebraska objected to original route plans that had the pipeline crossing through its environmentally sensitive sand hills region.  While Nebraska’s objection was the official reason for the permit denial, the initial process was fraught with other controversies that many are pushing to be addressed this go round.

The State Department recently announced on its website that it has chosen a new third-party contractor to conduct the next round of reviews for TransCanada’s controversial permit re-application.

The new contractor, Environmental Resources Management (ERM), replaces Cardno Entrix, a firm that was at the center of the scandal surrounding the State Department’s flawed Keystone XL review process last fall. However, while the department has hired a new contractor, it has also signaled that it will lean heavily on the flawed environmental impact statement largely prepared by Cardno Entrix on behalf of Keystone XL, a study that independent experts concluded grossly downplayed the harm the pipeline is likely to cause and failed to address the impacts on Nebraska’s environmentally sensitive sand hills region.

The State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement, largely prepared by Cardno Entrix and issued in August 2011, was widely criticized for failing to catalogue the tar sands oil pipeline’s full threats to the climate, drinking water and public health, as well as the unique and heightened spill risks of piping tar sands oil across America’s heartland.  As communities across the mid section of the country face an onslaught of extreme weather, the State Department’s review faces a key test: whether its new round of review fully considers these issues.  In the face of  a summer of unprecedented wildfires, droughts and storms, following on the heals of Texas’ unprecedented drought and heat in 2011, it is vital that climate impacts of dirty tar sands oil are taken into account and that the possibility of spills affecting water sources in areas that are prone to droughts be reviewed.

The State Department closed the public comment period for the scope of the new environmental review for the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline on July 30. More than 400,000 submitted comments to the agency in staunch opposition to the project.

A New York Times exposé revealed last November that the State Department had “flouted the intent of a federal law” by hiring Cardno Entrix and allowing it to drive the environmental review process while it simultaneously touted TransCanada as a “major client.” An investigation by the State Department inspector general subsequently confirmed that the department had failed to follow its own flawed contractor vetting processes. The investigation also raised fresh concerns about the department’s insufficient scientific expertise to review the pipeline’s likely impacts, adding weight to independent experts’ conclusions that the impacts study was grossly inadequate.

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