Dirty Details: Dents, Faulty Welds Found Along Keystone XL Southern Half in Texas


If an ecologically hazardous accident happens to TransCanada’s Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline, we can’t say we weren’t forewarned. That’s the latest from a press release and YouTube video recently disseminated by the good government group, Public Citizen

Public Citizen‘s Texas office explained, “Dozens of anomalies, including dents and welds, reportedly have been identified along a 60-mile stretch of the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline, north of the Sabine River in Texas.”

A recent report appearing in The Houston Chronicle revealed KXL‘s southern half is over 75-percent complete and will be on-line by late-2013. That half of the pipeline brings tar sands – also known as diluted bitumen, or “dilbit” – from Cushing, OK (dubbed the “pipeline cross-roads of the world”) down to Port Arthur, TX, where it ends up exported to the global market.

KXL‘s northern half is still in its proposal phase. Its eventual fate sits entirely in the hands of President Barack Obama and his U.S. State Department because it’s a border-crossing pipeline. In March 2012, President Obama issued an Executive Order for expediting building of KXL‘s southern half.

Earlier this year, Tar Sands Blockade a group committed to creative non-violent direct action to stop the building of KXL‘s southern half – also detected defective welding in the pipeline, akin go that discovered by Public Citizen. The group did so when one of its activists went inside of the pipeline and discovered light seeping through it.  

Despite this new concrete evidence from both Public Citizen and Tar Sands Blockade, the State Dept. recently denied Friends of the Earth-U.S.‘s (FOE) request to have its key Freedom of Information Act request expedited, one which would likely expose Big Oil’s influence over State’s KXL northern half decision. State argued the request doesn’t “meet any of the established criteria” for expedition, though Public Citizen‘s latest spate of findings shows otherwise. 

Faulty Welding: Dirt’s in the Details, Detail’s in the Dirt

An old adage goes, “the dirt’s always in the details” one digs up. So too with this latest revelation by Public Citizen – both figuratively and literally. 

“Some of the new pipeline has been in the ground on some owners’ land for almost six months,” Public Citizen‘s news release reads. “Landowners are concerned that this digging is indicative of faulty pipeline along the route that could potentially leak and threaten water supplies, and have requested TransCanada and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to provide more information about the work.”

The “dirt” in this situation was excavated not merely through landowner speculation, but straight from TransCanada’s own contractors.

“The anomalies and other problems were reported to landowners along the line…by several TransCanada vendors, including an independent inspector and a right-of-way representative,” Public Citizen further explained, also writing that each “marked section [has] a stake that reads ‘Anomaly.’”

Photo Courtesy of Bold Nebraska

“Anomaly” or More of the Same?

Yet, is any of this really an “anomaly”? Again, the “dirt’s in the details.”

As covered here on DeSmogBlog, the contractor hired by the Obama’s State Dept. to perform the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) – literally actually chosen by TransCanada on State’s behalf – has a sordid history of rubber-stamping pipeline projects as environmentally safe and sound even when they’re not. 

Two key cases in point, both covered here on DeSmogBlog: Environmental Resource Management, Inc’s (ERM Group) green-light of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Caspian Sea-area export pipeline project and ERM Group’s approval of the Peru LNG export pipeline project.

An Aug. 2008 Wikileaks cable discusses a BTC explosion in a mountainous area of eastern Turkey, which spewed 70,000 barrels of oil into the surrounding area. Cause of explosion: unknown. 

Peru LNG – akin to the case of the current southern half of KXL – was built with a faulty welding job via corroded, recycled materials from old Brazilian and Ecuadorian pipeline projects. It exploded five times in the project’s first 15 months of existence between late-2004 and March 2006.

Isn’t Keystone XL “Imminent Threat” to “Physical Safety”? 

Despite the slew of evidence to the contrary, State determined FOE‘s FOIA request meets none of the expedited processing criteria, as seen in the key excerpt of its letter to FOE below.   

Don’t U.S. citizens deserve to know how much influence the industry is having over a decision that will – if approved – aid in hastening climate catastrophe and cause ecological harm (though not according to the ERM/State SEIS) before the final decision is made?

After all, climate change is threatening lives and physical safety of individuals around the world now and will only worsen as tar sands are extracted from Alberta and shipped to the export market at increasing rates. If anything is a plausible “substantial humanitarian” issue, climate change fits the bill. 

So too are poorly-manufactured pipelines – such as the ExxonMobil Pegasus tar sands pipeline – which due to a bad welding job that caused a 22-foot+ gash, spewed over 200,000 gallons of dilbit into a Mayflower, AR neighborhood. The Mayflower tar sands spill threatened the lives and physical safety of people so much that 22 families were forced to leave their homes and two months later, still have not received approval to return. 

Why the FOIA Secrecy? 

The precautionary principle of science guides prong three of this expedition denial. That is, this information is a moot point a year or more after the pipeline is built and the damage is already done – and it can often take years for federal bureaucracies to fulfill FOIA requests.

Though Obama campaigned to “usher in a new era of open government,” talk has proven cheap.   

“When it comes to implementation of Obama’s wonderful transparency policy goals, especially FOIA policy in particular, there has been far more ‘talk the talk’ rather than ‘walk the walk,’” Daniel Metcalfe – Director of the Department of Justice’s office monitoring the government’s compliance with FOIA requests from 1981-2007 – told Bloomberg in a Sept. 2012 article.

Bloomberg concluded the Obama Administration had “flunked the disclosure test” in his first term, calling into question the level of secrecy within a taxpayer funded government. 

“I and many other journalists have observed that this administration, despite its public rhetoric, has repeatedly and continually been very difficult to deal with. I rate them worse than the Bush administration,” David Kay Johnston, the head of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) recently stated on Democracy Now! “They’re behaving much more like a corporation than like the people’s government.”

Johnston’s analysis is a fitting one, given FOE‘s FOIA was about corporate influence over State’s KXL looming northern half decision. The denied FOIA expedition request, of course, has little real legal merit.

But because many former Obama and Sec. of State John Kerry aides now lobby for TransCanada, because Obama’s former Communications Director Anita Dunn does public relations work for TransCanada and because her husband Robert “Bob” Bauer is Obama’s personal attorney, it’s obvious who calls the legal shots at the end of the day.  

The harder question to answer with this rapidly spinning government-industry revolving door: Who’s the corporation and who’s the government in this latest example of “Democracy, Inc.”?

Update: Check out Public Citizen‘s video on the topic below:

Steve Horn is the owner of the consultancy Horn Communications & Research Services, which provides public relations, content writing, and investigative research work products to a wide range of nonprofit and for-profit clients across the world. He is an investigative reporter on the climate beat for over a decade and former Research Fellow for DeSmog.

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