Contaminating What Little Water Texas has Left

A cow is stuck in the mud at the bottom of an empty stock tank in Garfield on Wednesday July 27, 2011. The historic drought of 2011 dried up stock tanks all over Texas. (SOURCE: Jay Janner/

Texas is still experiencing a severe drought across much of the state. Gov. Rick Perry recently renewed the disaster proclamation he first issued in December of 2010. On April 3, 48 percent of the state was experiencing exceptional or extreme drought conditions. Texas State Climatologist John Nielson-Gammon declared the on-going drought the worst on record.

The impacts of climate change have become devastatingly clear in Texas, where hundreds of wildfires have broken out and caused billions of dollars in damage, eating up habitats belonging to both humans and animals, but TransCanada wants to use up what little water we have left to burn some of the most carbon intensive oil sands in the world, only steepening the effects of warming in our state.

TransCanada has applied for six different temporary water rights permits from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in August of 2010. Those permits would allow the company to divert and use 86 million gallons of water from surface bodies. The commission has held up on granting the company those permits because of the water shortages as the Texas Water Code mandates.

The State Department’s original Federal Environmental Impact Statement for the entire Keystone XL pipeline project never addressed the issue of water usage in states experiencing drought conditions, such as Texas. The statement was flawed in numerous other ways, but the issue of water is one that is being highlighted [PDF] by landowners organizing through Stop Tarsands Oil Pipelines.

There is no EIS for the Gulf Coast Project, the southern leg of the Keystone XL at all.

Another prominent issue any EIS statement has been lacking is the very real possibility of pipeline fueled wildfires raging across the state during extremely hot summers. Last year, fires burned an area roughly the size of the state of Connecticut, and many of those fires were along the pipeline’s proposed path in East Texas. This year there has already been 1,106 wildfires. A pipeline leak could give the wildfires extra fodder to burn more intensely and travel more quickly across East Texas.

Cornell University predicts multiple leaks along the Keystone XL pipeline. The Keystone I pipeline leaked 35 times since its construction in June of 2010. The threat of a pipeline spill is just as eminent as the condemning of many Texans’ land.

TransCanada can deem property as a ‘low-consequence area’, a determination that means the company can use thinner pipeline steel—less than half an inch thick—to pipe tar sands across ecologically sensitive areas. This thin steel will carry corrosive tar sands oil diluted by many types of chemicals, including benzene, toluene, hydrogen sulfide, and natural gas liquid condensate under extremely high temperatures and pressures.

According to the State Department up to 1.7 million gallons can leak daily from the pipeline without triggering any leak detection system.

And it’s not only low-lying wetlands that are at risk of contamination, but the entire Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer upon which supplies drinking water for 10 to 12 million homes across 60 counties in East Texas.

Moreover, the regulatory body responsible for ensuring the safety of pipeline, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, is under staffed and in need of resources.

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