Fueling Dissent: Stories from the Fight Against Keystone XL


Independent media crew Fueling Dissent have put together several great videos of communities that are actively resisting the Keystone XL pipeline. Beginning on Lakota Homelands, Lesley and Mathew travel to East Texas then further south to the Houston Shipping Channel, documenting the reflections of people defending sacredwater from TransCanada’s toxic pipeline.

At the end of April, Fueling Dissent arrived at the Moccasins on the Ground direct action training on Lakota homelands. Organized by Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way), the training brought Native and settler communities together to learn more about resistance to pipelines like the Keystone XL and other extreme extraction projects.

“Just because you’re Lakota, or White, or Black, or Asian, that doesn’t create a boundary around you to protect you from any of this contamination.” says Debra White Plume of Owe Aku. “So all the human beings, all the two-leggeds, in a humble way, a good way, a spiritual way, a powerful way, we have to learn to stand together.”

After Moccasins on the Ground, Fueling Dissent continued to follow the path of the Keystone XL until they reached East Texas. There they met with three women who fought construction of the KXL South tooth and nail for several years. Now that the KXL South is in full operation, pumping 700,000 barrels per day of tar sands to the Gulf Coast, landowners Eleanor Fairchild and Susan Scott reflect on the fight in Texas with blockader Kathy DaSilva.

“I wonder, is our government really working for the people?” says Eleanor. “Or is it just big business? And it scares me. The power that big business has over our country. Everything. Not just pipelines. Everything.”

Following the pipeline to its end, Fueling Dissent arrived in Houston to see the largest petro-chemical complex in the western hemisphere. This is where tar sands from Keystone XL will be refined and exported (tax-free!), directly adjacent to homes and schools. While filming the expansive complex for miles, Houston resident and blockader Eric Moll gives a tour of the toxic refineries as well as telling stories from his time documenting the Mayflower, Arkansas tar sands spill in March 2013.

“There was a thick layer of oil where they power-washed it into the drains, and through the drains it went into a wetland. Then they blocked off that whole area,” says Eric. “We never would have even gotten to it [to film] except after days of poking around we met a lot residents that wanted to help us. They showed us ways through the woods so that we could get past the cops.”

Lesley and Mathew from Fueling Dissent are creating more short video updates, news articles, blogs and other material from their travels meeting with communities at the frontline in the fight against tar sands and Keystone XL. If you want to see more great videos like these, you can donate to support their work. If you want to read some of their blogs, be sure to head over to FuelingDissent.org .

Website: http://fuelingdissent.org

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Permanent link to this article: https://tarsandsblockade.org/fueling-dissent/

Questions Raised About Integrity of Keystone XL’s Southern Route After Conditions Added for Northern Leg

Excellent piece written by photojournalist Julie Dermansky. Originally posted on Desmogblog.com


The Keystone XL pipeline’s southern route passes under Eleanor Fairchild’s Texas property, so she got angry when she learned that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has added two new conditions to the 57 already required for construction of the pipeline’s northern route.

“My fears were confirmed,” Fairchild told DeSmogBlog. “The regulators knew the southern route wasn’t built safely. It is like they have said to hell with us in Texas and Oklahoma.”

Eleanor Fairchild was defiant when TransCanada started installing the pipeline on her land. She kept a watchful eye during the installation and repair of the pipeline. ©2012 Julie Dermansky

Julia Trigg Crawford, another Texas landowner who fought TransCanada in the courts, shared a link to an Associated Press story that focuses on the two new conditions. “Read this ASAP to see why Texans and Oklahomans were so outraged about TransCanada’s abysmal construction record on the southern leg of the Keystone XL,” she wrote.

Julia Trigg Crawford
Julia Trigg Crawford was labeled an activist by TransCanada attorney James Freemand. She considers herself a patriot for standing up for all Americans’ property rights. ©2013 Julie Dermansky

The conditions require TransCanada to hire a third-party contractor chosen by PHMSA to monitor the construction and make reports to the U.S. government on whether the work is sound. Additionally, TransCanada must “develop and implement a quality management system that would apply to the construction of the entire Keystone XL project in the U.S. to ensure that this pipeline is — from the beginning — built to the highest standards by both Keystone personnel and its many contractors.”

The Tar Sands Blockade, an activist group that independently monitored the pipeline installation after failing to stop it, wrote on its blog that the new conditions suggest there are serious problems with the southern route.

“TransCanada’s internal quality management and PHMSA’s external inspection program were inadequate, if not fatally flawed. The failures implied by these new conditions beg the question: If TransCanada wasn’t adequately inspecting its own work, and PHMSA didn’t have the third-party inspection company it needed for effective oversight, was anyone actually watching TransCanada?”

Tar Sands Blockade
Tar Sands Blockade activists protesting against the Keystone XL pipeline at a construction site in Winnsboro, Texas. ©2012 Julie Dermansky

The new conditions weren’t based solely on the construction issues found in the southern route of the pipeline, now called the Gulf Coast pipeline. They were the result of “observations in the field during construction projects from several pipeline operators over the past few years,” Damon Hill, spokesperson for PHMSA, told the Associated Press.

The new conditions were based on “systemic problems regulators found in the pipeline industry, not just the Keystone XL’s southern route,” Richard Kurpewicz, president of Accufacts Inc., a consulting firm that provides pipeline expertise, told DeSmogBlog.

Richard Kurpewicz
Richard Kurpewicz at a pipeline safety conference in New Orleans. ©2013 Julie Dermansky

Fairchild and Crawford are part of a group of landowners who live with the southern route of the Keystone XL pipeline on their property and who, along with environmentalists, met with Roderick Seeley, director of the Southwest Region of PHMSA, to ask questions about the inspection process they witnessed in January.

The group presented documentation of shoddy construction practices and questioned the regulators about their absence during the pipeline installation and repair process. PHMSA representatives conceded they don’t have enough inspectors to watch everything but said, despite their absence in the field, they have “faith in the process.”

“At the meeting, PHMSA assured us that all the problems we referenced had been fixed, even though that assertion was based almost entirely on taking TransCanada’s word for it,” the Tar Sands Blockade recently wrote on its blog. “PHMSA’s inspections only occurred an average of 2-3 times per month.”

The group that attended the meeting requested that a new pressure test of the pipeline be done to test the welds on the numerous repairs. A pressure test can pinpoint faulty girth welds. For each repair that required a segment of pipe be replaced, new girth welds were made.

“If girth welds fail, there is the danger of a rupture,” Kurpewicz told DeSmogBlog.

Evan Vokes, a former TransCanada mechanical engineer turned whistleblower, points out: “Flaws in girth welds are not easy to catch, so each new section introduced into the pipeline adds another potential weakest link.” He too believes a new pressure test is merited.

Evan Vokes at a pipeline safety conference in Dallas, Texas.  ©2013 Julie Dermansky 

The new conditions PHSMA added to the U.S. Department of State Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the Keystone XL Pipeline came after meeting with the concerned landowners in January.

Crawford finds the timing suspect. “The new conditions indicate trust and faith are no longer enough for the regulatory agency,” she told DeSmog Blog.

According to the Associated Press story on the new conditions, the defects in the southern route of the pipeline “have all been fixed,” but the story doesn’t explain how they came to that conclusion.

TransCanada is singing from the same song sheet.

“The Gulf Coast Pipeline is the safest oil pipeline built in the United States to date,” Davis Sheremata, spokesman for TransCanada, told DeSmogBlog. “TransCanada is implementing a construction quality and integrity program like none before. The fact we conducted investigative digs after our inspections discovered these issues is a sign that our quality management programs work.”

TransCanada repair site
Repair site on the southern route of the Keystone XL in Texas. ©2013 Julie Dermansky 

PHMSA’s warning letters to TransCanada and the advocacy group Public Citizen’s report about the southern route of the pipeline tell another story. A high rate of welding failures are cited by PHMSA, and Public Citizen’s report cites code violations that call into question the pipeline’s integrity.

“We have very few tools to work with,” Jeffrey Wiese, PHMSA’s safety official, told industry insiders at a pipeline safety conference in New Orleans in 2013,  according to an Inside Climate News report. But that doesn’t explain why regulators did nothing more than issue warning letters to TransCanada after identifying code violations, opting not to fine or sanction the company.

Vokes doubts the new conditions will change anything. “If sanctions are not levied, there will be no improvement in the system,” he said.

“If PHMSA believes the public is in danger, they have the power to shut down a project,” Kurpewicz told DeSmogBlog.

And that is what the Tar Sands Blockade is asking PHMSA to do now. They have called for the pipeline to be shut down until a new pressure test is done.

Fairchild can’t understand why the government won’t require a new test. It was the government that allowed TransCanada to confiscate people’s land using eminent domain laws to build the pipeline, so the government should at least assure its safety.

In May, Fairchild reached a settlement with TransCanada over the company’s use of her land and a SLAPP suit. Criminal charges for trespassing on her own land with Daryl Hannah to stand in the path of earth-moving vehicles were dismissed as part of the settlement.

Fairchild insisted that TransCanada apologize to her for calling her an eco-terrorist before she would accept the settlement. She got the apology, but it is of little consolation since she is living next to a pipeline that she is certain will fail.

Permanent link to this article: https://tarsandsblockade.org/jd-special-conditions/

New “Special Conditions” Placed on TransCanada Demonstrate Regulatory Negligence During KXL South Construction

pipelinecutoutThis week the AP reported that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) slipped two new “special conditions” into Appendix Z of the State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for KXL North. For the past 5 years TransCanada has been bragging –ad nauseum– about 57 special safety conditions that it agreed to, hoping to give the impression that it cares deeply about the safety of KXL South. Well, even though 42 of these “special conditions” are no different than the existing federal minimum safety standards that apply to all pipeline operators (hence not special at all), after seeing TransCanada’s shoddy work in Oklahoma and Texas PHMSA now believes at least two more special conditions are needed. Here they are:

1. Keystone would develop and implement a Quality Management System that would apply to the construction of the entire Keystone XL project in the U.S. to ensure that this pipeline is –from the beginning– built to the highest standards by both Keystone personnel and its many contractors; and

2. Keystone would hire an independent Third Party Inspection Company (TPIC) to monitor the construction of the Keystone XL project. PHMSA must approve the TPIC from among companies Keystone proposes. Keystone and PHMSA would work together to develop a scope of work to help ensure that all regulatory and technical EIS conditions are satisfied during the construction and commissioning of the pipeline project. The TPIC would oversee the execution and implementation of the DOS-specified conditions and the applicable pipeline safety regulations and would provide monitoring summaries to PHMSA and Keystone concurrently. Keystone would address deficiencies or risks identified in the TPIC’s assessments.

The AP points to KXL South’s “horrible” weld rejection rates and the shocking number of excavations/repairs needed to fix the many dents, sags and damaged pipe coating as the rationale for why regulators have added these two new special conditions. An analyst sums it up in saying that PHMSA “was uncomfortable with the construction of Keystone south and that was part of their reasoning for imposing additional conditions on the northern leg.”

Of course Tar Sands Blockade is also uncomfortable with the construction of KXL South, for reasons well documented here and here (and pretty much everywhere on this website); however, we believe that the way this story is being talked about in the media completely sidesteps the important discussion of accountability for TransCanada’s shoddy work on the southern leg. So now that the south is screwed with this inadequate and dangerous pipeline, is tightening regulations to make the northern segment safer the only thing we should be talking about?

It is entirely unreasonable that PHMSA allows KXL South to stay online when it openly acknowledges systemic procedural flaws during the construction process. These two new special conditions should absolutely be viewed as PHMSA’s response to what it learned during the construction of KXL South. PHMSA is acknowledging that it has identified major procedural flaws that require immediate reform.

So let’s unpack the ‘lessons learned’ implicit in these new regulations. Firstly, if PHMSA is only now requiring that TransCanada “develop and implement a Quality Management System that would apply to the construction of the entire Keystone XL project,” the implication is that such a system was either entirely ineffective or did not exist at all when KXL South was built. Second, if a “Third Party Inspection Company” is necessary for sufficient oversight, but no such contractor existed when the southern leg was built, then this new condition is nothing less than PHMSA recognizing that it does not have the capacity to do the inspection/oversight work with which it was tasked.

Excerpt from PHMSA inspection of Keystone South Taken together, these two new special conditions indicate that during KXL South’s construction both TransCanada’s internal quality management and PHMSA’s external inspection program were inadequate, if not fatally flawed. Moreover, the failures implied by these new conditions beg the question: If TransCanada wasn’t adequately inspecting its own work, and PHMSA didn’t have the third party inspection company it needed for effective oversight, was anyone actually watching TransCanada?

Tar Sands Blockade was! And on January 9th, along with a coalition of impacted KXL landowners and other Texas organizers, we presented our findings/documentation of shoddy construction practices to a room full of PHMSA officials including both the Regional Director and the Operations Supervisor. PHMSA assured us that all the problems we referenced had been fixed, even though that assertion was based almost entirely on taking TransCanada’s word for it, not from field inspections conducted by PHMSA itself (which only occurred an average of 2-3 times per month).

Given the outrageous rate of weld failures and anomaly excavations, many people living along the pipeline route were demanding that the entire line be retested before it went into service. TransCanada installed the pipeline, conducted inline testing, found hundreds of problems, “fixed” them (without any verification process), and never conducted another inline test to prove those fixes were done adequately.

“Why is TransCanada, the company that constructed this pipeline across my farm held to a different quality control standard than the company that manufactured my car, or my laptop, or my breakfast cereal for that matter?” Asks Texas farmer Julia Trigg Crawford, who has fought TransCanada’s eminent domain claims all the way to the Texas Supreme Court. “Recalls and re-inspections are absolutely required when faults are found, and this troubled pipeline is no exception.  Keystone’s Southern leg should be shut down and fully retested before allowed to continue.”

Furthermore, TSB witnessed many safety code violations that occurred in the initial construction process, which are the direct cause of many of the failures caught by testing. Specifically, rocks in the ditches caused large dents. Dented pipe was replaced but the rocks remain in the ditches waiting to cause future dents. PHMSA also warned about  additional code violations related to inadequate support of the pipe and under-packed soil. This led to sagging, putting external stresses on the pipe and the welds. This pipeline is still inadequately supported and the soil has yet to be correctly packed.  PHMSA has stated it has no intent to follow up.


Picture of bad welds from inside the Keystone XL pipeline prior to being buried. Dec 2012.

The Regional Director’s response to all this, “We have faith in TransCanada’s program.” HA! Obviously the idea of faith-based regulation is ludicrous to begin with, but even more so, now that it’s clear PHMSA does NOT have faith in TransCanada’s process (implication of first new special condition), it’s left without any explanation as to why it will not consider shutting down KXL South, at least for retesting.

So here we are, months later, after being told by PHMSA that it will not ask TransCanada for additional inline testing because it has faith and trust in TransCanada’s process, only to find out that actually PHMSA believes an entirely new quality management process is necessary before TransCanada is allowed to build the northern leg.

Regulatory inaction has major implications for those living along the route of Keystone south. Do communities have to wait until there’s a major leak, perhaps a few destroyed waterways, before the problems with this pipeline are addressed? It’s time for PHMSA to move up and do the job it’s charged with, making sure pipelines are built safely and according to code, or not at all (preferably). The first step PHMSA should take is to turn KXL off and retest.

Permanent link to this article: https://tarsandsblockade.org/special-conditions/