Public Citizen Calls on PHMSA, TransCanada to Fix a Broken KXL South

On Tuesday, the watchdog group Public Citizen (PC) issued a report documenting numerous forms of code violations and shoddy construction practices evidenced while TransCanada was constructing the southern leg of Keystone XL, specifically during the summer when the brand new pipeline was dug up for repairs at least 125 times over a 250-mile stretch through Texas.

PHMSA Must Issue a Corrective Action Order to Reinstall the Keystone XL Southern Segment

Public Citizen’s 28-page report can be downloaded here. It’s actually a quick and straightforward read which we highly recommend! Here’s a summary:

  1. Public Citizen begins with various summarial and introductory statements:
    1. describing the unique risks that tar sands spills pose as evidenced by spills in Kalamazoo, Michigan in June 2010 and Mayflower, Arkansas in March this year;
    2. describing TransCanada’s claims about Keystone XL being one of the “safest pipelines ever built” and weighing that against the many spring and summer months in which TransCanada had to dig up and re-bury their pipe to address dozens upon dozens of “anomalies” all over Texas;
    3. listing and describing instances in years past in which previous TransCanada pipelines have spilled, ruptured, and exploded, and instances of environmental and federal code violations which prompted a federal investigation and convictions of four executives.
  2. On page 7, PC then makes its call-out to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to:

    1. “Conduct a detailed review of TransCanada’s construction quality assurance records;
    2. Determine whether state and federal laws have been violated;
    3. Require TransCanada to repeat a hydrotest of the entire Keystone XL southern segment in light of all the excavations and repairs, to ensure that all the anomalies are corrected and no additional construction problems exist;
    4. Require a rerun of the caliper inline inspection tool (a robotic device that can check the
      internal integrity of the pipe) to make sure that the significant amount of rework has repaired
      the problems and not introduced more anomalies; and
    5. Not permit operations on the southern segment of the Keystone XL to start until the entire
      line has been hydrotested and a thorough review of TransCanada’s construction quality assurance records is done.”
  3. On page 9, PC gets into complaints of shoddy construction practices from landowners, including David Whitley, David Holland, and Eleanor Fairchild. Some noteworthy complaints are:
    1. Whitley noted that a construction worker trespassed onto Whitley’s property (construction workers are required to stay on the easement granted to them for construction purposes but otherwise can’t trespass onto landowners’ properties) and “installed a sump pump hose that was sending silty water from a flooded trench into his creek”;
    2. (page 15) on Whitley and Holland’s property, construction workers failed to keep the arable topsoil separate from the more sterile subsurface clays. They were mixed together during construction, essentially rendering what was otherwise arable grass and crop-supporting dirt suitable for grazing and agricultural purposes no longer useful;
    3. on the bottom-right corner of page 9 is a picture of Eleanor Fairchild standing deep in a crevasse that was not there before KXL construction workers came, which was *formed by them*. Disturbing video evidence of what Fairchild’s land is and looks like post-construction can be viewed here.
  4. The paper then gets into Public Citizen’s findings, which include:
    1. signs of exterior damage and poor coating repairs. In particular, on pages 11 and 12, you can see pictures of green patches painted on white paint. In order for the patches to stick, the green coating needs to be bonded to the pipe itself, not on paint that’s already on the pipe, rendering the patch jobs ineffective and useless. Indeed, on the upper-left corner image on page 12, you can see one of the coatings peeling away!
    2. sags and bends in the pipeline;
    3. dents;
    4. insufficient support of the pipe in the trench, leading to unintentional stresses on the pipe;
    5. improperly handled soil (e.g. mixing arable topsoil with infertile subsurface clays);
    6. improper back-filling of dirt below the pipe, not clearing rocks and debris from under and around the pipe;
    7. insufficient welding inspections. When a weld needs to be re-done, the section around the weld needs to be cut out and replaced with a smaller section of pipe, leading to two welds replacing one bad weld. These two welds were quality tested using Radiography Testing (RT), which is less precise as compared to Automated Ultrasonic Testing (AUT), while TransCanada boasts as being the “only company in North America that regularly uses automated ultrasonic testing” (page 17).
  5. On pages 19-22, PC details a history of pipeline construction problems, examples include:
    1. Keystone 1, which had 12 spills within one year of operations despite that TransCanada reported to PHMSA that Keystone 1 was expected to have a major spill at most once every 7 years;
    2. Bison 1, a natural gas pipeline that exploded near Gillette, Wyoming in July 2011, within 6 months after it began operation;
    3. Iroquois pipeline, whose shoddy construction led to a federal investigation in which four senior TransCanada executives “pleaded guilty to federal and state environmental and safety violations” (page 21).
  6. PC concludes by summarizing and re-iterating its asks.

Tar Sands Blockade fully agrees with the asks that Public Citizen has put forward but notes that the Public Citizen report has demonstrated numerous dubious construction practices that cannot and will not be alleviated merely by re-conducting hydrostatic and PIG (pipeline inspection gauge) tests of the pipeline. Those patches will still surely peel off (upper-right image, page 12), and back-filling was not adequately done: no number of hydrostatic or PIG tests will fix that. Rather, in addition to Public Citizen’s asks, Tar Sands Blockade calls upon PHMSA to issue a Corrective Action Order to TransCanada to dig up the pipe all throughout Texas and Oklahoma and to do it right, and to test each weld with Automated Ultrasonic Testing.

On Tuesday, CBS News reported on the Public Citizen report and on warning letters (click here and here to see two from last September) issued by PHMSA to get TransCanada to correct its defective pipe. CBS News has caught on to the fact that TransCanada’s “culture of regulatory non-compliance” is a problem for Oklahoma and Texas families whose homes will have a leaky toxic river flowing through it should pipeline regulator, PHMSA, do nothing to address the shoddy construction we’ve been documenting for more than a year!

Watch the CBS News report here:

Without reinstallation, KXL South will leak over time even if TransCanada does what Public Citizen is asking for: hydrostatic and PIG testing of the entire line. These measures will not account for the trenches being filled with boulders, the pipe being unsupported in numerous locations and eventually sagging, the fact that the re-welds required backfill below and around the pipe that cannot comply with soil compaction standards, the numerous places where the pipe was placed in wetlands and eventual erosion threatens to expose the pipe, or where external patches were inadequately placed over already peeling coating which will corrode and leak.

KXL South was clearly installed without regard to long-established, industry-wide safety regulations. To fulfill its public service, PHMSA must issue a Corrective Action Order for KXL South to be re-installed correctly, from scratch, before tar sands begin pumping through it.

PHMSA cannot allow KXL South to operate based on its current installation without acknowledging their grossly negligent attitude with respect to pipeline safety law. Texas and Oklahoma families deserve better.

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