Just when it seemed that the Keystone XL pipeline was on hold, TransCanada Corp. segments the project and the U.S. government fast tracks the environmental review process. This allows TransCanada to begin construction on the southern part of the Keystone XL this summer.
With a non-violent direct action camp that starts today in East Texas, grassroots opposition is working on a construction project of its own: Tar Sands Blockade.
Building in segments, trying to get around pipeline opposition
The Keystone XL pipeline was originally proposed as a single pipeline that went from Alberta to Texas. However, in February, TransCanada announced that the southern part of the Keystone XL had become a separate, Gulf Coast Project, pipeline.
TransCanada spokesperson David Dodson characterizes the Gulf Coast pipeline as important for the energy security of the United States. According to Dodson, domestic “producers do not have access to enough pipeline capacity to move the production to the large refining market along the U.S. Gulf Coast.”
In March, U.S. President Barack Obama expedited the review process for pipelines going from Oklahoma to Texas. “In part due to rising domestic production, more oil is flowing in than can flow out, creating a bottleneck that is dampening incentives for new production while restricting oil from reaching state-of-the-art refineries on the Gulf Coast,” reads the president's March 22 memo. In an 86-word sentence, the president goes on to explain that all agencies are to “coordinate and expedite their reviews, consultations, and other processes as necessary to expedite decisions related to domestic pipeline infrastructure projects.”
Following the President's order to expedite the review process, the Sierra Club, Oklahoma and Texas landowners and the Texas communities of Reklaw, Gallatin and Alto filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which issues water permits.
According to USACE, TransCanada requested “multiple Nationwide Permit (NWP) 12 verifications for work in waters and wetlands related to the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project” from the Galveston, Tulsa and Fort Worth Districts.
Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson Ron Seifert explained that the President was under no obligation to come forward and expedite the Gulf Coast Project review process. From his perspective: “The President expedited the project not because he had to, but because he wanted to show support for our oil and gas industry. It wasn't mandated by any laws. But in doing so our Environmental Protection Agency was persuaded to stand down and the result is that the more thorough water crossing investigations and hearings along the pipeline route are basically bypassed.”
USACE names environmental sustainability as a guiding principle.
A lesson from Enbridge
Another organization that highlights its interest in sustainability is Enbridge Inc. The company joined forces with the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business on March 27, 2012 to unveil the Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability.
But the name Enbridge is more likely to evoke images of its 2010 oil spill disaster -- the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history -- these days.
In its July 25 report on the Enbridge oil spill disaster, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) twice recommends that Enbridge:
"Require operators of natural gas transmission and distribution pipelines and hazardous liquid pipelines to provide system-specific information about their pipeline systems to the emergency response agencies of the communities and jurisdictions in which those pipelines are located. This information should include pipe diameter, operating pressure, product transported, and potential impact radius."
Seifert from Tar Sands Blockade indicated that TransCanada has not disclosed the pipeline contents to landowners. Seifert expressed concern about what is used to dilute bitumen in a phone interview from Texas. This is necessary because bitumen in itself is too thick to flow through pipelines. And there is fear that dilbit will come through the Gulf Coast Project if the northern part of the Keystone XL is built.
Referring to the NTSB report, Seifert says: “Enbridge increased their pipeline pressure on several occasions leading up to the accident. They did that because they were getting false readings from gas bubbles in their pipe. So that's an endemic flaw of tar sands dilbit because they mix and dilute tar sands with this natural gas condensate, which creates gas pockets and creates false pressure readings.”
Council of Canadians Energy and Climate Justice Campaigner Maryam Adrangi concurs with Seifert's observation about the pipeline industry's lack of transparency. “They talk a lot about hypothetical [pipeline] routes lately. You think in the back of your mind, these companies have to have an idea of where they want to putting these projects. There's just a general lack of transparency when it comes down to it,” said Adrangi in a phone interview from Vancouver.
According to TransCanada's David Dodson, the southern part of the Keystone XL pipeline will carry heavy crude oil.
TransCanada In Canada
Amid a flurry of recent Northern B.C. development proposals, which includes Enbridge's fiercely opposed Northern Gateway proposal, TransCanada recently announced that it had won a $4 billion contract to build the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline for Shell.
The Coastal GasLink pipeline would be a 700 kilometre LNG pipeline designed to deliver natural gas from near Dawson Creek to LNG Canada's proposed liquefied natural gas facility near Kitimat.
The route would be similar to the one proposed for Northern Gateway, but this pipeline is of the post C-38 generation. UBS Securities analyst Chad Friess expects Coastal GasLink to have an easier time than the Enbridge proposal. It's "subject to the accelerated regulatory review,” says Friess in an interview with Reuters.
Whether TransCanada's Coastal GasLink will be as fiercely opposed as Enbridge's Northern Gateway is yet to be seen. In this, the Harper government's agenda seems to be the one thing that is predictable. Adrangi notes that “we talk about the mining industry, tar sands or LNG pipelines, but a lot of them are connected to how [Prime Minister] Harper thinks. This guy really pushes the export agenda and makes it all about natural resources.”
Christine Leclerc is a Vancouver-based author and activist. She is an editor of the recently published collection The Enpipe Line: 70,000+ kilometres of poetry written in resistance to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines proposal. You can follow her on Twitter @xineleclerc.