A Few Thoughts on the Keystone Pipeline
Pipelines leak. We know this. Are they worth the cost?
By Charles P. Pierce November 17, 2017
As part of my coverage of our old friend, the Keystone XL pipeline, the continent-spanning death-funnel and eternal conservative fetish object, I have attended several ceremonies at which Native American offered ritual prayers for the project’s demise. Because I am a spiritual daredevil, I was quite moved by these. Because I am something of a skeptic, I didn’t think you could pray away the forces of greed that are behind this misbegotten attempt to bring the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel from the blasted moonscape of northern Alberta through the hemisphere’s most valuable farmland. Now, I’m beginning to wonder.
Next Monday, the Public Service Commission of Nebraska will announce its ruling on whether or not the pipeline will be allowed to cross that state. Unfortunately for TransCanada, the energy behemoth that owns the pipeline, the pipeline itself isn’t with the marketing plan. This is because it is a pipeline, and pipelines leak. They always leak. From The Washington Post:
“The spill on the first Keystone pipeline is the latest in a series of leaks that critics of the new pipeline say shows that TransCanada should not receive another permit. TransCanada, which has a vast network of oil and natural gas pipelines, said that the latest leak occurred about 35 miles south of the Ludden pump station, which is in southeast North Dakota, and that it was “completely isolated” within 15 minutes. The company said it obtained permission from the landowner to assess the spill and plan cleanup.”
Of course, there’s no reason to believe anything TransCanada says at this point, and 210,000 gallons sounds like a whole mess of tar-sands gloop to have in your field. If something like this happens in or near the Ogalalla Aquifer in Nebraska, you can kiss some of the world’s most arable farmland goodbye. That is what the Native holy men are defending with their prayers. They certainly have a point. Because pipelines leak, because they’re pipelines, and pipelines always leak.
Follow up from Charles P. Pierce:
There’s Still a Long Way to Go for the Keystone Pipeline
Including many, many more lawsuits.
By Charles P. Pierce November 20, 2017
The Nebraska Public Service Commission on Monday approved our old friend, the Keystone XL pipeline, the continent-spanning death funnel and longtime conservative fetish object. The vote was 3-2, with one Republican member of the PSC jumping to the opposition. This will be celebrated as the final victory for the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel—and for TransCanada, the land-grabbing foreign behemoth that trafficks in it. (Here’s Exhibit A, from The Washington Post.) But there’s many a slip twixt Alberta and Houston, as they’re saying around Marshall County, South Dakota these days.
First of all, there’s no question that the 210,000 gallons of noxious gloop that spilled all over Marshall County last week had an impact on the final PSC vote, making it closer than it might have been. This would indicate that at least part of official Nebraska is increasingly nervous about running tar-sands through or near the most important aquifer on the continent. However, because of skids that were, ah, greased earlier in the process, the state was not allowed to review or to govern on the issues of spillage and public safety. This was ludicrous at the time and looks even more so in the light of current events.
Second, and this is the most important part, the PSC tossed a joker into the deck that most people will overlook. Luckily, we have The Omaha World-Herald to suss the whole thing out:
‘In a 3-2 vote, the Nebraska Public Service Commission OK’d the so-called “mainline alternative route” for the controversial 36-inch crude oil pipeline, a path that would parallel about 100 miles of the route of the existing Keystone pipeline across the state. TransCanada built the Keystone and has proposed to build the Keystone XL. The decision, while giving the Canadian firm a route across Nebraska, raises many questions. One is that about 40 new landowners, along the 63 new miles of the alternative route, must be contacted to obtain right-of-way agreements for the underground pipe.’
Back in the good old days, before the people of Nebraska got their backs up concerning the high-handed way TransCanada was treating them, the company simply would have grabbed up some of the land along the new route while paying off the owners of the rest of it. But now, Nebraska’s had quite enough of the company, its officials, its pipeline, and the entire project in general. The 40 landowners on the route that the PSC approved likely will avail themselves of all the due process that they are, well, due.
As Crystal Rhoades, a member of the PSC who voted against the pipeline, wrote in her dissenting opinion:
“The route violates the due process of landowners. There are at least 40 landowners along the approved route who may not even know that their land is in this pipeline’s path. Since they might not know that they are in the path of the pipeline, they may not have participated in this proceeding.”
In addition, the State Department hasn’t approved this new route, so that whole process has to begin again. And even if you assume that State will rubber-stamp the new route, and even if you assume that Rex Tillerson has left enough people in place in that department to turn the lights on in the morning, I’d say it’s two more years, minimum, before TransCanada even gets a chance to uncrate its shovels. And that’s not even taking into account the inevitable appeal, the equally inevitable blizzard of new lawsuits, or the promised campaign of civil disobedience. Does the company really want two more years of protracted squabbling, or worse, before it even can begin? That remains an open question.
The Keystone Pipeline Spill Could Be Up To Three Times Worse Than Previously Reported
Kimberly Ricci November 19, 2017
On Thursday, TransCanada revealed that a Keystone pipeline leak had dumped approximately 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota, and drone footage posted by the BBC confirmed the spill from the sky. The one scrap of good news was that the spill did not reach a body of water, and TransCanada claims to have contained the oil. However, Vice News has spoken with a local activist who claims to have worked alongside TransCanada. He points out that the spill contained spilled an especially dense type of crude oil. This means that the disaster could be three times worse than initially estimated, and the leak may have actually dumped up to 600,000 gallons:
‘Kent Moeckly, a nearby land owner and member of the Dakota Rural Action Group, told VICE News he’s concerned that the spill could be much larger though, in large part because the computers used to detect oil pressure drops don’t always detect small leaks. “Transcanada thought it was 200,000 gallons. What we found out working with Transcanada, it could very well be 600,000 gallons,” Moeckly said.’
The type of oil that leaked during this spill — diluted bitumen (known also as “dilbit”) — is known, according to the New York Times, as a “garbage” type of crude oil. It’s darker and denser and less desirable within the oil industry, but they’ve resorted to recovering dilbit due to the scarcity of the preferred lighter types of crude oil. Because dilbit is so thick (akin to peanut butter), pipeline companies must dilute it in order to transport it.
As Vice points out, the dense and diluted nature of the new spill likely pushed it deep into the soil, so the full size of the leak hasn’t yet become apparent. The outlet also reminds readers that TransCanada’s last big Keystone spill (occurring in April 2016) was adjusted from 187 gallons to 16,800 gallons because they were working with diluted bitumen. So, official numbers (whenever they arrive) could be so much than previously estimated.
As of now, the portion of the Keystone pipeline that runs from Alberta to Oklahoma and Illinois remains closed while news of the spill jacked crude oil prices higher. And all of this is happening while Nebraska officials consider whether to approve TransCanada’s permit for the pipeline system’s Keystone XL extension. An update on the permit is expected within the next week.