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Anthony Swift’s Blog

Republican Keystone XL bill is not as advertised: Here are the facts

Anthony Swift

Posted January 24, 2012 in Moving Beyond Oil, U.S. Law and Policy

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The Republican leadership’s latest gambit to force through TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a measure proposed by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) in December. GOP leadership apparently decided to rally behind Terry’s bill, H.R. 3548, after discussing various options with TransCanada in a conference call. It’s easy to see why TransCanada would favor this bill. Why it’s in the interest of the American people is much less clear. But the Republicans must not feel too comfortable with this plan because they are offering misleading and woefully incomplete descriptions of the bill.

Here are two important things you should know about the bill:

  1. Terry’s bill does not give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) authority to consider granting Keystone XL a Presidential permit. Instead, the bill mandates approval of the pipeline – it does not give FERC actual decision making authority.
  2. Terry’s bill would exempt the pipeline from critical environmental requirements that apply to every other pipeline in the United States – laws that govern pipeline operators’ liability and clean up responsibilities for oil spills that contaminate the nation’s air and water.

Terry is selling his H.R. 3548 as a vehicle to take Keystone XL decision away from a political body and “letting the experts on pipelines make decisions on whether this is a sound pipeline.” There is a big problem with this argument. Terry’s bill only authorizes FERC to “approve” Keystone XL within thirty days – the bill doesn’t actually give the agency authority to deny a permit for the pipeline. If FERC does not act, Keystone XL would be approved under Congressional authority in thirty days. Terry is only interested in FERC if the agency agrees with him.

It’s only fair to point out that FERC doesn’t agree with Terry. The agency has pointed out that the Nebraska Congressman has misrepresented its expertise and jurisdiction. While not addressing Terry’s bill specifically, FERC’s spokeswoman noted that the agency does not oversee oil pipeline siting decisions or safety standards.

It is interesting that pro-Keystone XL Congress members haven’t discussed the second part of the Terry bill, which would exempt TransCanada from state and federal regulations that domestic pipeline operators must abide by. The bill would exempt TransCanada from any U.S. law other than the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHSMA) safety regulations and FERC’s authority to regulate pipelines rates.

That means TransCanada will be free to disregard the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act – laws that, among other things, make pipeline operators responsible for the spills that pollute the nation’s air and water. Republican leadership has not made the case why TransCanada should be exempted from the laws with which U.S. pipeline companies must comply. It’s a hard case to make, given that Keystone I, the first crude pipeline owned and operated by TransCanada, spilled over 22,000 gallons and was the newest pipeline to be shut down by pipeline regulators as an imminent threat to public safety and the environment.

Our lawmakers need to take serious steps to achieve energy independence and get our country back to work. Investments and jobs in clean energy is something our country can get behind. So why is Speaker Boehner pushing a divisive project that isn’t shovel ready and threatens our country’s land and water? He seems to be playing politics with the concerns of Americans to benefit Big Oil.

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Comments

BSJan 24 2012 07:57 PM

Ironic that you complain about the Republicans being misleading when your previous two articles were blatantly inaccurate and obvious attempts to promote your agenda even when the facts are not in your favor.

Where is your credibility? Why should I believe any part of this article?

Sharon Al-HaddadJan 25 2012 02:05 PM

Dear BS

Not having read the previous two articles concerning inaccuraties I can't address that issues other than to say sometimes peoles are given inaccurate information and go with thrir best. There may be several reasons for this to happen. However, we know from several previous oil mishaps
the damage that can occur when it happens. we know that the oil industry thinks of profit first and enviromental dangers last. We know that the facts of a proposed bill are at some point available to read for those who want to take the time to go to the source. And we can find out about how many temporary and permanet jobs will likely be created simply ine infromatiom. We may remember too that Alaska's extreme temperatures may mean a need by more workers.

BSJan 25 2012 04:43 PM

You do not know that the oil industry puts profit first and safety/environment last. In fact, you are 100% wrong at least when it comes to the majors.

I used to work for ConocoPhillips (up until about 9 months ago). Health, Safety and Environment are ALWAYS stressed above profits. Sometimes to irrational extremes, but that's another subject.

John LiffeeJan 25 2012 08:26 PM

You do not know that the oil industry puts profit first and safety/environment last.... Health, Safety and Environment are ALWAYS stressed above profits.

Really?

Deepwater Horizon ring a bell?

That's just skimming the surface of why this statement occasioned a deep belly laugh.

BSJan 25 2012 08:39 PM

That event has changed BP for the better, but I'll be the first to say that BP needed a "culture shock", and they were an accident waiting to happen. However BP is not the norm.

Also, if you'd like to discuss committment to safety and the environment, please use statistics. Cherry-picking events at random is not helpful.

For example, the amount of liquid spilled per barrel shipped on pipelines has declined by a factor of 3x in recent years even though spill reporting requirements have become more stringent.

Safety and environmental performance in the oil industry has improved dramatically and continuously over the past 30 years or so.

We use phrases such as, "Our work is never so urgent that we cannot take the time to do it safely." And generally, all employees are empowered to step in and ensure safety/environmental issues are addressed.

Small companies do tend to have worse records than large because they lack the economies of scale that tend to make it easier to dedecate the necessary resources.

(Note, I also credit gov't regulations for the improvement and committment to safety. After all, the threat of massive fines, consent decrees, and other penalties are great motivators.)

BSJan 25 2012 08:43 PM

Actual facts rather than speculation, hyperbole, and anecdotes:

http://www.api.org/ehs/

John LiffeeJan 25 2012 10:23 PM

In what fairyland is API — which, as the oil and gas industry's largest trade association, has bankrolled more lobbying, astroturfing, and disinformation than just about any other entity — a reputable source of "fact"?

BSJan 26 2012 08:16 AM

I'll await your evidence that they are lying. Oh, you have none? You're just speculating wildly? Understood. This website seems to have a lot of that.

Go find me independent statistics if you'd like.

BSJan 27 2012 02:18 PM

John's silence speaks volumes....

CanFriendFeb 7 2012 06:35 PM

Statistically, dear BS, there are 2 pipeline leaks reported in Canada each day. i am not sure of the numbers in the US, but I can't image that they are any better.

Enbridge has reported 175 pipeline leaks in U.S. since 2002 (that only counts the company's own reporting)
http://www.ottawacitizen.com/technology/Enbridge+subsidiaries+reported+pipeline+leaks+since+2002+data/5987165/story.html

Another Enbridge pipeline has been leaking since May, and the company largely dismissed it until it reached 1500 barrels recently.

Transcanada has already has reported over a dozen spills for Keystone 1:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/29/keystone-pipeline-infographic_n_941069.html

This info took me 5 minutes to google... perhaps you should consider reading info from sources other than industry associations... just to diversify your statistics

BSFeb 8 2012 08:46 AM

That's great. You can google and cherry-pick facts. Of course pipeline spills happen, and of course they are all unacceptable.

However, listing a few examples with no perspective is not helpful. I'm not familiar with Canadian pipelines, but in the US, the amount of oil spilled per barrel shipped has declined by a factor of 3x in recent years. This as the US gov't has made the definition of a significant spill much more strict. (In 2002 PHMSA lowered the definition of a reportable spill from 50 barrels to 5 gallons.)

The comments abot the Keystone spills are getting old. Yes, they messed up on the startup of the system. How have they done since then? And how much of the spills when the system was starting up actually caused any damage? (None, as I understand they were all spilled into containment and quickly cleaned up.)

With respect to the number of leaks reported per day in the US, I am not certain. The number of "incidents" reported by the PHMSA is less than1 per day for hazardous liquid lines, and not all incidents result in leaks. The frequency of incidents is on a steady decline in spite of the fact that more and more oil is being shipped by pipeline.

More importantly than this is that we are going to continue to use oil. This oil can also be shipped by train, truck, barge, and ship. No method of transportation is free of risks. You want to prevent Keystone from being built? Fine so then we have more oil being shipped via other methods that are more risky and more energy intensive (worse for the environment). So congratulations on your accomplishemnts! Is that what you're after?

Anthony SwiftFeb 15 2012 12:03 AM

1. I keep seeing a statistic that U.S. pipelines leak three times less per barrel of crude transported over recent years. What is this based on? Pipeline regulators at PHMSA did change the way they counted spills in 2002, so one has to be careful making comparisons between pre 2002 numbers and post 2002 numbers. But I can tell you that the U.S. pipeline system spilled more from 2006-2010 (111,599 barrels) than it did from 2002-2006 (104,7860 barrels). Significantly more was unrecovered in more recent spills. And after adjusting for inflation, the annual damage done by significant incidents on the U.S. pipeline system has only increased, from $54,500,000 from ’91-’95 to $202 million a year from ’06-’10.

2. Keystone 1 had one spill of between 16,000 and 21,000 gallons – several hundred gallons did go off the premises. The pipeline is the newest pipeline to have been shut down by federal regulators – it’s poor record is not typical.

3. Regarding the comment that BP has learned it’s lesson – that remains to be seen. In 1989 after the Exxon Valdez Oil spill, Exxon and Alyeska were tasked with the cleanup – BP was the major shareholder of Alyseka. Both Exxon and Alyeska received documented blame for inefficiency and incompetence in that cleanup. Accidents do happen, but the ramifications of the PR from the cleanup should have been a wakeup call to BP. In March of 2005 a major explosion at the British Petroleum owned Texas City Refinery in Houston killed 15 workers and injured nearly 200. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board concluded that British Petroleum was negligent in implementing safety recommendations. That is a matter of record. The conclusion of that report and numerous lawsuits since, have documented that the cost of implementing appropriate safety recommendations was a contributing factor in BP’s failure to address those issues. A year later (March 2006) the failure of a BP operated feeder line on the North Slope resulted in a major oil spill. The resulting inspection identified severe corrosion, resulting from improper maintenance as the cause. That corrosion had several years to develop, unnoticed. That is also a matter of record. Federal records and whistle blowers reported that budget cuts during the oil depression were a contributing factor to safety/maintenance shortcuts which resulted in the pipe failure. Economics again appears to have trumped safety and environmental concerns. One more wake up call. Four years later (April 2010) the Deepwater Horizon blowout occurred. Again, courts have laid the blame primarily on British Petroleum. Seems to be a pattern to me…

4. Safety is a potential issue among both major companies and independents – they are subject to the same set of pressures. However, because they have the financial wherewithal, they CAN make much bigger mistakes than an independent.

5. BS and I both appear to agree with the National Transportation Safety Board, which found that better federal regulations are critical in preventing serious pipeline accidents following its investigation of the San Bruno pipeline disaster.

BSFeb 16 2012 08:52 PM

1--During the time period you referenced, total barrel-miles shipped increased, so you're not quite comparing apples to apples. But in any case, I mentioned 2002 because I was talking about a longer period of time for that trend. phmsa keeps relevant statistics, although you have to guestimate the barrel-miles to make an appropriate metric.

2--You're right that Keystone 1 had a rough start. They sure didn't help their case for their next pipeline. But unless I'm mistaken, they've fixed all their initial issues and are doing just fine.

3--I don't have any defense of BP. I've had personal experience with one of their pipelines, and have seen firsthand some of the way they neglected their assets. The industry has, however, changed a lot since the BP spill, and the other oil majors, who also stand to lose a lot if BP screws up have helped influence things for the better.

4--Your statement doesn't mean a whole lot. Safety is a potential issue ever second of every person's life.

5--I've limited my comments to hazardous liquids lines. What PG&E did (or didn't do) was mind-blowing. The issues they had with their pipe are the same issues many liquid pipelines have had with theirs. The difference being that on the liquids side, they've done a good job addressing them. I hope PG&E is not the norm. Also, we're talking about Keystone, which will bypass areas with people.

I appreciate the response, but you really haven't gotten to the heart of the most blatant lies that come from this site.

For example: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/lizbb/state_department_inspector_gen.html

Please see this article. Can you address my question as to why the first paragraph of this article says the exact opposite of the conclusion of the report it references? The author is too chicken to do so.

I see they've already changed the title of the article, but left the false statement, which confirms that the NRDC is fully aware that it is lying to its readers.

Comments are closed for this post.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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