TransCanada recently announced a new major pipeline that will run tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries in the east. This raised questions about how it will impact the future of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, that would run from Canada to Texas. However, while the final decision on the northern leg is still pending, construction on the southern leg from Texas to Oklahoma is well-underway and a former TransCanada whistleblower is raising concerns about the quality of the construction.
Evan Vokes is a former employee of TransCanada and is now accusing the company of ignoring pipeline regulations and engineering codes and warns that the pipeline will likely leak.
Priscila Mosqueda at The Texas Observer reports
For five years, Vokes had inspected TransCanada projects across North America and, too often for his liking, found they were poorly constructed and didn’t meet engineering codes. He’d tried to get his superiors to address the problems, to no avail, and was fired last year. In East Texas, he found that TransCanada hadn’t changed its way—even on what may be the most controversial pipeline ever proposed for North America.
“I believe in building pipelines,” he says. “But I like to have what’s in the pipeline [stay] inside the pipeline.”
TransCanada has long contended that Keystone XL will be the safest pipeline ever built. But in East Texas, landowners are growing increasingly alarmed by what they’ve seen first-hand: multiple repairs on pipeline sections with dents, faulty welds and other anomalies. The Oklahoma-to-Texas segment of Keystone XL is 90 percent complete, according to the company, and is expected to come online later this year.
Vokes says TransCanada prioritizes staying on schedule over quality. In a 28-page complaint filed last year with the Canadian government’s pipeline regulator, he describes rampant code violations on other TransCanada projects. He claims that the repair work in Texas proves the company is still ignoring the engineering codes and regulations that guide pipeline construction and warns that Keystone XL will likely leak.
The problem is the pipe, which has been dented and repaired many, many times, as well as a combination of lax government oversight and inadequate safety regulations. For instance, after a piece is dented, cut out and replaced, it is not again tested, because regulations only require one test.
This, understandably, has Texas landowners concerned, reports the The Texas Observer:
Landowners in Texas are worried that the frequency of repairs on Keystone XL suggests there are more problems in the pipeline that haven’t been detected. They also worry about new welds; each time a piece of pipe is replaced, two new welds are needed to attach the new section to the pipeline. Because hydrotesting is required only once, these welds are never pressure-tested like the rest of the welds on the line. “I’m a little bit concerned about a leak or something now that they have cut into it and repaired it so many places,” Whitley says.
Many remain skeptical about the future safety of a pipeline that’s slated to transport diluted bitumen (“dilbit”). When the tar-like bitumen is extracted from Canada’s oil sands region, it has to be diluted using natural gas liquids that include benzene (a known carcinogen) and other chemicals. Environmentalists warn of the fuel’s carbon footprint, but fear of another dilbit spill has been more of a factor in mobilizing conservative landowners against the pipeline. The oil industry insists that dilbit is comparable to conventional crude, but watchdog groups disagree and recent spills have helped discredit that claim.
Will a similar fate befall the communities from Texas to Canada that are sitting along Keystone XL? Only time will tell, but the concerns being raised by Vokes and others unfortunately give us reason to think it eventually will.