Reports highlight construction flaws in Keystone's southern route

From ToxicLeaks

As the debate about approving or rejecting the Keystone XL oil pipeline rages in these primaries, new revelations shed a very disturbing light on one of the parts of Keystone that have already been built, the southern route. This section, also named the Keystone Gulf Coast Pipeline, stretches from the Gulf Coast to Oklahoma. That's where it connects with the other sections that go all the way to Canada. While the southern route is routinely showcased by its maker, TransCanada, as the safest pipeline ever built in the country, recent revelations prove this is far from true, and that the pipeline is a major hazard to the areas it crosses.

The pipeline had to be inspected during construction because of countless code violations[edit | edit source]

The southern route of the Keystone pipeline was completed in 2010. But increasing evidence is proving that the pipeline was not built properly and that it is completely unsafe, contrary to what TransCanada, the company that constructed it would have us believe. These revelations have to do with the numerous inspections the pipeline had to undergo during its construction. Indeed, the building of the pipeline didn't go as planned at all. It failed the mandatory safety tests and required many repairs before it could be used. These failings were extremely dangerous as they could lead to leaking or even explosions.

The inspections were conducted by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and concluded that 37 sections of pipe needed to be changed and that the pipeline's coating required mending in numerous places. Environmentalist movements like the Tar Sands Blockade or Public Citizen came to see how the repairs were done. They were very skeptical so they asked the PHMSA to conduct the safety tests again to make sure the repairs had been extensive but the PHMSA refused and claimed that there had been over 150 days of inspections, which guaranteed that the repairs were adequate. So they asked to see the reports, and it turns out that the inspections was actually much laxer than what the PHMSA claimed, which is intolerable given that the security of the people of the area depend on it.

The inspections were not nearly as thorough as they should have been[edit | edit source]

When Kathy Redman, from the Tar Sands Blockade got ahold of the inspection reports, she realized that these inspections had been incredibly lax. It turned out that there were only 66 reports and that they only represented 70 days of inspections, in other words less than half the inspections the PHMSA had said they did. Furthermore, some of this time was not actually spent on the construction site. Two inspection missions were aborted because there were some protesters at the site that were to be inspected. Why would that be a problem ? Isn't that a clear indication of the collusion between the PHMSA and TransCanada ?

Some of that time was also spent monitoring the training of the workers. While it's a good thing that the PHMSA checks that the training is adequate, doing that and inspecting the repair work is not the same thing at all. This is stressed by Evan Vokes, a former TransCanada employee turned whistleblower : "Inspecting pipeline construction is a boots on the ground activity. Any time not spent on the pipeline right of way cannot be considered time spent inspecting construction." The PHMSA still hasn't been able to explain why the time it spent on the construction site was so much shorter than what it had claimed. "The discrepancy in the number of days the agency claims it spent inspecting to the number of daily inspection reports makes me doubt PHMSA's credibility," Redman said. And what she saw in the reports added to her concern because they exposed major flaws in the pipeline.

Weak responses to significant welding and coating problems[edit | edit source]

The reports reveal the countless problems detected by the PHMSA and the total amateurism of TransCanada, although it claims to build state of the art pipelines ! For instance, one report from October 10, 2012 states that one of the welder was not using the adequate tools for his task. "That is a fundamental fuck-up," according to Vokes. "It could explain the high number of welding failures the pipeline suffered." Indeed bad welds eventually lead to slow leaks that can have a disastrous effects on the environment. "The welder and the welding inspector should have been fired on the spot," Vokes claimed.

This reflects the poor quality of the work of TransCanada, despite what they would have us believe. But more importantly it highlights criminal laxism from the PHMSA who did not take any action to get TransCanada back on track. Vokes contends that halting the construction would have been the adequate response but the PHMSA just let TransCanada carry on with its substandard work even though it was endangering the integrity of the pipeline. In another document dating from 2013, the PHMSA reports that the pipeline's coating was damaged because it had not been properly protected and had been hit by a careless worker with a shovel. Again, the PHMSA failed to take any substantial action against TransCanada although it could very well have fined the company or at least have run new safety tests to check that the problems had been solved. It didn't do any of that. And thus it let the pipeline open although the reports were clear signs that a disastrous spill was a strong probability.

TransCanada projects have a disastrous track record[edit | edit source]

These revelations are actually not a big surprise given TransCanada's track record. Although the Canadian corporation presents its pipelines as state of the art construction, there have been numerous examples of their failings and every time they put the environment and the people at risk. The North Central Corridor Loop pipeline is a case in point. This was a natural gas pipeline located in Alberta. At that time, Evan Vokes worked for TransCanada as an engineer and he warned his company that the pipeline had been built with “substandard materials” and would eventually fail but nobody heeded his alarm. Instead, they fired him.

But four years later, in 2013, the pipeline blew up and nearly killed a family that had a hunting cabin closeby. Two years before that, in 2011, another TransCanada pipeline, the Bison Pipeline, ruptured in Wyoming, although TransCanada had promised it was a newer kind of pipeline that was much safer than the previous ones. This claim fell to ashes when the natural gas pipeline ruptured before it was even used to full capacity and let millions of cubic feet of natural gas escape into the atmosphere. Clearly TransCanada has learned nothing from its past mistakes and the Keystone pipeline is as dangerous as previous projects.

All in all, this information is a strong reminder of the threats that fossil fuel pipelines create for ecosystems and communities and the need to maintain the pressure so that this administration and the next doesn't approve the Keystone XL project that would expose thousands of people to the risks of ruptures or spills.