Tar Sands Start Flowing Through Oklahoma, Texas

by Rona Fried

It’s a sad day for those of us who strongly oppose the use of tar sands oil because today, the southern leg of the infamous Keystone pipeline has been turned on, carrying 700,000 gallons a day of the dirtiest oil on earth.

For the first time, oil companies have a way to export tar sands oil where they can get much higher prices than selling to the US.

Rock legend Neil Young just completed his week-long "Honour the Treaties" tour, raising $500,000 for Canada’s First Nations legal defense fund – currently fighting expansion of Shell’s Jackpine mine, which was approved last month on their lands.

Canada’s government is "completely out of control" when it comes to tar sands and the environment, he says. Tar sands production has transformed part of Canada into a "wasteland" that "looks like Hiroshima," he says. That wasteland used to the Boreal Forest, one of the most important and biodiverse climate sinks on earth. That’s where Shell is expanding into.

But this is what President Obama encouraged when he fast-tracked the southern leg. Whether he’ll approved the entire Keystone pipeline is still anyone’s guess.

Carrying oil from Oklahoma through Texas to the Gulf, the southern leg now threatens those that live along the pipeline with the strong prospect of ruptures and accidents. The slew of pipeline accidents we’ve seen over the past few years, from Kalamazoo to Arkansas, have shined a light on how fragile old pipelines are and how poor the inspection process is. And how measly the fines are when oil companies get caught.

People that live along the pipeline route have launched an oversight group, Texas Pipeline Watch. They are arming landowners and citizens with cameras to document every leak, spill, or other potential problem. "This will be the biggest neighborhood watch ever," landowner Trigg Crawford told Environment News Service. She is suing TransCanada for building on on her land without her permission. Just 27 inspectors are available for the 5 state region.

The $2.3 billion southern leg is a brand new pipeline, but it is riddled with sags, dents, welding flaws and a litany of structural problems, says Public Citizen. It passes 630 streams and rivers in Texas.

"What appears to be problematic construction and corner-cutting raises questions not only about the chances of a spill, but also about the quality of TransCanda’s in-house inspection system, as well as the ability of the federal government to oversee the process," warns Public Citizen.

In 2012, a former TransCanada employee blew the whistle, alleging that substandard inspection and welding practices are rife throughout the company’s pipeline network. Ruptures are inevitable, he said.

After Kalamazoo, Congress did pass legislation to overhaul pipeline safety laws, but the agency charged with doing so is chronically underfunded and understaffed. Because of that, it’s been forced to leave much of the responsibility to the states and the companies who own the pipelines.

Jeffrey Wiese, who heads the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration’s Office of Pipeline Safety (part of the Department of Transportation), says he has few tools to work with. "Do I think I can hurt a major international corporation with a $2 million civil penalty?", he asked. Although they are working on new regulations that could take years.

Since 2006, only 20% of the 2.6 million miles of pipelines in the US (which also carry natural gas and hazardous chemicals) have been inspected, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). That’s because Congress has allocated funds for just 135 inspectors. About 300 more help from the states.

To his credit, President Obama has consistently asked Congress to approve more funds – 60% for this year – but so far that’s fallen on deaf ears.

While proponents of the Keystone pipeline like to crow about the 2000 temporary construction jobs it would create, 300,000 people would be employed if we fixed the crumbling gas and water pipelines that already exist, concludes the study, The Keystone Pipeline Debate: An Alternative Job Creation Strategy.

Not only is tar sands bitumen incredibly difficult to clean up after a rupture, people who live near tar sands refineries are at greater risk of getting cancer and heart problems tied to intense sulfur dioxide pollution, according to a ForestEthics report.

Tar Sands Refineries

The US imports an estimated 99% of Canada’s tar sands production. 

Read our article about how people have reacted who live along the southern leg,  Texas Land Grab Galvanizes Keystone XL Opponents.

Along the proposed Keystone route, landowners that have resisted leasing their land for the pipeline are being offered skyrocketing amounts of cash to change their minds. For example, one landowner says their original offer of $8900 is now up to $62,000.


Rona Fried, Ph.D. is CEO of SustainableBusiness.com

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Comments on “Tar Sands Start Flowing Through Oklahoma, Texas”

  1. Mike Priaro

    Study after study shows that well-to-wheel GHG emissions from gasoline produced from bitumen (there is no such thing as tar sands)is lower than from some heavy conventional crudes and is only 5-15% higher than gasoline produced from light crudes.

    In regards to GHG emissions, the problem is not Alberta’s bitumen sands or dilbit pipelines but the wasteful and ineffient consumption of fossil fuels by North Americans and the rise of industry, personal transportation, and the middle class in highly populated countries like China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey.

    Environmentalists would do better to spend their time addressing the disease, not the symptoms.

  2. trevor marr

    I work in the Canadian Oilsands, we are baffled at the ridiculous slander that the enviros spew falsely, our industry is regulated, environmental, responsible and we provide many jobs to Americans both directly and indirectly, we are ethical and a secure source of oil to help keep North America independent and competitive in a competitive world. The enviro slander is actually funded by the Middle East, because they don’t want energy independence, they want us to be Middle East dependent! Canadian Oil is the BEST choice for North America!


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