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The State Department is currently considering the Keystone XL pipeline, expanding the Keystone pipeline carrying oil from the Canadian tar sands to Cushing, Oklahoma. The original Keystone pipeline has been in operation less than one year, and its owner TransCanada predicts no more than one spill every seven years.

Instead of one spill every seven years, oil has spilled eleven times in the last year.

Whoops.

A May 7 spill in North Dakota, spilling 500 barrels, was expected to shut the pipeline for a week, sending a geyser of oil spurting 60 feet into the air. The spill apparently occurred as a result of a valve failure at a pumping station. TransCanada's response: spills at pumping stations don't count toward the one spill every seven years estimate.

Oh, okay.

Copy_of_KeystoneXL_Map_hd_2-0x600[1]A report (pdf) explains that the Keystone pipelines carry diluted bitumen, a particularly thick, viscuous oil requiring up to 1440 pounds per square inch pressure to move through a pipeline. (The industry defines "high pressure" as anything above 600 psi.) The bitumen is particularly corrosive, and must be pumped at high temperatures that make it even more corrosive.

Natural Resources Defense Counsel expert Anthony Swift tallies eleven leaks in eleven months, all at pumping stations:

May 21, 2010
June 23, 2010
August 10, 2010
August 19, 2010
January 5, 2011
January 31, 2011
February 3, 2011
February 23, 2011
March 8, 2011
March 16, 2011
May 7, 2011

South Dakota blogger Cory Allen Heidelberger of Madville Times reviews TransCanada's environmental impact statement and finds that South Dakota was hoodwinked:

"Of the postulated 1.4 spills along the Keystone Pipeline system during a 10-year period, the study’s findings suggest that approximately 0.2 would be 50 barrels or less; 0.8 would consist of 50 to 1000 barrels; 0.3 would consist of between 1,000 and 10,000 barrels; and 0.2 would contain more than 10,000 barrels (Appendix A). The spill volume frequency distribution likely underestimates the proportion of spill volumes under 50 barrels due to reliance upon the greater than 50 barrel reporting criteria within the USDOT incident database. The current analysis tends to overemphasize large spills and underreport the small spills, making the assessment conservative.

"Based on probabilities generated from the study, the estimated occurrence intervals for a spill of 50 barrels or less occurring anywhere along the entire pipeline system is once every 65 years, a spill between 50 and 1,000 barrels might occur once in 12 years; a spill of 1,000 and 10,000 barrels might occur once in 39 years; and a spill containing more than 10,000 barrels might occur once in 50 years."

Does TransCanada seriously believe it can absolve itself by claiming that spills at the pumping stations don’t count as risk within its pipeline system?

Keystone's tar sands oil is not good for Canada, the United States, or the planet. Keystone XL will greatly expand the capacity of the original Keystone pipeline. It will also cross a number of sensitive habitats, including those favored by whooping cranes (Nebraska) and pronghorn antelopes (Montana).  Most alarming, perhaps, the pipeline will cross a large portion of the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska.  The original pipeline is demonstrably leak-prone at pumping stations and within the pipe itself. So why on earth is the State Department going to supersize a disaster?

Originally posted to Climate Hawks on Thu May 12, 2011 at 08:07 AM PDT.

Also republished by The Amateur Left.

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