The Battle Against the Keystone Pipeline

Environmentalists and landowners battle to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and its load of crude from flowing across Texas rivers and aquifers.

Nearly 150 people were sickened. Many along the river were told it was not safe for them to remain in their homes. Enbridge bought out 130 homeowners in a cleanup that has cost some $725 million and continues to climb. The largest onshore spill in history didn't receive that much attention, though, because BP had only just sealed its Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico.

In October, the EPA sent Enbridge notification that it would need to continue dredging the bottom of the river. Two years later, an oil sheen still coated the surface. From TransCanada's perspective, comparing Keystone XL, a brand-new, largely uncompleted line, to the aging Enbridge line is unfair. "It's like saying a 1960 Toyota had an accident, so don't buy a 2015 Ford," says spokesman David Dodson.

Yet even TransCanada's Keystone I, placed into service in 2010, had a rough first year, with 21 spills in Canada and the United States. Most were small, but one resulted in the loss of 400 barrels in North Dakota. Fifty barrels constitutes a "significant" spill in federal regulators' eyes. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration shut it down ­temporarily.

Members of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Department drag away a protester who chained himself to construction equipment.
Photos by Brandon Thibodeaux
Members of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Department drag away a protester who chained himself to construction equipment.
A deputy uses pepper spray to drive away others gathered around a cherry picker used to extract protesters on platforms in 40-foot-high pine trees outside Alto, Texas, in November.
Photos by Brandon Thibodeaux
A deputy uses pepper spray to drive away others gathered around a cherry picker used to extract protesters on platforms in 40-foot-high pine trees outside Alto, Texas, in November.

Because TransCanada predicted 1.4 significant spills per decade for that line, its first year doesn't leave much room for error for the rest of the decade. In fact, some experts are wary of the company's spill estimate for Keystone XL, too: Ten spills of 50 barrels or more over its 50-year lifespan. Dr. John Stansbury, a University of Nebraska researcher who consults for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, believes TransCanada is underestimating both the number of potential spills and their volumes. Using a methodology similar to Keystone I's calculations, Stansbury believes Keystone XL will suffer 91 major spills over its lifetime. What's more, TransCanada estimates that in the case of a spill, it could shut down the flow of bitumen in 11.5 minutes. Stansbury estimates it could take as long as two hours.

A larger pipeline, Keystone XL could release in 42 minutes as much diluted bitumen as Enbridge did over the course of hours in ­Michigan.

TransCanada's Dodson points out that Keystone XL will be the most advanced pipeline ever constructed. Pipeline operators monitoring sensitive telemetric equipment can operate valves along its course, capable of isolating sections of pipe should they rupture. But such features come standard on any oil pipeline. Keystone XL will not, for example, have ­hydrocarbon-­detecting cables that identify small leaks, preventing them from becoming large spills.

And if Enbridge taught us anything, it is that even the most sophisticated monitoring equipment in the world cannot overcome human error. For this reason, even Nebraska Governor David Heineman, a Republican, pleaded with TransCanada to reroute the pipeline around the Sandhills.

The pipeline company was doing that very thing when the GOP-controlled U.S. House of Representatives handed President Obama a broad payroll tax cut package in December 2011. Included in the bill was a provision forcing the president to render a decision on the Keystone XL within 60 days of its passage. But pipeline route negotiations were still underway, and the State Department had not completed its national interest assessment. The president had no choice but to deny the Keystone XL. He urged TransCanada to reapply for the northern segment.

On the other hand, the southern segment, Obama assured the company, would be expedited. He signed an executive order cutting through any red tape along its trail through the East Texas pines to the Gulf Coast. The stage set was for a battle that was lost before it began.
_____________________

Outside the tiny chapel in Reklaw, Texas, an elderly gentleman in overalls gave me directions to the mayor's house. You couldn't miss it. Just look for the big school bus. I pulled past a small green section of hay field along the narrow road leading to Mayor Harlan Crawford's white farmhouse. Parked along the side of the house was the Rusk County bus. Crawford has ferried generations of Reklaw children to and from the school for decades, almost as long as he's been mayor. His small pickup sat in front of the house, affixed with an "Impeach Obama" bumper sticker. A liberal environmentalist, I concluded, did not live here.

Crawford, 77, a 23-year Air Force veteran with blue eyes and cropped white hair, stepped out onto the front porch. He was sturdy and tanned, and gave the impression of a man whom folks look to for leadership. And so this whole pipeline debate, which had become so political, was anything but for Crawford. He was just watching out for his own.

The Keystone XL isn't some abstraction to him; it is two miles away, crossing the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, which provides all of Reklaw's water and portions of municipal water supplies to Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Tyler and College Station.

Reklaw, population 379, was founded in 1902 with a grant from a local landowner named Margaret Walker. Since a Walker, Texas, already existed, they simply spelled the name backward. As in most small East Texas towns, the young people don't stay here. Its aging population, often below the poverty line, can't afford to buy up surface water rights like the bigger cities.

"If something does happen, where are we going to get our water?" Crawford wonders.

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16 comments
Miles Yao
Miles Yao

Can we pull a Castle Law here? Get yer shotgun out!

Mary Urech Stallings
Mary Urech Stallings

State Law? Didn't the Supreme Court uphold anybody taking your land for whatever they want to pay for whatever reason? Now, that's effed up.

Na Li
Na Li

it's always been that way - they want they get - landowner gets too but screwed isn't that much financially

Craig Wilkins
Craig Wilkins

Where are all the "Don't Tread On Me" people now? Or is it socialism to stand up to businesses? Jesus. I hate everything sometimes.

captainmike81
captainmike81

Might as well refine Canadian bitumen is Texas as Texas is the largest polluter in North America. Most people don't know that the US exports crude oil. Next is natural gas in LNG to foreign countries. Most people are taken being taken for suckers by everyone from government to energy companies. 

Jake Rawls
Jake Rawls

Affects the Texans? Does this mean Arian Foster won't do well tomorrow?

Hugh Bishop
Hugh Bishop

It's just a couple of miles from my house. I have several friends in the area that have it running right behind their property line.

keystonelonestar
keystonelonestar

Conservative protecting private property rights by seizing private property?  Reminds me of how they make government smaller by passing laws that expand government power; how they spend less money by spending more money; how they discredit science by making shit up; and how they stop frivolous lawsuits by filing frivolous lawsuits against the NCAA.

Mudrake2
Mudrake2

Oh, please not again. When will you liberal scientific illiterate "journalists" stop tauting the discredited (by actual scientists without an agenda) man-made global warming. If you had half a brain, you would realize the contradictions in your story. First, the sands "crude" is so thick it poses little or no risk to anything. If it is being pumped at 150F to keep it "liquefied" what do you think will happen in event of a spill? I will immediately cool and turn into something akin to asphalt. Then bring out the front end loaders and shovel it up. I guess we are ringing our hands over all those asphalt roads criss crossing the state too? As an environmental consultant for 8 years and a geoscientist of some 33 years’ experience, I have seen enough enviro-hysteria to make me want to vomit. This is not about the environment, its about politics. These ass clown kids are nothing more than pawns and useless pawns at that. They have no lives and are seeking to bring some kind of meaning to their worthless existence. They undoubtedly moved to the unsuccessful occupy movement to this. They are a few missed meals or picket lines from being homeless. One man's protest is another man's criminal trespass. Barry's gambit to halt the pipeline is just another step in his attempt to cripple the US and its oil industry. Its okay to drill offshore Brazil but not here, why? It’s not the environment, its transfer of wealth.

WRUPPELT
WRUPPELT

@Hugh Bishop Hu is giving them the Permit, to Du what ever they ( Keystone ) want?

                          The property rights in Texas has been taking away by our so called

                           Law makers and Mr. not so smart Governor Perry! Or shall we say

                           the Tea Party of Texas!!!    

Mudrake2
Mudrake2

Turn Brazil into an oil exporting nation and we'll have to send more of our dollars their increasing their standard of living while slowly lowering ours. Biofuels gives him a hard on, not because it is green but because it puts money in his friends pockets. Biofuel production actually uses more fuel than it saves. If you knew how heat and fuel extensive distillation of alcohol is, you'd know that. The only way its economic is with government subsidies that would make you cry. So ethanol probably costs way more per gallon to produce than the gasoline it is purported to save. Americans are such scientific illiterates that this kind of nonsense is pushed right under their noses by their elected officials and they don't have a clue. It is really and truly pathetic. If the first oil discoveries made in Texas were done so today, they would undoubtedly would have been no Spindletop, East Texas Field, or Permian Basin. They would all have been protested into oblivion on environmental grounds. Do you see any lingering effects of those efforts back when oil ran on the ground like water when it was being produced?

poeducker
poeducker

@Mudrake2 You are stupid.  Global warming is gonna kill your grand kids dead.  The US & other industrialized countries have screwed off over global warming for so long it looks like it will  kill humanity dead.  Then the planet can hum along for several million years & try something new besides humans.  Serves us right.

 
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