U.S. Not Ready for Keystone XL Worst-Case

Are giant Canadian oil companies fudging their safety analyses to get the mother of all pipelines built across the U.S.?  And what could happen if a mega-pipeline has a catastrophic Fukushima-style disaster?

A pipeline spill could ravage the heartland's agriculture sector and economy while pummeling important wildlife habitat.

Pipelines have been spilling regularly across the U.S., but those spills could be small peanuts compared to a true disaster that might occur from building the proposed and highly controversial tar sludge pipeline known as Keystone XL.

A report released today and spearheaded by a Nebraska academic says the potential frequency and magnitude of oil spills from the tar sands oil project, as well as the consequences of worst-case spills into the Yellowstone, Missouri and Platte Rivers and atop the Ogallala Aquifer, are far worse than the Canadians are letting on to U.S. regulators tasked with approving the dubious project.

According to a news story from the Lincoln Journal Star:

A worst-case scenario spill from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline into the Platte River in Nebraska would  form a plume of oil that could extend more than 450 miles, contaminating drinking water for people as far away as Kansas City, MO and threatening wildlife habitat, according to an independent analysis of the project released Monday.

The study by John Stansbury, a professor of water resources engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, also said a worst-case spill in the Sand Hills region of Nebraska could pollute 4.9 billion gallons of groundwater with a plume of contaminants 40 feet thick, 500 feet wide and 15 miles long.

“This plume, and other contaminant plumes from the spill, would pose serious health risks to people using that groundwater for drinking water and irrigation,” Stansbury said in the report.

In comparison to the nasty 42,000 gallon spill by Exxon last week into Montana’s Yellowstone River, a major spill from the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline into the Platte River in Nebraska could leak 5.9 million gallons of toxic, corrosive tar sands oil and spread pollutants such as carcinogenic benzene in excess of federal health standards hundreds of miles downstream, contaminating drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people as far south as Kansas City, MO.

A scene from the recent and deadly Enbridge pipeline disaster. It would be relatively small peanuts compared to a worst-case Keystone XL spill.

Can we trust the oil giants and regulators to do the right thing?  Not really, says the author.

He led an independent analysis of worst-case spill scenarios for four locations along the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. He found that the pipeline’s operator, TransCanada Corp., made significant flawed and inappropriate assumptions about the frequency and severity of expected spills from its pipelines.

Although the federal Clean Water Act requires pipeline builders to analyze and make public worst-case spill scenarios and resulting environmental impacts for their projects before beginning operation, TransCanada has yet to adequately do so for the Keystone XL, and the pipeline could be approved before regulators see the conclusions.

We’re not kidding when we say Keystone XL is the next great oil disaster in waiting, on par with BP’s Gulf spill last year.  But this is a tragedy we can stop. You can help.  TAKE ACTION and tell the Obama Administration to reject Keystone XL.