Officials Acknowledge XL Tar Sands Pipeline Skipped on Safety

House and Senate Make Hopeful Progress Amidst Rash of Spills

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, via State Dept.

Emerging from talks with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird late this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated that the State Department is getting ready to approve the dirtiest, largest pipeline ever to be built in the U.S. The diplomatic-speak whereby Mr. Baird said he wanted a fast decision, while Mrs. Clinton said they had agreed to some safety enhancements seemed to signal the permit process is drawing to a close.

NWF senior vice president Jeremy Symons said, “The Canadian government seems to have more say in this dirty tar sands pipeline decision than the Americans who are at put at risk by this pipeline. The State Department hasn’t allowed the U.S. citizens who oppose the pipeline to talk to Sec. Clinton, but the Canadian government appears to have unlimited access on behalf of their oil companies.”

The news comes as long sought after reforms to improve pipeline safety seems to be moving forward in Congress.  A rash of major spills and explosions may be responsible for some rare bipartisan agreement on the failings of the current safety laws and regulations in place.

Pipeline Safety Bill Advances in Congress

It took several serious ruptures, contamination and evacuations, but finally, Congress is moving to tighten up on pipeline safety.  Over two million miles of oil and gas pipelines crisscross the country, many of them unseen underground.  Pipeline breaks have dumped spills into the Yellowstone and Kalamazoo Rivers and in Alaska and in San Bruno, California, for example.

via NWF

One bill would require gas line operators to document their maximum allowable operating pressures, a key factor in the San Bruno accident.  The bills include tougher requirements for pipelines crossing waterways to address some of the weaknesses that led to the Yellowstone River spill and generally the bills would strengthen the mapping of pipelines and the notification of accidents to state and local governments and emergency responders.  One bill would require records of all inspections.  They would increase penalties for safety violations.

The House bill was crafted in a rare bipartisan negotiation between Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI) and John Dingell (D-MI), which stands as a good symbol of how Congress should work.  After all, environmental protection shouldn’t be a partisan or ideological issue.

It’s nice to have some good news from the Congress.  These bills would give millions of Americans more assurance that their water supplies and property will not be harmed by an oil or gas spill from a broken pipeline. They will push the Department of Transportation to beef up enforcement sand spur improvements in technology and training that could stop leaks from occurring and attenuate the damage if they do.

Keystone XL Project Would Harm Energy Security

The bill stands in contrast to recently approved House legislation perversely called the “North American-Made Energy Security Act” that requires the Obama administration to expedite its decision-making on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  As we’ve said before, if approved Keystone XL will carry one of the dirtiest, highest polluting fuels ever through the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico for export.

CC Chapman/Flickr

Mr. Baird and other supporters have provided no guarantees the energy would be used in America.  If anything, the industry has issued documents suggesting they want to move supply away from Americans and to ports that would ship the heavy crude to places like China and India.  The result: higher gas prices for many Americans.

The bill amounts to an unnecessary, ill-conceived ploy that could force a precipitous decision without solid facts.

NWF Pushes for a Stronger Bill

Groups like the National Wildlife Federation are working to see that the final pipeline safety bill requires studies to determine the full impacts of transporting tar sands oil through pipelines – even when a spill occurs.  Once those studies are done, appropriate regulations are needed to ensure that pipelines are built to withstand the corrosive and unstable nature of tar sands sludge and oil. Until a thorough study of this product is done and until proper regulations are in place, Congress should not be jamming through the legislative process a bill to force a premature, ill-informed decision on questionable polluter projects like Keystone XL.