Major-league environmental advocate suing State Department over Keystone XL analysis
The Sierra Club, one of the oldest environmental organizations in the US, has announced that it will be suing the State Department for access to documents regarding an environmental review of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.
The lawsuit will be filed following the group’s unsuccessful
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) attempt to acquire information
on the consulting firm that was hired to assess the Canadian-US
oil pipeline. Critics of the pipeline project argue that
TransCanada has not been upfront about the risks posed by
transporting heavy tar sands oil, and more broadly criticize the
widening tar sands industry in Canada and elsewhere for its
The Sierra Club, along with many other environmental organizations that oppose construction of the pipeline, maintain that the company that conducted the government's impact report had a significant conflict of interest as it had “financial ties to the pipeline company and the American Petroleum Institute, one of Keystone XL’s most active and vocal lobbyists.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has also called into question
the report. In April, EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement
and Compliance Cynthia Giles wrote to the State Department to say
that that agency’s March 2013 environmental impact report was
A major portion of the pipeline requires a cross-border permit,
and the environmental impact report produced by Environmental
Resources Management will be key in finalizing the State
Department’s review of the project. The State Department signaled
via a draft review in summer 2011 that it intended to grant the
project a passing environmental grade.
Unlike the section of the pipeline that will cross the Canada-US border, the Oklahoma-to-Texas section does not require special permits, and has already been laid down. As Inside Climate News reported only a few days ago, sections of that new pipeline, which is not yet operational, were recently dug up after TransCanada identified 40 “anomalies” along a 60-to-70 mile stretch in east Texas.
Mohammad Najafi, a civil engineering professor at the University
of Texas at Arlington and editor-in-chief of the Journal of
Pipeline Systems Engineering and Practice, tells Inside Climate
that such anomalies point to "something unusual" on the pipeline
which could cause big problems in the future.
As for the presence of 40 anomalies, Najafi says that is
“very unusual” and
"shows that something is
"That's not a good sign…it
doesn't necessarily mean it's dangerous, but it means
[TransCanada] may have missed something," he adds.
According to additional reports from local residents owning land
traversed by the pipeline, they have seen evidence on repair
sites indicating more than 40 'anomalies,' though their
seriousness is difficult to gauge.
In response, TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard has said the
repairs on Keystone XL are "out
of an abundance of caution" to ensure that it operates at
a "much higher degree of design
and safety than any other pipeline."
Construction on the Oklahoma and Texas section of Keystone XL is
now more than 75 per cent complete. The northern segment, to run
from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska, still requires a
cross-border permit from the Obama administration before it can
Last week a former TransCanada employee testified before a Canadian Senate committee as a whistleblower against its practices.
Evan Vokes, an expert in pipeline welding, told Canadian
officials that the Canadian company suffered from a "culture
of noncompliance" and "coercion," with "deeply entrenched business practices that
ignored legally required regulations and codes" and
carries "significant public
"It's organized crime,"
Vokes, an expert in pipeline welding and now whistleblower
against his ex-employer, told the Huffington Post after the
hearing. "The source of revenue
is legal, but how they go about it isn't legal."
Vokes provided the Canadian Senate with evidence supporting
allegations of shoddy safety practices, including managerial
pressure to retract a welding code violation on a natural gas
line feeding a tar sands project in Alberta, as well as the use
The damning testimony by the five-year former employee quickly
brought about a response from TransCanada.
"We take great exception to the
claims by Mr. Vokes that we do not take safety and compliance
issues seriously," company spokesman Shawn Howard said to
Huffington Post Canada.
"Our track record and the
safety of our energy infrastructure network shows that we
do," he added.