Despite criticism from environmentalists, Keystone supporters argue that TransCanada is going above and beyond the safety features required by law to ensure that it will be the safest ever built.
“At the end of the day this is going to be the safest pipeline ever built in North America,” Michael Whatley, executive vice president of the Consumer Energy Alliance, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “The State Department has said that on multiple occasions.”
“Pipelines are the safest way to transport oil and natural gas, which are vital to our economy,” writes Ken Cohen for ExxonMobil. “According to the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, accidents are 1,000 times more likely to occur with a large truck, 13 times more likely to occur by barge, and five times more likely to occur by rail than they are on a pipeline.”
TransCanada has actually agreed with the Department of Transportation to implement 57 special safety conditions that go beyond what is required by laws and regulations.
“They have got sensors throughout the pipeline,” Whatley added. “They have internal pressure gauges. They have an amazing array of safety devices.”
Environmentalists argued early on that only 12 of the 57 the special safety conditions agreed to by TransCanada actually go above what the federal government already requires by law.
“Many of these safety conditions are just restating current regulations,” said Anthony Swift, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told InsideClimate News in 2011. “But they’ve been used as the cornerstone in the argument that we don’t need to worry about Keystone XL because these 57 conditions will solve any unknown safety risk that the pipeline poses.”
Recently, environmentalists have criticized the pipeline for not including external leak detection equipment such as infrared sensors or fiber-optic cables. The Environmental Protection Agency has recommended external leak detection equipment, which TransCanada has agreed to look into using such equipment in environmentally sensitive areas.
However, pipeline proponents have argued that “more experimental external detection technologies have so far proven unreliable and expensive.”
“Leak detection is just one part of a safe pipeline,” Grady Semmens, a TransCanada spokesman, told Bloomberg in an email “The No. 1 priority is to build a pipeline that prevents leaks.”
“That technology has not really been proven and it will not make the pipeline any safer whatsoever,” Whatley said. “You will always have another bell or another whistle that the anti-pipeline groups will say ‘oh they should do this’ or ‘oh they should do that.’ You are never going to satisfy those people.”
Keystone will primarily have pressure gauges and valve systems throughout the pipeline, which can quickly alert pipeline operators to drops in pressure along the pipeline, indicating a potential oil spill. Valves which shut off sections of the pipeline when leaks occur are usually placed every five to seven miles on the pipeline, but Keystone will have then in a much narrower sequence, according to Whatley.
“Once they shut that down, the pipeline is shut off,” Whately added. “They will have to go out there and dig it up and figure out why there was a pressure drop and figure out why there was a leak and make sure that they fix it.”
Between 2007 and 2012, pipelines leaked an average of 112,569 barrels per year, reports Bloomberg. Environmentalists point to the chance of oil spills, noting the recent spill in Mayflower, Arkansas by an ExxonMobil pipeline earlier this year.
However, Exxon was quick to shut down the pipeline, even though it’s decades older than Keystone XL will be.
“Within approximately 90 seconds after receiving the low pressure alarm, the controller in the Operations Control Center initiated a full shutdown of the pipeline,” according to the company. “It took approximately 16 minutes to fully shut down all of the pumps on the pipeline and isolate the impacted segment of the pipeline by closing isolation valves… Emergency response personnel were on the ground in Mayflower within 30 minutes after the leak was detected and indicated that oil appeared to stop seeping from the pipe at 3 a.m. CDT on March 30.”
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