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Energy / ENERGY

Government Blocks Oil-Sands Pipeline

photo of Amy Harder
June 3, 2011

The Transportation Department announced late on Friday afternoon its decision to block a Canadian oil company from restarting a controversial oil-sands pipeline that began operating at this time last year.

The Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, within DOT, is preventing TransCanada from restarting its Keystone I oil-sands pipeline because the “continued operation of the pipeline without measures would be hazardous to lives, property, and the environment,” Jeffrey Wiese, associate administrator, said in an order sent to TransCanada on Friday.

The pipeline transports Canada’s oil sands from Alberta through the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois.


Wiese’s order was scathing, and it will likely influence a decision that the State Department is expected to make by the end of this year on an extension of the pipeline, known as Keystone XL. That extension would follow a similar route but would continue down to the Gulf Coast in Texas. It requires approval from the Obama administration because the pipeline crosses international borders.

In his eight-page order, Wiese lays out the “certain corrective actions” TransCanada must take before it can restart operation of its pipeline. He also highlights two spills that occurred last month.

“After considering the circumstances surrounding the May 7 and May 29, 2011, failures, the proximity of the pipeline to populated areas, water bodies, public roadways and high-consequence areas, the hazardous nature of the product the pipeline transports, the ongoing investigation to determine the cause of the failures, and the potential for the conditions causing the failures to be present elsewhere on the pipeline, I find that a failure to issue this order expeditiously to require immediate, corrective action would result in likely serious harm to life, property, and the environment,” Wiese stated in the order.

Environmental groups pounced on the ruling. The Natural Resources Defense Counci, Friends of the Earth, and other groups oppose the use of oil sands, which is considered a dirtier form of oil than conventional oil because its extraction method is more damaging to the environment and its carbon footprint is bigger.

“This should be a clarion call for the State Department to seriously consider the safety concerns posed by Keystone XL, a second, larger raw-tar-sand pipeline that TransCanada hopes to build,” said Anthony Swift, a lawyer in NRDC's International Program, in a blog post after the announcement.

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