Tiny East Texas Towns Join Fight Against Keystone Pipeline. Should Dallas?

kalamazoo.jpg
Natural Resources Defense Council
A turtle crawling out of the Kalamazoo River.
Together, they have a population of fewer than 2,000, but the tiny East Texas hamlets of Reklaw, Alto and Gallatin have an outsized mission: To halt the southern portion of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, a conduit designed to ferry some 830,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands a day from an Oklahoma hub to Gulf Coast refineries.

To that end, the towns -- a couple of hours east of Dallas -- have joined the Sierra Club in a suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in an Oklahoma federal court, claiming the corps is skirting a rigorous environmental impact analysis on more than 1,000 water crossings by "piecemealing" approval in half-acre segments.

Congress tried to force President Barack Obama's hand in 2011, when it passed a bill that required him to make a decision on the 1,300 mile Keystone XL within two months. In its assessment, the EPA warned against the type of permit TransCanada sought, which, in effect, would have placed no limit on the amount of collective damage the pipeline could cause to the water bodies it crossed. In January, the U.S. State Department said it didn't have enough time or information to determine the pipeline's environmental impact -- particularly on the massive Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska's Sand Hills -- and recommended that Obama deny the permit. It said it would revisit its decision in 2013. Denied a permit for the entirety of the Keystone XL, TransCanada announced it would split the pipeline project in February, seeking a presidential permit for the northern section and immediate approval for the nearly 500-mile southern section, now renamed but tracing essentially the same path.

Obama voiced his support, asking regulators to fast-track the permitting process. In late June, TransCanada received notification from Corps of Engineers offices in Galveston and Tulsa that the southern portion of the pipeline could be permitted as a project with minimal impacts on water crossings -- even though the EPA had cautioned that more than half of the crossings exceeded the damage limit. "We found out the EPA letter was withdrawn because it isn't called the Keystone XL," says Rita Beving, the towns' consultant. "It's called the TransCanada southern segment. It's the same route, the same pipeline, just the semantics of calling it another name makes the letter not viable."

The final approval needed from the Fort Worth office of the Corps of Engineers could come at any time, allowing construction on the pipeline, the plaintiffs say, to begin within 45 days.

The towns of Reklaw, Alto and Gallatin are asking the federal court to vacate the corps' permits, claiming irreparable injury if the project proceeds. More than anything, they fear the specter of a pipeline spill and contamination to their main water source: The Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, which supplies some 60 counties and 10 to 12 million people with water. But it isn't just the Carrizo that could be in jeopardy, Beving says. The pipeline passes near Lake Columbia, Marvin Nichols Reservoir` and George Parkhouse Reservoir -- all prospects for Dallas as it seeks to firm up water rights for a swelling population.

The pipeline won't just be carrying ordinary oil. Sweet crude, for example, is moved through pipelines at around 150 pounds per square inch, smooth as molasses. The Keystone pipeline will carry tar sands, also known as DilBit -- a highly corrosive and benzene-laced mixture of sand, clay water and bitumen mined from arboreal forests in Alberta and pumped at some 1,400 pounds per square inch. The pressure is so great a leak in another Keystone pipeline once shot tar sands six stories high.

In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline spilled a million or more barrels of tar sands into Michigan's Kalamazoo River, fouling some 35 miles and spiking it with astronomical levels of benzene, a known carcinogen. It was the largest onshore spill in history, and investigators concluded Tuesday that the company knew about the pipeline defect for years and failed to address it.

"If these folks have water contamination, what are (the towns of Reklaw, Alto and Gallatin) going to do?" Beving says. "Emergency response? They have volunteer firefighters. They would have to get help from fire departments in Tyler or Longview with HAZMAT backgrounds."

For some of these towns, that's more than an hour away. The risk are too high, they believe, for the aquifer and for generations to come. Imagine if Dallas used its considerable heft to weigh in, if for no other reason than to secure our interests in a state where water will one day be more precious than oil?

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7 comments
Kim Triolo Feil
Kim Triolo Feil

those infortunate indians in Canada living and drinking downstream from the tar sands have in common this (supposed to be rare) bile duct cancer....humf...wonder why?

et chic
et chic

Most of us in the ETex area do not want the pipeline in its current configuration and regulations. If there is transportation of dangerous chemicals the strictest safety must be implemented, the corporations must take full responsibility for that safety and if an unfortunate event happens, must take full responsibility for the healthiest management of and full restoration of the environment and personnel. The oil/gas corporations must take responsibility for their products! Water and lives are precious to us here in Texas -- we suppose that is the case in other environs. After reading up on the Kalazamoo River incident near Battle Creek, Michigan, I am skeptical that the pipeline would be built for safety or incidents properly handled. In addition, the corporations try to bully landowners by threatening them if they do not agree to the psaltry payments and contracts for permits to cross property. This is a very sad state of affairs. Take care of the water and the people first!!

Marc
Marc

You claim that some of the money buying Saudi oil goes to fund terrorism. I am interested in exactly how you know that, and whether or not you can substantiate that claim. I seriously doubt that you can show any proof, so if that is the case, then you just falsely made an accusation that is unfounded in fact.

RTGolden
RTGolden

1) With the way the passage in question was worded, it WAS implied that sweet crude is benzene free and tar sands are laced with benzene.  I'm sorry if you cannot read.  ( For further clarification, the passage in question had nothing to do with Rita Breving, and neither did my comment.) 2) I'm well aware that propane is a hydrocarbon.  I used to sell and service propane.  My illustration was for comparative purposes.  I was illustrating that ONE particular slice of the market, if it gets traction in the public domain, can come to dominate the public domain (as natural gas has done with public utilities). 3) Tomato/Tomahto.  My take on the issue is cut and dried based on historical occurrences.  The oil and gas industry have not had much problem dealing with the Feds and even less problems dealing with TX govt.  Things could be different this time, as your take on the issue seems to be.  It would be nice if things would turn out in favor of peoples' rights and the environment and overall health and welfare of the public.  Nothing the TX state government has done in the 16 years i've been living here indicates they give two shits about such things.

Kim Triolo Feil
Kim Triolo Feil

dilbit is truely the nastist of the nasties.....11 people are now dead in one small trailor court where those nasties flowed from the Kalamazoo accident

Marc
Marc

I do concur about one thing you stated - the size of the spill that severely polluted the Kalamazoo River in Michigan was a little over 900,000 gallons. Brantley was wrong when he stated "a million barrels or more." It should be pointed out that the spill contaminated over 90 miles of the Kalamazoo River and killed about 1 fish for every gallon spilled - nearly one million dead fish - and it still is not cleaned up nearly two years later! This is the testament to the lack of integrity of the O&G industry, just like Exxon Valdez and the BP Gulf oil spill. The industry pollutes and contaminates, pays small fines, and goes about its business as usual while writing off its expenses by overcharging customers.

Marc
Marc

Quite simply, you are a liar! The largest importer of energy to the US is Canada. The second largest importer of energy to teh US is Mexico. Either country provides more energy imports to the US than the entire Middle East. These facts are readily available on the US EIA website if you care to check them for yourself. And, can you provide ANY proof that money from Middle Eastern oil imports sponsors terrorism, or are you just stating that as fact because it serves your own political agenda? If you have such proof, then why are you not sharing it with our government so they can act upon it? There is no integrity among people in the O&G indudstry. They routinely lie to sell their industry - always have and always will. As to where I want to get oil the answer is from the same sources from which we already get it until we finally get off fossil fuels like we should have done thirty years ago. The fact is that we produce more oil here than we can use, and we export it, then we import oil from foreign countries because the unscrupulous and anti-American energy speculators make more money that way. If we retained and used our own oil, then there would be little need for importing any of it, and what we do get would come from Canada and Mexico exclusively.

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