How the Keystone XL pipeline would help the US, and why some oppose it

What is TransCanada’s safety record?

TransCanada has experienced spills in recent years, including on the existing Keystone pipeline, leading environmentalists to say the company can’t be trusted to maintain a pipeline as extensive as the Keystone XL. The company says the spills mainly occurred at pumping stations, suggesting that the pipelines themselves have maintained their integrity. Experts say leaks from the actual pipe have the greatest potential for spillage rather than leaks at pump stations, which are more easily controlled. TransCanada says no pipeline breaks took place in 2010.

An environmental impact statement from the State Department, which is quarterbacking the pipeline permit process because it involves a foreign country, says the existing Keystone pipeline experienced 14 spills since June 2010. The key here is the volume: Seven were 10 gallons or less, two were between 300 and 500 gallons.

The worst spill, of 21,000 gallons, was in May 2011 following a valve failure at a pumping station in Sargent County, N.D. A second leak, of 430 gallons, occurred later that same month in Doniphan County, Kan.  TransCanda responded to both leaks by shutting down the entire pipeline system for two weeks to give the company time to replace fittings.

Adding to environmentalists’ concerns, diluted bitumen is typically a heavy, acidic crude that critics say can result in pipeline corrosion, which makes it more vulnerable to leaks. However, the oil and gas industry, including TransCanada, says this mixture is comparable to the same type of diluted crude that has already flowed into the US from Canada for more than a decade.

The State Department estimates that the maximum the Keystone XL could potentially spill would be 2.8 million gallons along an area of 1.7 miles. By comparison, the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill released 210 million gallons into the environment.

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