DOT Shuts Down Tar Sands Pipeline


TransCanada has grand dreams of building a gigantic pipeline that would traverse the United States and ship oil from Canada’s tar sands to Texas refineries. But the branch of the Keystone pipeline that the company is already operating in the US has created a considerable problem—causing a dozen spills in just its first year of operation.

The pipeline has been shut down since it sprung yet another leak on May 29. On Friday, the federal agency that oversees pipelines ordered the company to keep the pipeline, which runs from North Dakota to Illinois and then on to Oklahoma, shut down until they prove that the problems are fixed.

In an order issued to the company on Friday, associate administrator for pipeline safety at the Department of Transportation Jeffrey Wiese wrote:

… I find that the continued operation of the pipeline without corrective measures would be hazardous to life, property and the environment. Additionally, 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.

The entire situation does not bode particularly well for the proposed Keystone XL extension, which the State Department is expected to make a decision on very soon. Earlier this week, a group of 34 Democratic lawmakers wrote to the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency expressing concerns about the proposed line. The latest news isn’t exactly encouraging.

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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.