Oops: Public Citizen’s Report Actually a Testament to Keystone XL Safety

In yet another desperate stunt by opponents, the avid anti-Keystone XL group, Public Citizen, released a report this week which finds (from its own investigation, of course) that there are 125 “anomalies” in the Southern Leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, and therefore the pipeline poses a serious safety risk.

But Public Citizen completely missed the forest for the trees: the entire reason they were able to discover apparent “anomalies” (they use the words “apparent” and “apparently” on nearly every page by the way), is because TransCanada was already in the process of locating possible complications and taking action to ensure that those complications did not become a safety issue.  For example, on page 9, Public Citizen adds a picture of a piece of pipeline that was “apparently” replaced because a safety issue was raised and resolved.

Of course, no resource development or project is going to be 100 percent without risks – the important question is: can these risks be managed? And the answer is yes.  As Politico reported, David Sheremata of TransCanada explained it this way:

The report, Sheremata said, rehashes subjects TransCanada has “dealt with and responded to in the past,” and implied that any anomalies that Public Citizen was able to document were because TransCanada had found them first — showing that the company was committed to the safety of the pipeline.

So the report actually has the opposite effect of what Public Citizen intended: in enumerating “anomalies” that TransCanada had already found and was in the process of resolving is actually a testament to the safety of the pipeline – a testament to the 57 extra safety measures that TransCanada is implementing to ensure that Keystone XL goes above and beyond the requirement of any other pipeline.

Having said that, while certainly some of the “anomalies” are likely valid issues that TransCanada identified and addressed, there are numerous passages in the report that border on the absurd: take, for instance, page 12 where Public Citizen speculates that what looks like paint on the pipeline is actually an inadequate patch of a hole.  From the report:

“In the picture above, the dark green field coating appears to be misapplied. It appears that workers didn’t follow the required application procedure to ensure adequate curing and bonding to the pipeline surface. This is evidenced by the peeling of the patch in the center of the photograph” (p. 12).

Of course the key word here is “appears” which raises the important question: if there “appears” to be a problem why not ask the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) – the agency whose job it is to ensure the safety of pipeline transportation – to look into it?

Well as Politico reported last night, Public Citizen’s concerns were news to PHMSA:

A Public Citizen’s report today about “anomalies” in the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline came as news to the federal agency that oversees pipeline safety, which says the watchdog group had ample opportunities to bring them to regulators’ attention.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration held a public meeting in June to hear concerns about the project, spokeswoman Jeannie Shiffer said today. Public Citizen didn’t offer any specific details on problems at that time, despite expressing concerns about the construction, PHMSA said.

Officials from PHMSA’s Southwest Regional office have also spoken several times with Public Citizen representatives, but haven’t received any evidence about the field work the watchdog group says it conducted.

Politico added that PHMSA inspectors have been on the site since the beginning of the construction of the southern leg overseeing the process.

So to recap: Public Citizen doesn’t raise its concerns with the agency in charge of safety then publicly releases a “report” enumerating its concerns in order to garner headlines.  Could it be that their motivation is actually to stop the Keystone XL pipeline at all costs rather than a concern for public health and safety? Perish the thought!

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