Keystone XL Pipeline Safety Standards Not as Rigorous as They Seem

Keystone XL Pipeline Safety Standards Not as Rigorous as They Seem

Research by NRDC shows that only 12 of the 57 conditions set by federal regulators differ from the minimum standards already required for pipeline safety.

By Elizabeth McGowan, InsideClimate News

WASHINGTON—TransCanada and the U.S. State Department have repeatedly touted safety standards for the proposed Keystone XL heavy crude pipeline as robust and unparalleled. As proof, they point to 57 “special conditions” that the Alberta-based pipeline operator has agreed to follow.

But environmental watchdogs counter that those much-boasted-about claims are based on nothing more than smoke and mirrors. And they have compiled evidence to back up their accusations.

According to recent research by the Natural Resources Defense Council, only 12 of the 57 conditions set by federal regulators at the Department of Transportation differ in any way at all from the minimum standards the DOT routinely requires for pipeline safety. NRDC is an advocacy organization intent on halting construction of the pipeline.

“Many of these safety conditions are just restating current regulations,” said Anthony Swift, the NRDC energy analyst responsible for the point-by-point study. “But they’ve been used as the cornerstone in the argument that we don’t need to worry about Keystone XL because these 57 conditions will solve any unknown safety risk that the pipeline poses.”

The DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is responsible for overseeing hazardous liquid pipelines and enforcing safety measures. PHMSA began drawing up the list of conditions back in 2009 when TransCanada applied for a Keystone XL safety waiver. The company dropped its request for that waiver in August 2010 but announced in April that it would voluntarily comply with PHMSA’s 57 conditions.

These precautionary measures are supposed to address pipeline safety concerns such as puncture resistance, inspections, and welding and construction standards. Both PHMSA and TransCanada said that’s exactly what they do.

The 57 safety conditions the company agreed to with PHMSA are “above and beyond the industry norm,” TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha told InsideClimate News.

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