TransCanada pipeline accident is one more reason why Keystone XL must be stopped


It’s getting hard to keep track of all the pipeline accidents, crude-oil-by-rail disasters and chemical spills that are taking place in North America — amid a surge in domestic energy production — without a scorecard. Here’s news of one natural-gas disaster that happened this week in Canada that should be getting a lot more attention in the United States:

A natural gas pipeline operated by TransCanada Corp. exploded and caught fire in the Canadian province of Manitoba on Saturday, shutting off gas supplies for as many as 4,000 residents in sub-zero temperatures.

“We could see these massive 200- to 300-meter high flames just shooting out of the ground and it literally sounded like a jet plane,” resident Paul Rawluk told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

There were no injuries and the area was evacuated as a precaution, according to the National Energy Board. TransCanada said the fire was extinguished by Saturday afternoon, more than 12 hours after it started, but in order to repair the line, they shut off the natural gas supply to several municipalities.

Temperatures dropped to -20 degrees Celsius overnight.

Niverville Deputy Mayor John Funk said that “service is expected to be lost for minimum of 24 hours to multiple days” in a statement on the town’s website. Funk also said that “Manitoba Hydro is asking residents to turn down thermostats and minimize use of electric heaters.”

Does the name TransCanada ring a bell? It should. They’re the same folks who spend millions of dollars lobbying our officials here in the United States with the goal of winning approval for the Keystone XL pipeline. That’s a massive project that would take the dirty fuel extracted from Alberta’s oil-rich tar sands, ship it across some of the most sensitive aquifers in America and down to the Gulf Coast, mostly to ship to energy-starved consumers overseas. Officials with TransCanada, in wooing support for the project, said just this week that Keystone XL would be “the safest oil pipeline built in America to date.”

The company’s influence quest seems to be working. President Obama — while telling the world in his State of the Union address Tuesday night that he’s 100 percent committed to reversing climate change — did not even mention the Keystone XL, even though stopping it would be the one immediate thing the White House could do to prove that it’s taking global warming seriously. Indeed, there were reports circulating last night that the Obama administration has already signaled to the Canadian government that it will not be blocking the pipeline.

That’s unfortunate news. While I worry greatly about the climate implications of Keystone XL, I also worry that it’s just not safe. Government inspectors have found dents, dings and other potential problems in the already-built southern portion of the Keystone project — even though American pipeline inspectors are severely undermanned. A spill in the area of Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies about 4 million folks with drinking water, would be catastrophic…but it’s not unimaginable.

It’s bad enough that TransCanada’s pipeline follies left a few thousand people in Manitoba out in the frigid cold this week. A similar mishap on the much bigger Keystone XL would be unthinkable.

To learn more about the TransCanada pipeline mishap in Canada, please read:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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