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Thursday, September 24, 2009

What Happens to TransCanada Pipeline After Oil? DRA and PUC Take Long View

Oil won't last forever, not even the goop in the Alberta tar sands. So that big Keystone pipeline tearing up eastern South Dakota and its bigger sister Keystone XL planning to do the same to West River won't always have oil coursing through them. Someday the oil and the operating revenue will dry up, and TransCanada will flip the switch and walk away.

Dakota Rural Action offers a summary of the problems that can arise when pipelines are abandoned:

Once pipelines are no longer in use, the electrical systems that are meant to keep the pipes from corroding are turned off, and pipelines rust more quickly, with the result that large pipelines may weaken and collapse under the weight of vehicles. They may also develop holes that allow soil to fall inside the pipe, forming sinkholes in the soil over the pipeline. Buried pipelines may emerge from the soil creating an obstacle and eyesore. Abandoned pipelines may also need to be removed before construction of buildings, and they can interfere with other development of property. In addition, they may contain crude oil residues that would need to be cleaned up [Dakota Rural Action, press release, 2009.09.22].

So how much will it cost to remove or stabilize Keystone XL when TransCanada abandons it? Would you believe TransCanada has thus far declined to say? DRA asked TransCanada for pipeline abandonment information last month, but, says DRA, "TransCanada did not voluntarily provide this information."

DRA says that Canada is starting to require pipeline companies to set aside money to cover the cost of dealing with abandoned pipelines. The United States, however, has not yet imposed any such requirements. Conceivably, TransCanada could lay its pipe, pump its oil, and then just walk away, leaving us landowners and taxpayers to remove contaminated soil and fill sinkholes. Nice.

Dakota Rural Action members (myself included) find this lack of planning for the future unacceptable. Tuesday's DRA press release includes these comments from South Dakota stewards of the land who can take the long view:

“My great grandfather settled here in 1910. He had a plan and vision to protect and nurture this land so it would be productive for generations to come. That plan has been carried out by my family for nearly 100 years,” said Roger Gunderson, a Dakota Rural Action member who ranches in Harding County. “I find it hard to believe that a company like TransCanada does not have a responsible business plan that it can share with us as to what they intend to do with the pipeline when it is no longer in use."

...“We’re the third generation on our land and we’re about to bring the fourth generation in to join us. As a family who’s ranched on this land for 75 years and taken good care of it, we want to know what would happen once TransCanada stopped using the pipeline. Would they treat the land right? Would we get stuck having to clean up after TransCanada?” asked Sandy and Jacki Limpert, Dakota Rural Action members from Harding County.

DRA asked the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission to take the long view and require TransCanada to do the same. In response, the PUC has indeed voted to compel TransCanada to give more information on its pipeline abandonment plans, as well as "monitoring, maintenance, crude oil composition, and the possible volume of a worst-case scenario oil spill" [DRA press release, 2009.09.23].

Dang—either Dusty Johnson is running for higher office next year, or the PUC is realizing we South Dakotans really do need to make stronger demands of TransCanada to protect our natural resources from the short-term thinking of Big Oil.

Read more on the legal complications of reclaiming abandoned pipeline and rights-of-way: David Howell, "Who Owns Abandoned Pipelines?" Pipeline & Gas Journal, August 2009.


p.s.: For those of your conservatives who think President Obama and his eco-Marxofascists are determined to destroy America's economy and petro-security, note that the Obama Administration's State Department approved the Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline to Wisconsin last month:

While U.S. environmental lobbies such as the Sierra Club were protesting against Prime Minister Stephen Harper's mission to Washington last week – accusing him of “dirty-oil salesmanship” – the U.S. President's new special envoy on energy, David Goldwyn, was in Ottawa telling officials that Canada is a “pillar of U.S. energy security.”

“Part of my message here is that we recognize and value the centrality of Canada's contribution to U.S. energy security,” Mr. Goldwyn, the U.S. State Department's newly appointed co-ordinator for international energy affairs, said after the meetings.

It will be up to Canada, he said, to figure out how it can expand the high-emissions oil sands without exceeding targets in greenhouse-gas reductions, either by reducing emissions in other sectors or developing new technology [Campbell Clark, "Alberta's 'Dirty Oil' Suits U.S. Security," The Globe and Mail, 2009.09.24].

Looks like I've got some convincing to do even in my own party.

1 comment:

  1. Cory,

    I'm more than a little disappointed you insinuate my votes on legal matters are based on political calculation, rather than on what the law says.

    I haven't given you an reason to think so little of me, you know. We've had an open and honest exchange of ideas when we've spoken. I know it's fun to play politics, but I expected more of you.

    The truth is that the PUC has never (when I've been around) ruled that information on decommissioning was inadmissable or wasn't subject to discovery. We've taken that view with Keystone, with windfarms, with natural gas power plants, and with everything else. Additionally, whether or not information is subject to discovery is a technical legal issue. I know it's more fun for bloggers and political operatives to presume that politics is the big engine that powers all decisions made by anyone, anywhere, but that isn't the case.

    When the law is on DRA's side (and it was most of the time on Tuesday), they'll win. When it isn't, they'll lose. Pretty simple, actually.

    - Dusty Johnson


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