On the pro side, Canadian officials are making the case that transporting their dirty oil across the Great Plains is safer than pumping oil out of the Gulf, since pipeline leaks would be "easier to detect and control." Now you might look at the 5,000 to 100,000 barrels of oil burbling out of the wrecked BP well each day, then look at the eventual 590,000 barrels of oil that will blast across East River each day in the Keystone pipeline each day, and think, "Holy crap!" But I can see the Canadians' point: if the Keystone pipeline were to explode near Britton or Carthage, TransCanada could probably shut down the flow at the last good pump station up-pipe. We wouldn't have oil pouring out for a whole month. We wouldn't end up with a ten-county oil slick like that depicted in Scott Meyer's nonetheless informative graphic in The Post yesterday.
On the con side, the BP explosion and spill highlight the need for stronger safety oversight over petroleum extraction and transport... and make TransCanada's requests for less safety and oversight look really, really bad. TransCanada wants to use thinner pipe on Keystone XL, just as it did on Keystone.
But Cesar de Leon, a former deputy administrator of the pipeline and safety administration who is now an independent pipeline safety engineer, said the thinner standard is appropriate only if pipelines are being aggressively monitored for deterioration. Although the safety administration required such monitoring in the Keystone permits, it “didn’t have the people to monitor compliance,” he said.
In a report in March on the agency’s broader permitting practices, the Transportation Department’s inspector general found that, in many cases, the agency had failed to check the safety records of permit applicants and had not checked to verify that permit terms were being followed.
Officials of the safety administration did not respond to interview requests. But in written testimony to a House committee in April, the agency’s new administrator, Cynthia L. Quarterman, acknowledged problems and promised to improve. “As you know,” she said, “we inherited a program that suffered from almost a decade of neglect and was seriously adrift.”
Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, said the whole situation was alarmingly reminiscent of the permit waivers that were routinely granted to offshore oil wells, including the BP well leaking in the gulf. “I think it is incumbent on myself as a policy maker to say ‘hold it,’ ” Mr. Tester said [Clifford Krauss and Elisabeth Rosenthal, "Reliance on Oil Sands Grows Despite Environmental Risks," New York Times, 2010.05.18].
Senator Jon Tester can connect the dots between Gulf oil rigs and the big pipeline that will run across his state. Why don't we hear that dot-connecting from South Dakota's Congressional delegation?
There are all sorts of reasons we should tell TransCanada to take a hike (bad business case, unneighborly behavior, genocide...). But if Keystone XL is inevitable and even preferable to oil from the sheiks and Chavez, we should at least learn our lessons about safety and regulation from the catastrophe off the Louisiana coast.