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TransCanada Digging Up Defective Segments of New Pipeline, Angering Landowners in Texas

Dozens of "anomalies" — dents and welds — in need of repair on southern leg of Keystone XL thrusts controversial pipeline in the spotlight again.

Jun 5, 2013
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Landowner David Whitley stands next to Keystone XL repair site.

Mary Jane and Blair Wright, who own 38 acres in Wood County, have always feared that a leak would destroy their groundwater. The Keystone crosses the Wrights' neighboring properties, which belong to their daughter and son. Mary Jane said her children only signed the contracts because they knew TransCanada could use eminent domain to obtain the right of way.

Part of the route runs through a piece of land where her daughter and son-in-law had planned to build a house, Mary Jane said, but the construction forced them to place their plans on hold. "They're upset about it—they hardly come out here to look at it."

When TransCanada finished installing the pipeline about two months ago, the Wrights thought they had put the project behind them. But the company returned three weeks ago without warning, and the noise and the equipment started all over again.

"Every time I see them out there, I make a point of stopping," Mary Jane said. "The contractors we've talked to have been pretty nice. I don't think they're supposed to expand on what they're doing, but as a homeowner and a landowner, I really want to know what's going on."

Whitley's relationship with TransCanada has shifted dramatically since the repairs began. Originally, he'd cooperated with the company and refused to let protestors onto his land. "My goal was to get [TransCanada] in and out as quickly as possible."

The situation changed several weeks ago, when employees from Michels Pipeline Corporation—a TransCanada contractor—began working on the repairs.

Whitley said he saw two workers drop a hose into a hole they'd dug, which had filled with groundwater. They placed the other end of the hose into a creek on Whitley's property, about 50 feet outside the pipeline's right-of-way. Whitley then heard them turn on a pump and realized they were pumping the groundwater into his creek. Then, as he watched, one of the workers turned away from the other one and urinated on the grass in full view of Whitley's porch.

"If my lady friend had been here it would've been in plain sight of her," Whitley said. "I was perturbed because they were trespassing on my property."

Whitley called TransCanada, and the workers soon took the hose out of the creek. But between the trespassing and the noise and not being paid for the disruption, Whitley decided he'd had enough. For the first time, he agreed to be interviewed and began working with Beving's group.

"I told TransCanada, 'I hate to do this but I'm sick of it,'" he told InsideClimate News. "I want to sit on my porch and not see heavy machinery. I want to take a nap during the daytime without [hearing] pounding pounding pounding. They haven't offered me any money. If they offered me enough money I'd terminate this call right now and I'd never do any more interviews."

Whitley said he hasn't asked TransCanada for compensation because he believes the company would "just tell me some BS and that will make me madder."

Howard said TransCanada handles compensation on a case-by-case basis, and would reimburse landowners for crop damage and lost productivity.

The unexpected excavation and replacement of the newly built pipeline has further aggravated tensions. Over the past year, dozens of activists have been arrested for disrupting construction of the 700,000 barrel-per-day project. They've staged treehouse sit-ins, chained themselves to machinery and blocked access to construction sites.

Howard said the repairs are a normal part of the construction process, and cited similar repairs that took place on another TransCanada pipeline, called the Keystone, built several years ago.

Pipeline segments are inspected before construction and tested again after they're installed, he said. Some of the recently-discovered dents are so small they can only be detected by in-line inspection tools, he said.

There are "no issues with the welds or the integrity of the pipe itself," Howard said, and he's not sure why some of the stakes on landowners' properties are labeled with the word "weld."

TransCanada X-rays 100 percent of its welds, he added, which exceeds U.S. pipeline regulations.

Kuprewicz, the pipeline consultant, said the company's commitment to X-raying all welds "is a good thing." The practice is required in Canada but not in the United States. 

But Kuprewicz doubts the company is repairing dents that can't be identified by sight. "I find that to be not credible. If you can't see the dent, it's probably not a problem."

Given the controversy over the project, Kuprewicz said he understands why TransCanada is being cautious about the details surrounding the repairs. "The way you resolve that is to be a bit more transparent about what you're repairing…If they're not that big a deal, they should just tell the truth."

Construction on the section of the Keystone XL that passes through Oklahoma and Texas is now more than 75 percent complete. The Keystone's northern segment, from Alberta to Steele City, Neb., still needs a permit from the Obama administration before it can be built. A decision is expected by early 2014, with both sides lobbying fiercely in an attempt to sway the outcome.


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