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Pipeline Leaks, Construction Problems Validated Biden’s Keystone Cancellation, Lawmakers Say

Serious and “preventable” construction problems on the 3,000-mile Keystone Pipeline System in the United States validated President Joe Biden’s decision to cancel the controversial Keystone XL project on his first day in office, a group of senior Congressional leaders said Monday, citing a new report from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ), and Bobby Rush (D-IL) requested the GAO review in November 2019, after the existing pipeline leaked more than 11,000 barrels of crude oil in two incidents spanning less than two years, Reuters reports.

The assessment found that Keystone’s four largest spills were “caused by issues related to the original design, manufacturing of the pipe, or construction of the pipeline,” the news agency adds.

“In its thorough review of the pipeline’s history and construction, GAO found that preventable construction issues contributed to the current Keystone pipeline’s spills more frequently than the industry-wide trends,” the legislators said in a statement. “In fact, GAO found that, while corrosion was the industry’s leading cause of such accidents on crude oil pipelines, half of Keystone’s accidents were caused by material failure of the pipe or weld.” 

On that basis, they added, “President Biden was clearly right to question this operator’s ability to construct a safe and resilient pipeline, and we support his decision to put Americans’ health and environment above industry interests.”

DeFazio and Pallone chair the U.S. House committees on transportation and infrastructure and on energy and commerce, respectively, while Payne and Rush lead subcommittees responsible for energy, pipelines, and hazardous materials.

Once Calgary-based operator TC Energy got Keystone online, The Hill says the pipeline had a similar accident history to others since 2010. But that record “has worsened in recent years,” with the two spills in 2017 and 2019 accounting for about 93% of the oil the system released over the decade.

“Using a government measure of the number of accidents impacting people and the environment per total miles of pipeline, the GAO said TC Energy was ‘consistently’ better than the national average, though ‘less so’ in recent years,” the news story states. 

“Over the five-year period of 2016 to 2020, TC was around average, ranking 43rd out of 80 operators when measuring from the fewest accidents to the most.” Based on a measure of “volume of oil spilled per barrel-mile of transport,” The Hill says, “TC was better than average over the past decade, worse than average of the past five years, and better than average for the past three years.”

The GAO report includes a letter from TC Executive Vice President Leslie Kass that declares safety a “core value” for the company. Kass indicates the company has introduced new safety measures, The Hill says, “including a new tool that allows it to detect imperfections more easily”.

But the four politicians maintained that “TC Energy’s record among its peers is one of the worst in terms of volume of oil spilled per mile transported”.