Keystone XL pipeline map
Keystone XL pipeline map

Debate continues on the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, which could be fully completed and operational in early 2013.

The entire project, announced in 2005, will run from Canada to the Gulf Coast, a span of nearly 2,000 miles. The first two phases, which brought the pipeline as far as Cushing, Okla., are complete, with Phase 2 expected to be put in service within the next couple of weeks. Phase 3 of the project will run the pipeline from Cushing to the coast and through a portion of East Texas that includes a small portion of southwest Angelina County.

The Sierra Club has been especially vocal about the project, calling for further investigation into the need for the pipeline, better education for people who will live near the pipeline and new regulations for oil sand transportation and use.

Kate Colarulli, national “dirty fuels” specialist for the Sierra Club, said one of the club’s main concerns with the pipeline is the possibility of a significant impact on the economy, environment and health of East Texans.

“The pipeline will cross 32 bodies of water in East Texas,” Colarulli said, adding that those bodies of water provide drinking water to thousands of people who call East Texas home. That includes the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer that runs from the Rio Grande in South Texas northeast into Arkansas and. Louisiana. The Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer provides 100 percent of Lufkin’s drinking water.

Members of the Sierra Club are holding a series of meetings in East Texas to talk to property owners and civic leaders about the pipeline.

“We want to make people more aware and show the implications (of the pipeline),” Colarulli said.

TransCanada spokesman Jim Prescott said the pipeline is the most efficient way to import a resource that is already brought into the country in huge volumes. In addition, it has a smaller carbon footprint than more traditional transportation methods, he said.

“The pipeline has less impact than putting oil sand in a tanker and transporting it across the world,” Prescott said.

The pipeline will be monitored constantly, he said. If something were to indicate a leak, such as a drop in pressure, the company could remotely stop the oil sand from flowing through that section of pipe within minutes, he said. In addition, representatives from TransCanada plan to fly the pipeline’s route 26 times a year to scout for any signs that something is wrong with the pipeline, such as a difference in terrain.

“Our commitment is to design, to build and to operate the pipeline to be the safest pipeline in the business,” Prescott said.

Keystone XL will be the second oil sands pipeline built by TransCanada. Another pipeline, called Keystone I, is already in place across the Midwest.

Right now, the company is waiting for a revised environmental impact statement, which Prescott expects to arrive in early 2011. Following that, the company will need a presidential permit that should arrive in mid-2011.

A press release provided by TransCanada announced in December that nine members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas, along with 30 members from 18 other states, approved providing the presidential permit for the $7 billion pipeline project. The representatives urged U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take immediate action and approve the permit to TransCanada because, according to the release, it is expected to create 13,000 high-wage construction jobs and generate millions of dollars in tax revenue for local and state governments.

“Keystone’s impact on consumers is difficult to predict, but the pipeline’s purpose is to meet market demand for crude oil with a steady supply from a dependable source,” Prescott said when asked whether the ordinary consumer would see any savings because of the Keystone Pipeline.

Until the presidential permit is approved, the company is moving forward and planning for construction, Prescott said. Included in those plans is taking steps to acquire the land necessary for the pipeline route.

Part of the Sierra Club’s educational program involves the matter of eminent domain. According to the Texas Landowners Bill of Rights, property can only be taken for a public use, and only by a governmental entity or private entity authorized by law to do so.

The Keystone XL pipeline permit, Prescott said, was issued by the Railroad Commission, which allows the company to operate and make plans to operate and construct the pipeline. That permit also allows it to exercise eminent domain, he said.

Prescott said the company uses eminent domain only as a last resort.

In the first two Keystone XL phases, TransCanada dealt with approximately 4,000 landowners, Prescott said. The company used eminent domain in only 1 percent of the cases, he said.

“I think those numbers speak for themselves,” Prescott said, adding that because the pipeline is such a long-term project, the company wants to establish a good relationship with landowners from day one.

Wood County property owner David Daniel, however, said his experience with TransCanada was anything but friendly. More than two years ago, Daniel said, he found that his property had been surveyed by TransCanada without his permission. When he tried to learn more about the company and the pipeline, he said he was continuously met with dead ends.

“He wanted to know which pile to put me in, the ‘cooperative’ pile or the ‘blankety-blank uncooperative’ pile,” Daniel said, referring to a call to one of TransCanada’s attorneys.

With so many unanswered questions, Daniel said he realized he would be responsible for educating himself. In response, he organized the Wood County STOP Group, otherwise known as the Stop Tar Sands group, which is made up of concerned landowners along the pipeline’s route.

“STOP has grown beyond what I could ever imagine,” Daniel said, “but it still needs to be so much more.”

Colarulli said she hopes landowners have enough information to know the consequences of the pipeline.

“It’s very encouraging to see how many people are fighting (the pipeline),” Colarulli said. “The question is, can that be connected to the federal level?”

The dates for future STOP meetings will be announced when they are determined.

Larissa Graham’s e-mail address is