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Dents, Sags, Structural Flaws Plague Southern Portion of Keystone XL: Report

Findings come as TransCanada races to pump tar sands oil through southern portion of pipeline by year's end

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Multiple coating patches over new pipe about to be placed into the trench during initial construction. (Photo: Public Citizen / Flickr Creative Commons)As TransCanada races to pump the southern portion of Keystone XL with tar sands oil by the end of this year, a report released Tuesday by Public Citizen finds that the Texas portion of the pipeline is riddled with structural flaws including sags, dents, and shoddy patchwork that could spark dangerous leaks and spills.

“The government should investigate, and shouldn’t let crude flow until that is done,” said Tom Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “Given the stakes—the potential for a catastrophic spill of hazardous crude along a pipeline that traverses hundreds of streams and rivers and comes within a few miles of some towns and cities—it would be irresponsible to allow the pipeline to start operating.”

Working in collaboration with former TransCanada engineer and whistleblower Evan Vokes, a Public Citizen consultant interviewed landowners, visited excavation sites, reviewed photo and video evidence, and flew over the pipeline route several times, collecting a trove of evidence that the Texas portion of the 450-mile southern pipeline segment is not structurally prepared to be flooded with oil.

In the 250 miles of pipeline, Public Citizen found at least 125 potential anomalies, including dents, sags, bends, improperly patched pipes, welding flaws, insufficient pipeline support, soil problems, and a litany of other structural problems.

Eyewitnesses interviewed for the report described construction in which "pipe riddled with patching" was put in the ground.

"Many of the areas where crews were digging up recently buried—and presumably damaged—pipe were in swamps, water channels and road crossings –sensitive areas that require special care and different construction techniques to mitigate risk," the report reads.

This is in a pipeline that passes 631 streams and rivers in Texas alone.

TransCanada claims to be investigating and correcting construction flaws, but the report sounds the alarm that these so-called repairs are hastily and poorly completed. For example, in replaced sections of damaged pipeline, welding was improperly tested.

As President Obama weighs whether to approve the northern portion of the pipeline, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with the backing of the Obama administration, gave TransCanada permission to expedite the building of this southern portion, Steve Horn with Desmog Blog explains

The Public Citizen report warns, "What appears to be problematic construction and corner-cutting raises questions not only about the chances of a spill, but also about the quality of TransCanda's in-house inspection system, as well as the ability of the federal government to oversee the process."

Pipe in new construction appearing to float or raise up in the trench due to not being secured in the pipe. This situation can cause excessive bending of the pipe. (Photo: Public Citizen / Flickr Creative Commons)

A dent anomaly on the exterior cut out section of pipe. The dent was about the size of a brick. (Photo: Public Citizen / Flickr Creative Commons)

Eleanor Fairchild stands in a crater created after TransCanada's pipeline construction near a wetland on her property. (Photo: Public Citizen / Flickr Creative Commons)

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