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Rash of Spills Puts New Tar Sands Oil Pipeline on Hold

Ed Brayton

The delay is likely only temporary, but public opinion and public pressure will surely be the only possible block for a pipeline that the oil industry is keen to push through the regulatory process. (Image: Friends of the Earth)

U.S. State Department approval of the
proposed Keystone XL pipeline, a massive project that would carry crude
oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada all the way to southern Texas,
has been delayed and observers say the spill of a million gallons into a
Michigan waterway is likely one key reason why. AP reports:

Yet final U.S. government approval for the massive
project, once assumed to be on a fast track, is now delayed
indefinitely, with little official explanation. The company had hoped to
begin laying pipe by the end of the year, but those prospects have

Some experts conclude the negative publicity surrounding oil-related
disasters, particularly the offshore BP leak that polluted the Gulf
Coast for months, has made the Keystone XL pipeline a victim of guilt by

In April, the State Department published a draft report giving the
Keystone XL pipeline a favorable environmental score, but that was just
days before the Gulf Oil spill hit. Other oil-related disasters
followed, including Enbridge Inc.’s broken pipeline that spilled
hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River in


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Some elected officials and federal agencies have expressed skepticism
about the positive environmental findings. The Environmental Protection
Agency called the State Department’s review inadequate, while the
Department of Energy concluded Keystone XL couldn’t act as a safeguard
against global price shocks.

The oil spilled in Calhoun County in July is the same kind that will
be carried by the Keystone pipeline, crude oil extracted from tar sands
through a very energy-intensive and environmentally destructive process.
Unlike regular light crude, tar sands crude requires massive amounts of
water and energy to extract the oil from the surrounding rock matrix.

As a result, tar sands crude is much higher in heavy metals than
conventional crude and the extraction process results in much higher
levels of greenhouse gasses being released. And as the Messenger previously reported,
sending the thick crude by pipeline can drastically increase false
pressure readings, making it nearly impossible to discern a real leak
from the thousands of false positives coming from the pressure sensing

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