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TSB FOIAs PHMSA

Whoa, so many acronyms in that headline! Allow us to “expand” upon them:

TSB- Tar Sands Blockade, that’s us! We’re continuing to seek answers and accountability regarding  TransCanada’s suspect pipeline construction practices, well documented across Texas. Presently we’re doing this using…

FOIA- the Freedom Of Information Act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966, it codifies the public’s right to know and have access to information and documents about how government agencies operate. It provides for a means of accessing information from government agencies when those agencies aren’t being forthcoming.

PHMSA- the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, is a subdivision of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). This agency is basically responsible for policing the transportation of hazardous materials  through pipelines, trains, tankers etc. by inspecting and enforcing safety codes. For example, PHMSA has regulating authority over KXL construction insofar as it is supposed to ensure that the pipe was installed and tested “up to code.” PHMSA should do this transparently, and give the public access to critical information like inspection results, spill response plans, emergency call numbers and emergency evacuation plans.

What We’re Doing

Our first FOIA request (see below, or click here if it doesn’t appear below) was mailed out to PHMSA’s FOIA Headquarters in DC on Thursday, just as soon as the government shutdown ended (of course PHMSA along with other government agencies, conveniently for them, weren’t processing any FOIA requests during the shutdown). The letter merely requests all Standard Inspection Reports of any and all inspections done on KXL’s southern leg from Cushing, “Oklahoma” all the way down to Port Arthur, “Texas”.

We suspect that PHMSA will attempt to withhold and/or redact what could be some pretty damning reports about KXL and the agency’s failure to conduct adequate oversight. If we don’t get all the answers we seek, certainly more in the way of FOIA’s and other pressure will be coming!

Let’s take a look at what TransCanada has been trying to get away with while building KXL-south.

TransCanada’s Fails

A faulty weld in the KXL-south pipeline through which light shone when it was discovered on the morning of December 3rd, 2012 in Winona, TX.

A faulty weld in the KXL-south pipeline through which light shone when it was discovered on the morning of December 3rd, 2012 in Winona, TX.

↑ NEED WE SAY MORE? The image above was photographed early in the morning on December 3rd, 2012, when Tar Sands Blockaders Matt Almonte, Glen Collins and Isabel Brooks barricaded themselves inside a segment of the Keystone XL while it was sitting above ground, one step away from being lowered into the ground. Isabel was sitting in darkness before dawn that day, and was expecting to continue to be in darkness when morning came, but was surprised to discover light shining directly into the pipe through the welds around her. She recorded the faulty weld picture shown above, and alerted the world to visual confirmation that TransCanada (through Michels, the construction company it contracted) was engaged in dangerous, slapdash construction efforts.

Keep in mind the pipeline is about half an inch thick. So, if light could get out obviously the work is being done recklessly and as quickly as possible. Profits before safety. Profits before the environment. Profits before people.

After the first round of integrity testing was done this summer, TransCanada  spent months rushing around all over digging up the pipe they’d already laid. Because they rushed KXL construction so recklessly, this “safest pipeline ever built” had holes like swiss cheese. TSB expects not dozens, but HUNDREDS of flaws, or what industry calls “anomalies”, were identified by TransCanada and (supposedly) reported to PHMSA. However, PHMSA has not willingly revealed any of those reports.

Whistleblower and former pipeline inspector for TransCanada Evan Vokes had been warning TransCanada for years about their abysmal construction ethic, and it was only a matter of time, and likely thanks as well to the work and photo evidence of Tar Sands Blockaders, that TransCanada finally decided to dig up the pipe. We only wish they’d stopped there…

Instead, in their process of burying KXL again, they continued to rush things, and took special steps to avoid scrutiny as observers filmed construction workers re-installing KXL all over various parts of Texas. The East Texas Observer has done much in the way of documenting all the lousy, dented, scratched, and otherwise unusable pieces of pipe that TransCanada had to keep digging up because they couldn’t do the job right the first time. For video evidence and commentary on TransCanada’s “anomaly work”, check out “May 31, 2013: The Keystone Cover-Up”, “June 16, 2013: How Can We Trust You, TransCanada?”, and “July 3, 2013: What is TransCanada Hiding?”, all available on the East Texas Observer blog.

TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard was noted in a progressive.org article trying to downplay the seriousness of its anomaly work on KXL, saying “it doesn’t matter how many sections are fixed as long as they are fixed.” In saying this, Howard was being evasive. Clearly the anomalies do matter. Why would you work so hard to bury the pipe only to dig it up later, in dozens of sections all throughout Texas? Obviously TransCanada didn’t do its due diligence to make sure the workers did the job right the first time. This also calls into question PHMSA’s inspection work, because if PHMSA was inspecting the pipes, how did so many faulty sections of pipe get successfully buried without being noticed way earlier? How many more sections of pipe, by the way, are so lousy that they still pose a serious risk, but not lousy enough that TransCanada felt they wouldn’t be able to get away with it?

This blog is the first part in a series. Check out part 2 to learn about how PHMSA is abetting and reinforcing TransCanada’s lies.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/tsb-foias-phmsa/