Public Citizen Asks Legislature for Protections From Poison Pipelines

June 25, 2012

Public Citizen Asks Legislature for Protections From Poison Pipelines

Letter Cites $720 Million Enbridge Tar Sands Spill in Michigan, 14 Spills From Keystone I

 AUSTIN, Texas – In a letter to the chairman of the Energy Resources Committee in the Texas House of Representatives, Public Citizen today made the case that Texas should not wait for federal rules to prevent tar sands pipeline spills. Citing the rupture of Lakehead Line 6B, a Michigan tar sands pipeline that poured more than 1 million gallons into the Kalamazoo River in July 2010, along with Keystone I’s 14 spills in just its first year of operation, Public Citizen called the industry’s track record “troubled” and asked the committee to take up legislation that would give Texas broader authority over pipelines.

The committee will examine state regulations governing oil and gas well construction and integrity, as well as pipeline safety and construction, to determine what changes should be made to ensure that the regulations adequately protect the public. Public Citizen will testify in support of stronger rules for the Seaway pipeline (an existing line repurposed to carry tar sands instead of crude oil), the Keystone pipeline (whose southern leg is not yet built) and proposed future tar sands pipelines.

“These companies keep calling it petroleum, but it’s not – these are pipelines of poison,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office.

In its letter, Public Citizen notes that while crude oil pipelines typically release crude petroleum during spills, tar sands pipelines also release undisclosed chemical diluents that tend to vaporize outside the pipeline and release dangerous toxins like benzene into the air.

The House Energy Resources Committee and the public will hear at 9 a.m. Tuesday from Michelle Barlond-Smith, a resident of Battle Creek, Mich., one of the victims of Enbridge’s Lakehead Line 6B. Barlond-Smith became ill after chemicals involved in the spill flowed into the river in her neighborhood. Trevor Lovell, environmental program coordinator for Public Citizen’s Texas office, also will testify.

Enbridge’s Line 6B is similar to an Enbridge pipeline east of Dallas, Lovell said. “Both Line 6B and the Seaway pipeline are decades-old pipelines ‘repurposed’ for the heavier more toxic tar sands that they were never designed to handle. There will be spills. The Legislature shouldn’t start work now to protect people from toxins released during those spills.”

In response to a reopening of portions of the Kalamazoo River after nearly two years of cleanup efforts, Lovell noted that the Seaway pipeline, which is comparable to Enbridge’s Line 6B, runs under at least three major drinking water sources for the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex: Richland Chambers Reservoir and tributaries to Lavon Lake and Cedar Creek Reservoir.

It its letter, Public Citizen asks lawmakers to:

  • Distinguish between crude petroleum, bitumen and diluted bitumen for regulatory purposes;
  • Compel disclosure of all chemical constituents used for the transportation of bitumen in pipelines in Texas, whether interstate or intrastate;
  • Provide the Railroad Commission of Texas with authority to oversee pipeline siting for all pipelines that will transport bitumen or diluted bitumen and to deny routes that may endanger the environment, public health, or existing or planned economic activities;
  • Compel inspection of existing pipelines that are repurposed or converted for use transporting bitumen or diluted bitumen to ensure such pipelines can safely transport the new material; and
  • Create new safety standards for pipelines transporting bitumen or diluted bitumen within or across the state.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.