Engineer raises concerns over Keystone XL pipeline

Dust hangs in the sunset sky above the Fort McMurray, Alberta Suncor Millennium mine. The open-pit oil sand project would feed the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Photo: Peter Essick, National Geographic

An interesting commentary by civil engineer Mike Klink in our local paper today. It’s about TransCanada, the company proposing to build the Keystone XL pipeline across Nebraska.

Klink shared his concerns from his days working on the first Keystone pipeline project. Klink, who lives in Auburn, Ind., is now seeking whistleblower protection from the U.S. Department of Labor. Said Klink:

“Despite its boosters’ advertising, this project is not about jobs or energy security. It is about money. And whenever my former employer Bechtel, working on behalf of TransCanada, had to choose between safety and saving money, they chose to save money.”

Mike Klink, a civil engineer who worked on the first Keystone pipeline, testifies at an Oct. 2011 U.S. State Department hearing on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Klink says the Keystone XL pipeline is not about jobs or energy security. It's about money. Photo: C-SPAN.

Klink explained that as an inspector, his job was to monitor construction of the first Keystone pipeline. He oversaw construction at the problematic pump stations on the original pipeline, that have already spilled more than a dozen times.

Tell the truth

Klink said he is speaking out because his children encouraged him to tell the truth about what was done and what covered up.

“When I last raised concerns about corners being cut, I lost my job,” said Klink. “What did I see? Cheap foreign steel that cracked when workers tried to weld it, foundations for pump stations that you would never consider using in your own home, fudged safety tests, Bechtel staffers explaining away leaks during pressure tests as “not too bad,” shortcuts on the steel and rebar that are essential for safe pipeline operation and siting of facilities on completely inappropriate spots like wetlands.”

Oil in standing water outside Ludden, ND pump station, TransCanada Keystone pipeline system, May 9, 2011. Photo: Pete Carrels

Sharing concerns

Klink said he shared his concerns with his bosses, who communicated them to officials with TransCanada, but nothing changed.

“TransCanada didn’t appear to care. That is why I was not surprised to hear about the big spill in Ludden, N.D., where a 60-foot plume of crude spewed tens of thousands of gallons of toxic tar sands oil and fouled neighboring fields,” Klink said.

Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in South Dakota.

If Klink’s experiences are  true, it’s disconcerting to read about the reaction Klink  got when he reported to Bechtel and TransCanada his concerns about poor materials, faulty workmanship, and “fudged” safety tests on the first Keystone pipeline.

Questions raised
  The reaction Klink claims he received from Bechtel and TransCanada may also raise fair questions about both company’s business and ethical practices.
Safety?
Regarding safety, last October TransCanada promised Nebraska state legislators it would take additional steps to protect environmental safety if the project was approved by the federal government. The Canadian pipeline company said it would back a $100 million bond to ensure adequate funds to clean up after any oil spills.
That bond may not be enough to clean-up a major pipeline oil spill. In July, 2010 more than 800,000 gallons of tar sands crude spilled into Michigan’s  Kalamazoo River system through a rupture in the Enbridge pipeline.  The clean-up cost for that spill is now estimated at about $700 million — 20 percent more than Enbridge’s previous estimate of $585 million.
A pipeline now?
Interestingly, Klink’s comments come on the heels of an Associated Press report this week that said America is on pace to ship more gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel this year than any other single export. The last time the U.S. was a net exporter of fuels was 1949, when Harry Truman was president.

The Associated Press reports that the United States is on pace to ship more gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel this year than any other single export. Photo: Texas Comptroller

Motives for the XL pipeline? The article said the volume of fuel exports is rising as the U.S. uses less fuel because of a weak economy and more efficient cars and trucks. That allows refiners to sell more fuel to rapidly growing economies in Latin America, for example.

The domestic downside to America’s growing role as a fuel exporter?- Experts say the trend helps explain why U.S. motorists are paying more for gasoline. The more fuel that’s sent overseas, the less of a supply cushion there is at home.

Gasoline supplies are being exported to the highest bidder, says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service. "It's a world market," he says. Photo: Wall Street Journal

Gasoline supplies are being exported to the highest bidder, says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service. “It’s a world market,” he says.
Refining companies won’t say how much they make by selling fuel overseas.

According to the A.P. article, analysts say those sales are likely generating higher profits per gallon than they would have generated in the U.S. Otherwise, they wouldn’t occur.

Unless the oil companies, refiners and Keystone can promise that every drop of the tar sands oil piped from Alberta to Texas is dedicated for domestic use, to give America energy security and keep consumer gas prices low, isn’t it fair to ask why the pipeline should exist at all?

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About Bernard McCoy

My views are my own and not a reflection of my employer. I'm a professor of Journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I've also been a working journalist for the past 29 years. I have covered news stories in war zones, reported on human and natural disasters, presidential conventions, a presidential inauguration and the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. My career experiences include work as an award-winning documentary producer, television news reporter, photographer, producer, and anchor. I worked at WIBW-TV, Topeka, KS., KCTV, Kansas City, MO, WKBD-TV, Detroit, MI., WILX-TV, Lansing, MI. and WBNS-TV, Columbus, OH. I have also worked as a contributing reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, Associated Press, CBS, CNN, the Ohio News Network and lecture at the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communications. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in telecommunications management from Michigan State University.
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3 Responses to Engineer raises concerns over Keystone XL pipeline

  1. Pingback: Why should’ve the President approved the Keystone LX Pipeline? | The Revered Review

  2. Xenethanes says:

    “Unless the oil companies, refiners and Keystone can promise that every drop of the tar sands oil piped from Alberta to Texas is dedicated for domestic use, to give America energy security and keep consumer gas prices low, isn’t it fair to ask why the pipeline should exist at all?” Mere promises by TransCanada or U.S. refiners are not enough and are certainly not enforceable.
    In the first year of North Slope oil production, 10% of its crude was sold to China. This stopped only when Congress passed a law barring foreign sales. Congress’ lever was the fact that North Slope oil was taken from a federal reserve. No such lever exists for tar sands crude from Canada obviously. Face it, petroleum from the Keystone XL refined crude will go to the highest bidder, foreign or domestic.

  3. Pingback: Obama administration rejects Keystone XL pipeline project | JournalCetera

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