Judge Halts Pipeline: Texas Judge Says Keystone XL Tar Sands Are Not Crude Oil

By iScienceTimes Staff on December 11, 2012 4:44 PM EST

Keystone XL Pipeline protests
Texans have been protesting the Keystone Pipeline for months. This February protest in Paris, Texas was just one of many this year. On Monday a Texas judge temporarily halted construction of the pipeline. (Photo: Reuters)

A judge in Nacogdoches, Texas has ordered TransCanada to stop building part of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline designed to transport oil from Canadian tar sands to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico region. The judge halted the pipeline on behalf of Michael Bishop, a landowner who brought suit against TransCanada after finding out the pipeline would be transporting material from the tar sands and not crude oil as originally stated.

"What they're calling tar sands oil is not oil by anyone's definition," Bishop told The Los Angeles Times. He is concerned that the pipeline could leak hazardous chemicals onto his property. "I'm very concerned about a leak. They need to pull the permit, go back and re-register this on the federal level as a hazardous-material pipeline and see if they can get it permitted then."

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The judge halted the pipeline because tar sands oil, a.k.a. diluted bitumen, does not share the same chemical composition or consistency of crude oil. For starters, crude oil is in a liquid state and flow easily.  Tar sands extracted in Alberta, Canada are in a near-solid state and must be heated and diluted with chemicals to flow properly through the pipeline, according to an AP report.

Jack Sinz, the judge who halted the pipeline, signed a temporary restraining order against TransCanada on Friday. Work will be halted on the pipeline until a hearing on Dec. 19. A spokesman for TransCanada told the AP that other courts have ruled that tar sands are properly classified as a form of crude oil and he expects the same to happen in Texas.

Any delay in Keystone XL Pipeline is seen as a victory by opponents of the project. The judge halted the pipeline over a private landowner's concerns, not the larger environmental issues opponents of the Keystone XL Pipeline say will be exaggerated if its completed.

The major argument against the Keystone XL Pipeline is that tar sands are much harder to cleanup than crude oil if they spill. And it will spill, say experts. Alex Ralston of the Center for Biological Diversity told care2.com "the State Department's review of the project clearly says Keystone XL will spill oil. Not may, but will. The existing Keystone pipeline has already leaked 14 times since it began operating in June 2010, including one leak that dumped 21,000 gallons of tar-sands crude. Keystone XL would carry up to 35 million gallons of oil every day - so any leak has the potential to be massive."

Another myth Ralston calls attention to is a lack of jobs. No jobs were affected by the judge halting the pipeline, but the overall project will only create only 20 permanent jobs in the U.S. The oil will also be exported offshore, meaning that it will be sold outside the reach of U.S. taxes.

Arguments against the Keystone XL Pipeline also factor in the impact global warming has on the environment. An editorial by Russ Doty and Holly Wilde in The Missoulian cited the rise in insect-borne diseases over the last decade and attributed it to overall warmer temperatures that provide better breeding grounds for insects such as ticks and mosquitoes. They contrasted the health care costs associated with these diseases against the financial gains projected by the Keystone XL pipeline. (The numbers do not take into account delays caused by incidents like a judge halting the pipeline.)

"The KXL Pipeline will produce 5,060 to 9,250 full-time equivalent, temporary, non-local jobs over the two-year construction phase, as calculated by Cornell University's Global Labor Institute - a realistic number lower than the inflated 20,000 claimed by KXL supporters," they wrote. "Thus KXL will produce $253 million - $555 million in wages (at $50,000 to $60,000 per job). Compare that with the $534 million-plus cost of treating 6,000 added U.S. cases of Lyme disease every three years (at $89,000 per case). Thus, within three years or less, global warming-related, impaired health costs will begin to outweigh wage benefits of the Earth-warming KXL project."

The environmental protests are now converging on Texas, and a judge halting the pipeline is sure to make headlines that draw even more. In October, actress Daryl Hannah was arrested along with a 78-year-old woman during a protest of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

TransCanada is not deterred by the protest, or the judge halting their pipeline.

"Under Texas law, TransCanada has been granted the legal authority to construct this pipeline. Construction has commenced on the property that is the subject of the temporary restraining order and the product the Gulf Coast Pipeline will transport is crude oil," Shawn Howard, a TransCanada spokesman, said in a statement sent to The L.A. Times.

Michael Bishop is equally determined.

I'm fighting for the little guy out here who can't fight for himself," Bishop told The L.A. Times. "If I prevail in this suit, this is going to open the door for every landowner from Canada down to the refineries, and I don't think TransCanada can handle that."

What do you think? Is the KXL pipeline a good job creator? Or is it an eco-disaster dressed in economic recovery clothing? Let us know your thoughts on the controversial pipeline in the comments section!

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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