Amid criticism, TransCanada says proposed pipeline is safe

Environmental groups like NRDC have raised similar concerns about the project, pointing to a series of recent leaks in the existing Keystone pipeline, which runs from Alberta to Oklahoma.

There have been 14 leaks on the existing Keystone pipeline since it started operating in the spring of 2010. Two leaks in May caused federal pipeline regulators to issue a corrective action order requiring TransCanada to ensure that the line can operate safely. One day later, regulators agreed to allow TransCanada to restart the pipeline.

TransCanada said Wednesday that the recent leaks were small and were detected quickly.

“We’re continually monitoring very closely our facilities as we return them to service,” TransCanada Vice President of U.S. Pipeline Operations Vern Meier said.

Jones said small leaks “tend to occur in the first one to two-year’s of a pipeline’s operation.” But the company believes it has corrected the source of the leaks and expects a “significant decease in these events going forward,” Jones said.

Asked if the public should expect a similar string of small leaks along the Keystone XL pipeline if it is approved, Jones said TransCanada is making changes to the design of the proposed project to ensure that such incidents don’t occur again.

“When you put a complex pipeline together there will be incidents,” Jones said, adding, “We’ve learned from every one of these and as a result we made modifications to our design or Keystone XL.”

Jones said TransCanada has addressed many of the issue identified in EPA’s criticism of the State Department’s Keystone XL review.

“The issues that EPA has identified have been addressed, they’ve been addressed comprehensively,” he said. “We’ll be working with the Department of State to continue addressing the issues they’ve brought up.”

He also slammed critics of Keystone XL.

“The opponents to the project come across as experts on economics, or chemistry or engineering and that’s just not the facts,” he said.

Jones said he expects to see a decision from the State Department on Keystone XL by the end of the year. The State Department began reviewing the proposal in September of 2009.

But Republicans, arguing that the review has been dragging on too long, are pushing legislation that would force President Obama to make a decision on the project by Nov. 1. A panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the bill Wednesday and Republican leadership hopes to bring the legislation to the floor in July.

The TransCanada conference call comes one day before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Water and Power Subcommittee holds a hearing on pipeline safety. The country’s top pipeline regulatory, Cynthia Quarterman, will testify at the hearing.