GAO Report Claims XL Pipeline Led to Oil Spills

The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report on Monday which said that the spills from the Keystone XL pipeline have been significantly worse than other pipelines, and that the Department of Transportation has required TC Energy, the operator of the pipeline, to investigate four large spills which allegedly could have been prevented. 

Although the pipeline was not finished and its permits have since been cancelled, it has been in use since 2010 and has transported more than 3 billion barrels of oil from Canada to the United States.  The pipeline has been subject to multiple lawsuits, and the company claimed that it is seeking damages based on the permit being cancelled. 

In addition to the investigations, the Department of Transportation has reportedly “issued enforcement actions and civil penalties for problems like inadequate corrosion prevention.” The Government Accountability Office reported that because of spills from the Keystone XL Pipeline it has increased inspections for other pipelines during construction. 

The government reported that TC Energy asked to operate the pipeline at a higher stress level, which is sometimes allowed, but determined that the pipes had quality issues and could not increase the stress until they addressed quality issues in 2017. The report noted that the accident history for the pipeline was initially similar to other pipelines, however, spill severity increased over the last few years and multiple spills required corrective action from government agencies. 

In a press release from the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure from the Chair of that committee, the Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and the chairs of multiple subcommittees which have oversight over oil pipelines said that the present report shows that the decision from President Biden to cancel further development of the pipeline was the correct decision. 

“TC Energy’s record among its peers is one of the worst in terms of volume of oil spilled per mile transported. President Biden was clearly right to question this operator’s ability to construct a safe and resilient pipeline, and we support his decision to put Americans’ health and environment above industry interests,” the chairs said. 

They noted that “preventable construction issues” contributed to the spills, that half of the accidents were due to a failure of the pipe or the welding, and that four of the largest spills were due to design issues or manufacturing.