Early this morning, concerned community members and activists from the Texas Action Coalition for the Environment and Tar Sands Blockade attended the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) Pipeline Safety Public Awareness Workshop, at the Hyatt Regency in Richardson, TX. The protesters staged a tar sands spill and carried banners and signs to say that tar sands aren’t being regulated and must be stopped. Activists are expected to continue demonstration outside until dusk, when they will hold lighted billboards reading “PHMSA: No Tar Sands Pipelines” and “Water > Oil.”
Many from across the Keystone XL pipeline route attended the workshop and aired their grievances directly to regulators, asking pertinent questions during panel "question and answer" sessions in order to draw out a complete record of the PHMSA assessment of its awareness efforts.
The sad truth is that PHMSA fails to properly regulate diluted tar sands bitumen—the deadly substance which has leaked in the hundreds of thousands of gallons from shoddily maintained pipelines regulated by PHMSA, poisoning communities like Mayflower, AR, and Kalamazoo, MI. In fact, Sen. Edward Markey recently revealed that while PHMSA issued a Corrective Action Order against ExxonMobil for the Pegasus tar sands pipeline, they allowed Exxon to use a disaster response plan that had not yet been approved without facing any consequences. Exxon did not detect and respond to the spill in Mayflower within the required time limit of the formally approved safety plan. This is just one of many examples of industry and government collusion and oversight to keep the high risk and toxicity of tar sands out of the eyes and mind of the public.
Of particular concern is the fact that tar sands (diluted bitumen or "dilbit") is a different chemical composition than crude oil, and yet it is only classified as such when it benefits the industry bottom line. On the basis that tar sands dilbit is “synthetic crude” and not crude oil, the transport of tar sands through pipelines in the U.S. is exempt from payments into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Otherwise, regulators claim that tar sands bitumen is a type of crude oil. Tar sands are far more difficult and costly to clean up and spills are more toxic to water, wildlife and affected persons as a result of the differences in composition. “Tar sands dilbit needs to be recognized and classified as different from crude oil, for the sake of public awareness and pipeline safety,” says Aly Tharp, one of the organizers of today's protest.
Update 3:30 pm: Blockaders have disrupted a panel titled “Affected Stakeholder Awareness Panel” to bring attention to the safety concerns of landowners and impacted residents who are not included in PHMSA’s definition of stakeholders. Emergency planners on the panel are totally unaware of the differences between tar sands and conventional crude oil.
Tar sands are toxic and have the consistency of crunchy peanutbutter. This is diluted with chemicals and heated up so the tar sands mixture can flow through a pipeline. Tar sands sinks. Emergency planners across the country still do not know how to clean up a spill.
Watch the livestream here.
Update 2 p.m.: Photo of banner drop inside hotel lobby greeting conference guests
Update 1:55 p.m.: Blockaders have moved outside chanting “no tar sands, no way, not ever not today!”
Update 1:45 p.m.: What is PHMSA? PHSMA is the regulatory agency required to inspect the pipeline during installation and is responsible for matoking sure the land is properly restored according to code developed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. PHSMA’s code makes inspections of the pipeline during installation mandatory, not optional, since that is the only way to assure code compliance. Furthermore the Keystone XL project was mandated to supply a project-specific quality manual that details how the regulations and codes will be met.
You can read more about PHMSA and the Keystone XL in this excellent article on EcoWatch by Stefanie Spear.
Update 1:30 p.m.: Blockaders have been stopped from entering the hotel lobby by unmarked security. Blockader who was detained has been released.
Update 1:15 p.m.: One blockader has been detained. Several have been stopped outside of the hotel.
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