Part 1: Tree sitters have sparked tension in East Texas over Keystone XL
Part 2: When a multibillion-dollar pipeline runs through your backyard
Part 3: TransCanada’s massive effort to bring Keystone XL to the Texas Coast
WINNSBORO – Amid the elm and pine trees on his family’s East Texas land, between leaves turning pink and orange and tracks left by hogs and raccoons, Gabe Cordova has gotten used to the sight of nothing.
That is what was left after yellow machines with claws and saws ran their course, cutting away a dense preserve of dogwood, cedar and sweet gums en route southward.
At the center of it now, lined up on a 100-foot-wide void in the woods, are the beginnings of Keystone XL, a 36-inch diameter pipe that eventually will bring oil from Canada to refineries on the Texas coast.
“I knew it was going to happen,” Cordova said, as he surveyed terrain he hoped to maintain as a natural preserve before he watched crews clear cut the land, “but it was just despair.”
About 100 miles to the south, however, Marshall Treadwell wasn’t bothered as pipeline crews prepared to tear through his 800-acre tree and hay farm. Four pipelines already run through his property, strips of land that have been replanted with growth that supports wildlife roaming the wooded region.
“The pipelines have been going through here for years,” Treadwell said. “The environment hasn’t gone to hell yet.”
The split in perspectives among landowners is representative of a wider divide over Keystone XL that has been highlighted by politicians in Washington and activists in Winnsboro who have camped out in trees and attempted to thwart pipeline work for more than a month.
While some landowners along the southern portion of the pipeline route – from Cushing, Okla., to the Texas coast – have complained about the project, many are supportive. They have little quarrel with Canadian pipeline company TransCanada, which has compensated them handsomely for use of their property and plans to plant trees and maintain landscaping along its right of way.
Cordova lives on land owned by his mother, Susan Scott, and both opposed the pipeline. But they’re resigned to the fact that TransCanada is building the line, whether they like it or not.
Realizing that TransCanada could get the pipeline right of way through eminent domain, the family, like the vast majority of landowners along the Keystone XL route, agreed to terms with the company and accepted compensation for resulting inconveniences.
TransCanada only took legal action against 53 of the 1,200 landowners along the southern leg of Keystone XL to get access to their land, company spokesman Jim Prescott said, and some of those settled once the legal action began.
Thousands of dollars
Landowner compensation can reach tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the value of property affected. The company is viewed in Texas as a common carrier, which gives it rights similar to a utility or phone company to work on private property through eminent domain.
Much of the rallying cry against the pipeline has involved the type of oil that Keystone XL will transport from Canada, in addition to other oil it will carry from U.S. shale plays. Producing crude from Canadian oil sands involves substantial energy, water and emissions that oil companies say they are trying to reduce. Although environmentalists say the production process alone is especially dirty, the possibility of a spill of oil sands crude has added to concerns.
Because oil sands crude has heavy components that can sink in water, the product can be especially damaging and difficult to clean, environmentalists say. A 2010 pipeline leak of oil sands crude into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan has taken more than two years and $800 million to clean up, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It has been the most expensive onshore oil spill in U.S. history and resulted in more than 300 people suffering adverse health effects because of benzene exposure, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
TransCanada spokesman David Dodson said the pipeline involved in that spill, which is owned by Enbridge, is “from a different era” and that Keystone XL will be the safest pipeline ever built. It will have dozens of monitoring devices to detect pressures and help alert operators to possible spills. The oil sands crude, TransCanada says, will be just as safe any other heavy crude that moves through pipelines.
Treadwell, who owns land in Rusk County, isn’t concerned.
“I have no idea what’s going through the pipeline,” Treadwell said as he drove an off-road vehicle over another pipeline, which was buried under his property in the 1940s. “And I don’t care what’s going through the pipeline.”
As he surveyed his land, a vast territory populated with pine, oak, hackberry, hickory and ash, Treadwell said he favors the movement of more oil to the Texas coast and the jobs that might come with the resulting oil industry activity.
While the pipeline work will clear out existing vegetation, Treadwell said, TransCanada will replant and maintain it. He plans to fill it with oats and clover to feed deer and other wildlife that move through his land.
“You lose some use of it, but not all,” he said, gesturing at other pipeline rights of way that have been replanted. “It’s just a matter of changing use.”
He wasn’t concerned about the environmental risks of another oil pipeline through an area that he has used to host paid hog hunting excursions and a tree farm.
“There are going to be leaks,” he said, “but why are they building the pipeline? They’re building it to make money. They’re going to be out here trying to stop a leak as fast as they can.”
Scott, who owns the land where her son lives, wasn’t buying that argument.
“It ain’t a matter of if it’s going to break, it’s when it’s going to break,” Scott said.
She feared the damage that could come to her land if a leak were to take place there, even if it were stopped quickly.
“This place is magic,” she said.
Oil sands crude will flow through the pipeline, Cordova said, though he acknowledged that foliage to be planted by Trans-Canada will bring life back to the scarred land.
“If they get that done, it’ll be less noticeable,” Cordova said as he fed a group of catfish in a pond less than 50 feet from the construction zone. “But there will also be that threat that we’ll have to live with every day.”