Texas judge dissolves restraining order on Keystone XL

A Texas judge has dissolved a restraining order that would have prevented  work on part of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, a company spokesman said.

Nacogdoches County resident Michael Bishop had won the temporary restraining order after arguing that TransCanada had misrepresented the purpose of Keystone XL when negotiating an agreement to construct the pipeline through his land.

He argued that the material intended to move through Keystone XL from Canada was not crude oil occurring naturally as a liquid, but rather solid, hydrocarbon-bearing bitumen produced from oil sands and then heated and diluted to move through pipelines.

Although Nacogdoches County Court-at-Law Judge Jack Sinz  approved the restraining order  Friday,  TransCanada said it did not learn of it until Wednesday.

The company aggressively worked to clear the hurdle in a hearing rushed onto the court schedule Thursday.

Sinz dissolved the temporary restraining order, but set a hearing for next Wednesday on the pipeline dispute, TransCanada spokesman David Dodson said.

Bishop, 64, is representing himself in the case and has gained the support of environmental activist group Tar Sands Blockade, which has backed protesters who have chained themselves to construction equipment, camped out in trees and stood in front of working crews to stop pipeline work.

In a statement from Tar Sands Blockade, Bishop, a retired chemist and Marine Corps veteran, said he didn’t plan to “roll over and die” while facing off with TransCanada.

“I didn’t pick this fight, but I refuse to sit idly by while a multinational corporation tramples my rights and that of other landowners all along Keystone XL’s path in the name of deepening its profits,” Bishop said.

After a lengthy dispute with TransCanada over work on his land, Bishop signed a settlement agreement with the company about three weeks ago and accepted a payment from the company, Dodson said. Bishop cashed the check and had agreed, as part of the agreement, to drop all legal claims against the company and not interfere with construction, Dodson said.

But Bishop insists that he was misled about the intended contents of the pipeline.

TransCanada considers diluted bitumen to be the same as heavy crude oil. Several Texas court rulings have agreed with the company, defining the substance as crude oil and giving TransCanada authority to move it, Dodson said.

Bud Bishop referenced a congressional document and an Internal Revenue Service definition distinguishing crude oil as a naturally occurring liquid, which bitumen is not.

Pipeline opponents also argue that the diluted bitumen is especially difficult to clean up when spilled, partly because it has heavier components that can sink in water, unlike most liquid crude oils that float and can be skimmed off the surface.

A 2010 spill of oil sands crude from Alberta into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River has become the most expensive onshore oil spill in U.S. history, requiring  a cleanup that has lasted more than two years and cost more than $800 million.

TransCanada argues that Keystone XL has had to meet dozens of additional standards that will make it the safest pipeline ever built. The company also says that oil sands crude is just as safe as any other heavy crude to move through pipelines.

Environmentalists also contend that the process of producing the  substance from oil sands is  especially dirty and environmentally damaging. Oil companies have acknowledged as much and say they are working to clean up their oil sands crude production.