TransCanada will fight order to halt Keystone XL work

Related stories on Keystone: 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

A Texas judge in Nacogdoches County has issued a temporary restraining order to halt work on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, according to court documents.

Attorneys for TransCanada, which is building the pipeline, said they planned to fight the order in a hearing Thursday and do not expect it to thwart Keystone XL construction.

The order came in response to a lawsuit filed by 64-year-old county resident Michael Bishop.

Bishop argued that pipeline owner TransCanada misrepresented the purpose of Keystone XL when the company negotiated an agreement with him to build it through his land, according to court documents.

While the company said the pipeline would transport crude oil, Bishop argued that the product planned to flow through Keystone XL from Canada is different because it is produced from oil sands.

Bishop argued that the oil sands crude, produced by heating and diluting solid, hydrocarbon-bearing bitumen so that it can flow through a pipeline, is not the same as crude oil. To support his contention, he cited a congressional committee document and a tax definition from the Internal Revenue Service, among other definitions of crude oil as a naturally occurring liquid.

TransCanada has repeatedly argued that the oil sands crude is the same as any other heavy crude transported through pipelines in Texas and elsewhere in the United States.

Texas refineries already process similar heavy crudes from South America and elsewhere, Valero spokesman Bill Day said.

Regardless of the differences in definition of crude oil between TransCanada and Bishop, Bishop had previously signed an agreement with the company to allow it to transport “oil and crude petroleum products” through the pipeline, TransCanada attorney James Freeman said.

“We disagree with his opinion, but crude oil is a petroleum product so we take the position, legally, that it hasn’t restrained us from building the pipeline for the products that we have the right to build it for,” Freeman said. He said that oil sands crude would fall under either of the product categories for which the pipeline has been built.

TransCanada spokesman David Dodson said the company has not halted any construction because of the order.

Dodson couldn’t give the exact status of work in Nacogdoches or on Bishop’s land, but as of last month, TransCanada crews were preparing to clear land, dig trenches and assemble pipeline.

Bishop had previously opposed the pipeline, but then agreed to a settlement with TransCanada after the company sought legal action to allow it to work on an easement on his property.

Although he agreed to release all legal claims against TransCanada, including a prior claim of a similar nature, he has filed another lawsuit against the company and is in violation of his settlement agreement, Freeman said.

Bishop told the Associated Press he was representing himself because of the expenses in hiring legal help to challenge TransCanada. He learned how by studying from a legal book, he told the news agency. Bishop could not be reached for comment by phone.

TransCanada has faced opposition across Texas as it has attempted to build the southern portion of the Keystone XL, stretching from Cushing, Okla., to the Texas coast. A northern leg, which is planned to cross the Canadian border, has been delayed because of the Obama administration’s denial of a permit to cross the national border.

Environmental activists and landowners opposed to the pipeline have filed lawsuits, chained themselves to heavy equipment, camped out in trees and stood in front of working crews in an attempt to stop work in Texas.

Much of their opposition has surrounded TransCanada’s planned shipping of oil sands crude, which activists say is especially dirty to produce and can cause substantial environmental damage when spilled.

A 2010 spill of oil sands crude from Alberta into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River has become the most expensive on-shore oil spill in U.S. history, resulting in 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.