Texas judge set to hear Keystone XL dispute

A fight over construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline will head into a Texas court Wednesday, following a judge’s restraining order earlier this month that could have halted the building process.

At the center of the dispute is diluted bitumen, the product that pipeline builder TransCanada plans to move through Keystone XL from Alberta to the Texas Coast.

Bitumen is a solid, hydrocarbon-bearing material that has to be heated and diluted into a substance that can be moved through pipelines.

But Nacogdoches County resident Michael Bishop has argued that diluted bitumen is not the same as crude oil because it does not occur naturally as a liquid. TransCanada, which does not produce oil, says the product is the same as any other heavy crude that already moves through pipelines.

Bishop, a 64-year-old Marine Corps veteran who is representing himself in the case, has cited a congressional document and an Internal Revenue Service tax definition to make his point.

Nacogdoches County Court at Law Judge Jack Sinz initially granted a restraining order halting construction on Bishop’s property, but later dissolved the order and scheduled a follow up hearing after complaints from TransCanada.

Read the Chronicle’s Keystone XL seriesPart 1Tree sitters have sparked tension in East Texas over Keystone XLPart 2When a multibillion-dollar pipeline runs through your backyardPart 3TransCanada’s massive effort to bring Keystone XL to the Texas Coast

Sinz will hear from TransCanada and Bishop on Wednesday, as each makes a case about crude oil and diluted bitumen.

Pipeline opponents have argued that diluted bitumen is not only a different substance from crude oil, but it is also produced through a dirty process and has the potential to cause significantly more environmental damage when spilled.

The company says it has been approved by Texas as a “common carrier” that allows it to transport oil sands crude, along with other crude oils and products.

“Several Texas courts have acknowledged that TransCanada is a common carrier … and that the definition of common carrier includes transporters of crude petroleum,” TransCanada spokesman David Dodson said. “We are hopeful this court will do the same.”

Bishop, who said in an earlier statement that he didn’t plan to “roll over and die” in his fight against TransCanada, plans to participate in a demonstration with other pipeline opponents following the hearing.

Tar Sands Blockade, a group that has organized opposition to Keystone XL, has been supporting Bishop’s case.

Bishop also attempted to sue the Texas Railroad Commission  in federal court, in pursuit of a temporary injunction to stop pipeline work, but a judge Monday declined to hear arguments in the case. The judge said Bishop had not appropriately served the commission, Bloomberg reported.