Keystone XL work veers onto wrong land

TransCanada contractors building the Keystone XL pipeline mistakenly planned their route and cleared several hundred feet of land through public property they had no right to work on, an Angelina County official told FuelFix.

Officials noticed the mistake after protesters set up in trees in Angelina County to oppose work on the pipeline, which is intended to link the Texas coast with Canadian oil sands fields.

TransCanada cleared trees, soil and other foliage from a 50-foot wide strip of land owned by the county without any prior agreement for work there, Angelina County Attorney Ed Jones said.

“I would say it was a surprise to the county,” Jones said.

Editorial: Let the Keystone pipeline be built

TransCanada workers thought the land was privately owned and had planned the Keystone XL route to move through that property. The company had negotiated an agreement with a landowner and had paid him for use of the property for Keystone XL, TransCanada spokesman David Dodson said.

But the landowner, Nacogdoches resident Kevin Bradford, had sold a 6-acre parcel of his land to the county in 2009, six months before TransCanada approached him to negotiate payment for work on the property, Jones said.

The county had since made “several hundred thousand dollars in improvements” to the site, including the installation of a weigh station, small office buildings, parking lot and ramps connecting to the adjacent Highway 59, Jones said. Those improvements had dramatically increased the property’s overall value, he said. TransCanada factors property values into compensation payments it makes to landowners.

But the company thought Bradford owned the land.

“It’s up to us to check things like that and inadvertently we staked out that area,” Dodson said. “It’s an error and we are working to correct that.”

Bradford, who does not live on the property, said he was not aware of the mistake. But it was unclear why TransCanada would have been confused about the land, he said.

“There’s no question about it being the county property,” Bradford said.  “I mean, they built the weight station there. It most certainly wouldn’t have belonged to me. Anybody would know.”

The county asked TransCanada to stop work on its property until the situation is resolved, Jones said.

“Given all the circumstances, they have been cooperative,” he said.

Pipeline opponent Ron Seifert, a spokesman for the group Tar Sands Blockade, said the mistake, which was exposed because of the actions of protesters on that property, was illustrative of an operation prone to errors.

“Certainly, the more familiar we get with TransCanada’s process, the more we learn about these projects, it becomes ever more clear that these companies cut corners,“ Seifert said. “One can only guess how many times has this happened how many other places along the route did they make a mistake.”

He said the mistake raised questions about whether the company could be trusted with a pipeline that will carry a product that activists argue can be especially harmful to the environment when spilled.

“Why should we believe them that their leak detection systems will work?” Seifert said. “Why should we believe them that they’ve taken every precaution to protect our water?”

TransCanada says Keystone XL will be the safest pipeline ever built.

The Angelina County error was an isolated mistake, said Dodson, the TransCanada spokesman.

“We thought we were negotiating in good faith and we did and we missed it,” Dodson said.

He said Bradford is not suspected of misleading the company and that the error could have been related to a misreading of county land documents.

It’s not clear yet clear how TransCanada will proceed with Keystone XL construction in the area. The company may have to negotiate with the county for construction rights, or might opt to reimburse the county for damages while pursuing an adjusted route.

But rerouting  at that location may be complicated, since it could involve crossing under railroad tracks, a highway, and avoiding county infrastructure nearby, including a weigh station on the property that TransCanada mistakenly cleared, Jones said.

Keystone XL has prompted a series of protests and demonstrations in Texas, with activists attempting to stop construction by camping in trees, standing in front of working machinery and locking themselves to equipment.

TransCanada, which sought a restraining order against several protesters and groups, including Seifert and Tar Sands Blockade, reached an agreement with them last week preventing more than a dozen activists from interfering with pipeline work. Seifert said that won’t stop the opposition movement from speaking out against Keystone XL and encouraging others to take action against the pipeline.

TransCanada has until now been unable to obtain permission from the Obama administration for a cross-border permit to connect the pipeline to Canadian oil fields in Alberta. But the company has moved forward with the southern leg, which will connect the oil hub at Cushing, Okla., to refineries along the Texas coast.

The pipeline will carry  oil from shale plays throughout the country in addition to  moving oil sands crude–a diluted form of  bitumen

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

A 2010 pipeline spill of diluted bitumen into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River has taken more than two years $800 million to clean, making it the most expensive onshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Read more on the Keystone XL pipeline in Texas:

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