Building on her commitment to environmental protection, during the House Natural Resources Committee's vote on H.R. 3, the Northern Route Approval Act, Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter offered the Ensuring Pipeline Safety Amendment, legislation to ensure that existing pipeline regulations are sufficient to safely transport tar sands oil before building the Keystone XL pipeline.
Bitumen -- or tar sands oil -- is a thick, sticky form of crude oil, so heavy and viscous that it will not flow through a pipeline unless it is heated or diluted. This type of oil must be transported through pipelines at higher pressures, and the National Academy of Sciences is currently examining whether tar sands oil is more corrosive to conventional pipelines than traditional oil, and therefore poses additional risks. Shea-Porter believes that until those risks are fully known, we should not move forward with pipelines that could lead to environmental disasters.
"Americans have legitimate concerns about the safety of transporting tar sands oil through pipelines," Shea-Porter said. "No amount of industry boosterism or political posturing can answer these safety questions, which is why we need the National Academy of Sciences -- a true independent actor -- to investigate this matter."
In 2010, a pipeline owned and operated by the Canadian company Enbridge spilled more than 20,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. It was one of the largest and costliest pipeline spills in American history, with cleanup costs topping $800 million. The spill was part of the reason Congress unanimously passed the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act in 2011, which directed the Department of Transportation to investigate the issue of whether existing oil pipelines can safely transport tar sands oil.
Shea-Porter's amendment would not allow the underlying bill (H.R. 3, the Northern Route Approval Act) to take effect until the Secretary of Transportation determines whether hazardous liquid pipeline facility regulations are sufficient to ensure the safety of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Earlier this week, Shea-Porter joined Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Congresswoman Annie Kuster in sending a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. They requested a thorough investigation before allowing implementation of any proposal to allow existing New Hampshire pipelines to reverse their flow and transport of tar sands oil products.