WASHINGTON — Four top U.S. Democrats have asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to review the Keystone pipeline operator TC Energy as well as the body that regulates it.
In a Monday, Nov. 18, letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the four U.S. representatives said that, as the third crude oil spill from the Keystone pipeline in three years, the Oct. 29 spill outside Edinburg, N.D., merits a review of Canada-based TC Energy as well as the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
The letter was signed by Rep. Frank Pallone, of New Jersey; Rep. Peter DeFazio, of Oregon; and Reps. Dan Lipinski and Bobby Rush of Illinois.
“The frequency and severity of these incidents on the Keystone Pipeline System raises serious questions about both the integrity management program of TC Energy and whether adequate oversight and operating conditions have been put in place by PHMSA to ensure the safe operation of this high pressure system,” the letter reads.
In particular, the letter asked the Government Accountability Office to focus on how PHMSA collects, analyzes and reports data on pipeline incidents, why PHMSA has not enforced violations of the U.S. Code to the full extent of the law and whether TC Energy has appropriately addressed the 15 enforcement actions against it since 2011.
Sen. Ken Cramer, R-N.D, said he would be open to such a review taking place — but he believes the first step is finishing the investigation of what went wrong Oct. 29, so officials have a better idea of whether the spill was an isolated incident or not.
"You always learn from every circumstance, every situation," Cramer said. "And so, as you plan policy-wise or regulation-wise, or even just how you site the pipeline, every situation is informative going forward."
Cramer said that he has yet to hear constituents voice concern over the recent spill, but he met with PHMSA administrator Howard "Skip" Elliot on Tuesday, Nov. 19, to discuss the pipeline. Cramer said he believes a federal review would be "appropriate," especially regarding PHMSA's role as the federal agency involved. In his experience, he said PHMSA has been understaffed and overworked for years, and while he believes a good job is done with the resources available, he also believes it could do more if it had more.
Still, he said he doesn't foresee North Dakota's relationship with oil pipelines changing any time soon.
"I would think, if it changes in any way, it would just make it better," he said. "Depending on what they find, I would hope it would inform regulators for the next pipeline to just add another layer of security if it's possible."
U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., responding to a request for comment via email, agreed with Cramer that he would be open to a review.
"The important thing is that the company completely cleans up and remediates the site, and that PHMSA oversees this process to ensure that it is done well and there is proper transparency," Hoeven said in the statement. "The GAO can review the spill as well to assure the public that it has been properly remediated."
Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., also responding via emailed statement, pointed out that all four signers of the letter voted to stop an executive order that would have fast-tracked authorization to move liquefied natural gas by rail tank car in June.
"My question for them is, if not by rail and not by pipeline, how would they power the economy?" Armstrong said in the statement. "Any leak is unfortunate, and we need to do all we can to ensure safety and integrity of energy transportation. In this case, the leak was recognized and stopped in two minutes."