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HOUSTON -- A Texas judge has temporarily stopped oil company TransCanada from building a pipeline designed to carry tar sands oil from Canada through eastern portions of the state to the Gulf Coast.
The decision came after Michael Bishop, 64, a retired paramedic and chemist in East Texas, filed a lawsuit arguing that TransCanada lied to him and other landowners, promising that the Keystone XL pipeline would transport crude oil, not tar sands oil.
"What they're calling tar sands oil is not oil by anyone's definition," Bishop told The Times, adding that he's worried the pipeline's proposed contents might contaminate his land. "I'm very concerned about a leak. They need to pull the permit, go back and re-register this on the federal level as a hazardous-material pipeline and see if they can get it permitted then."
Texas County Court at Law Judge Jack Sinz signed the temporary restraining order and injunction against TransCanada on Friday, finding sufficient cause to stop work on the pipeline for two weeks. The injunction went into effect Tuesday, and the next hearing in the case is set for Thursday, court staff told The Times.
Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada, told The Times that courts have already ruled that tar sands oil is a form of crude oil. He said TransCanada had not received a copy of the lawsuit in connection with Bishop's case, but that the company plans to seek an expedited hearing to address the injunction, which will not delay the project, due to be completed late next year.
"Under Texas law, TransCanada has been granted the legal authority to construct this pipeline. Construction has commenced on the property that is the subject of the temporary restraining order and the product the Gulf Coast Pipeline will transport is crude oil," Howard said in a statement sent to The Times on Tuesday.
To understand what tar sands are and why they have a slippery reputation with environmentalists, here’s a cheat sheet on these unconventional oil fields:
WHAT: Tar sands, also known as oil sands, are a mixture of roughly 90 percent sand, clay and water and 10 percent bitumen, a thick hydrocarbon liquid. After extracting that 10 percent of bitumen from the tar-sand mixture, the bitumen can be purified and refined into synthetic crude oil.
WHERE: In North America, tar sands are concentrated in the Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada. Because of Canada’s vast oil deposits, it's the top supplier of crude oil to the United States. Saudi Arabia is the second-largest supplier.
Tar sands are also found in Venezuela and the Middle East.
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would run from the Alberta tar sands down the middle of the United States through Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Oklahoma, all the way to Texas, where it will be refined and converted into gasoline. That's longer than the Trans Alaska Pipeline, which stretches 800 miles. Currently, there are around 55,000 miles of oil pipeline crisscrossing the United States.
HOW: Squeezing oil out of tar sand is an extremely wasteful process: it takes between 2 and 4 tons of tar sand and two to four barrels of water to produce a single barrel of oil. Rather than drilling for oil, enormous shovels carve out open pits in the tar sands, scooping out the greasy interior to be hauled to a processing facility.
There, the tar sand is combined with water to form a slurry, which forces the sand to sink to the bottom of the mixture while the bitumen floats to the top. Once the bitumen is extracted, the run-off is piped into large, stagnant tailing ponds of sand, water, and bitumen impurities.
To make it to the pump, refined bitumen heads to an oil refinery where it’s converted into gasoline. And since bitumen is a highly viscous “heavy” oil that doesn’t flow as easily as lighter crude, it requires more processing to facilitate its flow through the oil pipelines.
WHY: As the price of crude oil has risen and relations with the oil-rich Middle East have deteriorated, tar sands close to American borders have become a more attractive option in the past decade.
Those in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline argue that importing tar sands oil from Canada, a political ally, will move the country toward more energy independence. However, those opposing the pipeline counter that reducing reliance on fossil fuels like tar sands oil is the only long-term path toward energy independence.
HOW MUCH: Tar sands around the world also collectively represent 3 trillion barrels of oil. But a majority of that tar sand bitumen lies too deep in the earth for recovery with today’s mining technology. Nevertheless, Canadian tar sands produce more than 1 million barrels of crude synthetic oil every day.
NASA scientist James Hansen, who was arrested at the Keystone XL protests in front of the White House, commented that if the government approves the project, it's "game over" for curbing climate change.
Originally posted by littled16
reply to post by snarky412
I have mixed feelings on this one snarky. On one hand the pipeline promises to bring many jobs to my area- and we need them. On the other hand they have really played dirty pool with the farmers around here, suing them in court to take their land at nowhere near market value.
Problem is pipeline cuts mostly through the middle of farms. They are right to be concerned!
Originally posted by littled16
reply to post by snarky412
Mine either. Not sure screwing over farmers is worth jobs. I know the many outweigh the few, but without farmers people starve.
Many Texas landowners have gone to court to try to fight the company's land condemnations, which they argue have allowed TransCanada to seize land to build the pipeline without the owners' consent.