Whistleblower.Photo: Steven DepoloCross-posted from Climate Progress.

By forcing the White House to make a decision on the politically and environmentally toxic Keystone XL pipeline as part of an agreement reached in December to extend the payroll tax cut, Republicans are being lambasted by environmental groups for undercutting the federal environmental review process.

Now, a whistleblower is claiming that the company overseeing the development of the proposed project, TransCanada, also has a track record of undercutting quality at the expense of the environment — further calling into question the decision by Congress to prevent a new federal environmental impact study for Keystone XL. Says former pipeline inspector Mike Klink:

Let’s be clear — I am an engineer; I am not telling you we shouldn’t build pipelines. We just should not build this one.

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Klink was an inspector for Bechtel, one of the major contractors working on TransCanada’s original Keystone pipeline, completed in 2010. Klink says he raised numerous concerns about shoddy materials and poor craftsmanship during construction of the pipeline, which brings tar-sands crude from Canada to Midwestern refineries in the U.S. Instead of actually addressing the problems, Klink claims he was fired by Bechtel in retaliation. He filed a complaint [PDF] with the Department of Labor in March of 2010, and made his story public last fall.

Klink, who says he’s speaking as an engineer and not an environmentalist, has just published a scathing op-ed in the Lincoln Journal Star criticizing Keystone XL, a proposed extension of the current tar-sands pipeline network that would bring crude down to refineries in the Gulf Coast, crossing a major aquifer along the way:

As an inspector, my job was to monitor the construction of the first Keystone pipeline. I oversaw construction at the pump stations that have been such a problem on that line, which has already spilled more than a dozen times. I am coming forward because my kids encouraged me to tell the truth about what was done and covered up.

When I last raised concerns about corners being cut, I lost my job — but people along the Keystone XL pathway have a lot more to lose if this project moves forward with the same shoddy work.

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A recent environmental impact statement — outsourced by the State Department to another major TransCanada contractor — found that there would be “limited adverse environmental impacts” associated with the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline. Opponents of the pipeline cried foul, saying it was yet another major conflict of interest between the State Department and TransCanada.

Klink’s assertions about poor management of the first Keystone pipeline provide yet more ammunition for critics of the pipeline:

What did I see? Cheap foreign steel that cracked when workers tried to weld it, foundations for pump stations that you would never consider using in your own home, fudged safety tests, Bechtel staffers explaining away leaks during pressure tests as “not too bad,” shortcuts on the steel and rebar that are essential for safe pipeline operation and siting of facilities on completely inappropriate spots like wetlands.

I shared these concerns with my bosses, who communicated them to the bigwigs at TransCanada, but nothing changed. TransCanada didn’t appear to care. That is why I was not surprised to hear about the big spill in Ludden, N.D., where a 60-foot plume of crude spewed tens of thousands of gallons of toxic tar sands oil and fouled neighboring fields.

TransCanada says that the performance has been OK. Fourteen spills is not so bad. And that the pump stations don’t really count. That is all bunk. This thing shouldn’t be leaking like a sieve in its first year — what do you think happens decades from now after moving billions of barrels of the most corrosive oil on the planet?

Let’s be clear — I am an engineer; I am not telling you we shouldn’t build pipelines. We just should not build this one.

White House officials say the 60-day timeline forced by Congress on the Keystone XL pipeline will force the administration to deny the project. This is exactly what Republicans want — but only to make the pipeline an election issue, not to consider the myriad environmental issues being raised.

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