A large section of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline went into official operation Wednesday, in a move that supporters say will help ease the flow of oil to refineries in the Gulf Coast region. The Obama administration has yet to rule on the project's northern portion.
The 487-mile pipeline, which cost $2.3 billion, began delivering crude oil to Texas refineries this morning, its owner, TransCanada, said on its website.
From member station KGOU in Oklahoma City, Joe Wertz filed this report for NPR's Newscast unit:
"Construction on the $2.3 billion pipeline started 18 months ago. And today, TransCanada started pumping crude oil from Oklahoma to customers in Texas. TransCanada's Alex Pourbaix, spoke to reporters shortly after the southern section went into service.
"'The pipeline does provide a safe and direct connection between an important oil hub — probably the most important oil hub on this continent — in Cushing, Okla., with the world's most efficient refiners in the U-S Gulf Coast,' Pourbaix said.
"Relieving the Cushing oil glut will likely help midcontinent producers receive better prices for their oil. But some analysts say the crude might create a new bottleneck in Texas because the Gulf Coast doesn't have enough refineries."
Other concerns about the pipeline have often centered on two topics: its potential environmental impact, and the rights of landowners whose property lies in the pipeline's path.
As Mose Buchele of NPR's State Impact Texas project reports, farmers are among those who are angry that the pipeline's owner, TransCanada, "has claimed private property to route the pipeline through Texas."
Julia Trigg Crawford, who has a farm on several hundred acres of land in North Texas, tells Buchele that she saw an "unusual flurry of activity" over the weekend, as TransCanada prepared the pipeline for its official debut (it's been carrying crude oil for weeks, but not at full capacity).
"Track hoes, skids, water trucks, electrical trucks and construction crews showed up," Crawford says. "They unearthed the pipeline, attached wires and sensors, wrapped it in something and then covered it up."
The company eventually told Crawford that it had been installing heat sensors, she tells Buchele.
Crawford says she and other critics of the pipeline will be watching carefully for any problems – and they hope more politicians agree with their view of Keystone as an export system that endangers waterways and doesn't create jobs.
But on the other side of the issue, as Buchele reports, "a glitch-free roll out of pipeline service could provide TransCanada with a public perception boost, as it continues to argue for approval of the northern leg of the project."