Cushing, Okla. — In energy circles, the town of Cushing is well known as the hub used by New York oil traders to set the benchmark price for all U.S. crude oil. Row after row of giant oil storage tanks are lined up around a moribund downtown and a shopping strip. At the edge of town stands a sign made of white pipes declaring: “Pipeline Crossroads of the World.”
This is also where TransCanada’s existing Keystone pipeline ends and the southern leg of its new Keystone XL pipeline will begin.
Less well known is the fact that Cushing sits in the Sac and Fox Nation, part of a patchwork of land belonging to Oklahoma’s 38 tribes, each with sovereignty over its own affairs and land.
TransCanada’s plan to dig a trench and bury part of its $7 billion, 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline right through this land has unearthed a host of Native American opposition, resentments and ghosts of the past. Winning support in Indian country is one of the last hurdles for the project, which is touted as a key to North American energy security. The question is whether gaining tribal support is a courtesy, as the company puts it, or a legal obligation.
Under Chief Black Hawk, the Sac and Fox tribe, originally from the Great Lakes region, fought bloody skirmishes in the 1800s against other tribes and federal troops. Ultimately, the tribe signed a series of treaties that pushed it to Illinois, then Iowa, then Kansas and finally in the 1870s to the Indian Territory — now known as Oklahoma.
Along the way, many of its members died of smallpox and other hardships.
George Thurman, chairman of the Sac and Fox Nation and a descendent of Black Hawk, is worried that the pipeline could dig up unmarked graves or other sacred archaeological sites even on private lands.
“There are mass graves where people were buried after dying of smallpox,” Thurman said over lunch at Rudolpho’s Mexican Restaurant in a strip mall on Cushing’s East Main Street. “There could be another buried out there.”
His aide for cultural and historic preservation, Sandra Massey, added: “How many times do we have to move? Our dead are never at rest.”
Nothing is clear-cut about the web of laws regarding Native Americans.
“There is no legal obligation to work with the tribes,” said Lou Thompson, TransCanada’s top liaison with Native Americans. “We do it because we have a policy. We believe it’s a good, neighborly thing to do.” He said the pipeline “is not passing through any tribal lands.”
But many Native Americans in the United States — and their lawyers — insist that there are legal obligations under 19th-century treaties that affirmed sovereign status of Native American tribes, which do not pay state or federal taxes and which have their own governing councils and police forces.
Moreover, the more recent National Historic Preservation Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 both provide for the protection of Indian burial sites and artifacts. “When it comes to jurisdiction, it’s a tough question to answer,” said Jennifer Baker, a Colorado-based lawyer who has worked closely with South Dakota tribes. “History has developed so that legal truths get overshadowed by factual realities, and judges tend to mold the law to reflect factual realities.”
Meeting with tribal leaders
A key reality is this: Even after Trans-Canada has secured the right to build from federal and state officials, it still could run into a hitch on — or near — tribal land.
TransCanada is trying to hammer out issues with Oklahoma and Texas tribes without a fight, so it can get on with digging. The company met with tribal leaders on July 11 at the Caddo Nation headquarters in Binger, Okla., and again on Aug. 3 at the Choctaw Inn, a hotel in Durant near the Choctaw tribe’s headquarters and one of its seven casinos. Another meeting is set for Tulsa.
TransCanada has flown some tribal leaders to Calgary to tour the company’s operations center where banks of computers monitor thousands of points along existing pipelines. And it has trained members of the Alabama Coushatta tribe from south Texas to act as monitors during construction in case Indian remains or artifacts turn up on the tribe’s stretch of the pipeline.
“We walk the entire pipeline route and identify sites and alter the route of our pipeline to avoid those sites,” said Thompson of TransCanada.
He said that the company has also asked the tribes to conduct their own studies of sensitive sites. “Sometimes there are areas very significant to the tribes that don’t bear any physical evidence,” Thompson said. “It might be used to hold ceremonies, but if you walked there you wouldn’t see any evidence.” Thompson’s efforts have new impetus. In July, TransCanada received the permits it needs to build the Keystone XL’s southern leg, which will run from Cushing to Port Arthur, Tex., and the company already has started work.
Yet some of the Native Americans who attended the meetings believe the company is moving too fast. Massey said, “They need to learn whose land is where.” Moreover, she added, monitors from one tribe won’t know the traditions and desires of other tribes.
While Thompson said tribes have looked at programs for construction work, Massey said the plans still lack input from many tribal leaders. “It seems like TransCanada really wants to work with us,” she said dryly. “We’ll see.”
Massey also worries about leaks. In the 1960s, saltwater flooding resulting from Tenneco’s failure to properly plug abandoned wells contaminated Sac and Fox drinking water and destroyed land and pecan groves. Three federal agencies joined the tribe in a lawsuit and the pipeline company El Paso (which bought Tenneco) agreed in 1997 to dig wells, provide potable water and plant trees. The wells still provide water to the tribe.
In other states, TransCanada’s route for the Keystone XL pipeline neatly avoids Native American lands.
In South Dakota, TransCanada threaded its way in between the seven major reservations that cover about 16 percent of the state. The Keystone XL would enter the northwest corner of South Dakota from Montana then move diagonally. It would run southwest of the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation and north of the Pine Ridge Reservation of the Oglalla Lakota. It would narrowly miss the Rosebud Indian Reservation, and travel south of the Crow Creek and Lower Brule.
“It’s not necessarily by design,” Russ Girling, TransCanada’s chief executive, said in an interview. “When you build a pipeline . . . the least environmental disturbance is a straight line from A to B.”
In Oklahoma, however, where the U.S. government drove tribes from the East Coast and all over the Western frontier, it is difficult to sidestep Indian burial or archaeological sites or to circumvent the patchwork jurisdiction of tribal governments. More than a century ago, the federal government broke up tribal lands into allotments, which Indian individuals could later sell. The goal was to shrink tribal areas, make way for a land rush by whites and prepare for Oklahoma statehood.
TransCanada has sought to stick to privately owned plots. But a wide layer of sovereign tribal authority remains and burial sites could exist on land no longer owned by tribal members.
Near the giant oil tank farms of Cushing lies a cemetery that holds the family of legendary Olympian Jim Thorpe, a Sac and Fox member whose remains the tribe is trying to repatriate from Pennsylvania. About 20 minutes down the road, Iowa tribal chairman Janice Rowe-Kurak bows her head and folds her hands as she pays her respects before a small cemetery hidden behind trees at a cousin’s ramshackle house.
Many tribal leaders in Oklahoma, including Kurak, have no objection to TransCanada’s pipeline plan.
TransCanada says that there will be three monitors and one tribal liaison on every segment of pipeline under construction. “There’s always the possibility that we are confronted with an unanticipated discovery that requires mitigation,” Thompson said. “Our tribal monitors’ main responsibility is to help us identify those unanticipated discoveries. They are rare, but they do occur.”
But other tribal leaders remain troubled, despite TransCanada’s assurances.
“All we know is that it’s coming through our tribal jurisdiction,” Thurman said. “They say they will stop digging if they hit something, but there is no guarantee that they are going to stop.”
If they don’t stop, the tribes could go to federal court or ask the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs to intervene.
After the Oklahoma tribal leaders’ first meeting with Thompson, Massey sat on the edge of the annual Sac and Fox powwow, part ceremony and part country fair featuring jumbo corn dogs, frozen chocolate-dipped cheesecake and fish tacos. Men in feathered regalia and women in long patterned skirts and necklaces danced in a circle around a dozen traditional drummers. Others watched from folding chairs and bleachers as an announcer over a microphone urged people to participate.
“Some things are sensitive to us. If they want to go through a grave, the ground around it may be sacred, too,” Massey said, shaking her head. “We’re all wary. We don’t trust anybody.”
Other tribes are also worried about the pipeline excavation. In February, Robert Cast, the historic-preservation officer of the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma, with homelands in four states, wrote to the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation warning of “imminent and irreparable damage” to an archeological site in Lamar County, Tex.
It said that the “sacred site,” which was first excavated by archaeologists in 1931, “contains burials and specific artifacts of ceremonial use along with iconographic images on artifacts that are of utmost importance to the history of the Caddo people.”
TransCanada’s Thompson said that the pipeline route in that location has been moved and that the Caddo council approved a resolution supporting the project. Cast, who is still marking up pipeline maps so that TransCanada can avoid sensitive areas, said “it’s not so much that we’re in support of the pipeline, but we’re in support of working together to make sure our interests are looked after.”
The route has inadvertent historical echoes, too. From northern Nebraska through Kansas, it is almost identical to what is known as the trail of tears for the Ponca Tribe. The Poncas, who in the 19th century did almost everything the federal government asked including attending church and farming, were still forced to move to Oklahoma.
A history of broken promises, and treaties, has fueled opposition, especially in South Dakota. Last October, a group of Indians were ejected from a speech by President Obama after shouting that the president should respect the tribes and stop the pipeline. On Feb. 18, the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council demanded that Obama and Congress prevent construction of the Keystone pipeline
“The Great Sioux Nation hereby directs President Barack Obama and the United States Congress to honor the promises of the United States made through the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie treaties by prohibiting the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline and any future projects from entering and destroying our land without our consent,” said a resolution approved by all seven delegations.
The Fort Laramie treaties ceded all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River to the Lakota tribes, or Sioux. While legislation has reduced the size of that reservation, the treaties were never revoked. Baker, the lawyer, says they should still be considered in force.
Moreover, while the pipeline doesn’t cross current reservation boundaries in South Dakota, it runs across rivers and water pipelines that do.
Even under congressional legislation, a process of consultation is required for all federal agencies. But Cast said that the State Department, which is weighing the Keystone XL cross-border permit, told tribes to voice concerns at open meetings with other citizens.
“The State Department has its own process talking about government-to-government talks and the sovereignty of tribes, but they don’t really believe that,” Cast said. “Our main issues are with the federal agencies. I think they abandoned the tribes.”
Baker said: “The consultation process is really broken. Tribal interests are rarely able to be brought forward properly, and when they are they are rarely listened to.”
Native Americans have had success melding their interests with business and oil development. The Sac and Fox, like many other tribes, rely heavily on casinos for income. The tribe said in a May newsletter that it received two-thirds of its revenue from its casinos.
The oil and gas industry is a familiar presence, too. Though Oklahoma was chosen as Indian Territory in part because it was thought to be worth little, the state turned out to hold substantial oil and natural gas reserves. That led to further reductions in Indian land holdings while derricks and small boomtowns sprung up. Throughout Indian areas today, old pipelines, some dating to the 1930s, can be seen alongside gently seesawing pump jacks, and the old boomtowns remain largely deserted.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Interior Department has acted as Indians’ trustee for these resources, though Native Americans have complained that it has often done a poor job of guarding their interests. The Osage tribe, which in 1906 was savvy enough to retain mineral rights when private allotments were carved out in Osage County, filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department for mismanaging those mineral rights; last October, the government settled for $380 million.
When it comes to the Keystone XL pipeline, observers say there is an element of tribal politics in the opposition. During the 2008 campaign, the Crow received attention for making Obama an honorary member, bestowing him with the name “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.”
Now, some believe that Sac and Fox leader Thurman feels slighted by Obama, who initially failed to invite him to the March speech the president delivered in Cushing. This was a special affront because Cushing is part of the Sac and Fox Nation. At that event, Obama announced his support for the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Thurman only heard about the visit from Kurak, who is a friend. Kurak had been invited because she caught Obama’s attention at a meeting in Washington.
Kurak, the Iowa Nation chairman, sympathizes with Thurman. She said, “All we’re asking for is respect, respect for us as a people.”
Baker, the lawyer, who comes from Oklahoma, stresses that opposition is rooted in Native American belief.
“Above all the land is sacred,” she said. “It’s not just a mantra. People really do see this as sacred land. It really causes a lot of people a lot of pain, particularly the elders. They recognize the damage this has the potential for.”
Harold Hamm sat in a corner of the Railhead Diner, having polished off a plate of meatloaf and savored a bite of the fried pie with chocolate filling.
Hamm, who grew up just across the tracks, has a lot to savor these days. As the youngest of a sharecropper’s 13 children, Hamm spent his earliest years nearby picking cotton until the first snowfall or Christmas, whichever came first. Then he would scramble to catch up in school. Later, after the family moved to this small town, he delivered newspapers and played baseball in a lot that’s still here. Since his home had no television, he would go across the street to watch with neighbors. His surviving sister, Fannie, still lives in a modest home here.
Today, the 66-year-old Hamm is a multibillionaire who could buy the entire town several times over. An early believer in the notion that the techniques of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing could be merged to unlock new layers of oil, he is the chief executive of Continental Resources, the leading exploration company in the booming Bakken Formation, which stretches across Montana, North Dakota and Saskatchewan. His 68 percent stake in the company is currently worth $7.7 billion, and Forbes recently ranked him the world’s 76th-richest person.
Now Hamm is exploring politics, too. He hosted a fundraiser for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and recently donated $985,000 to Restore Our Future, a super PAC devoted to supporting Romney’s candidacy. While super PACs are supposed to be independent, the former cotton picker has also become a member of Romney’s energy advisory team, feeding the candidate optimistic assessments about U.S. oil production. Hamm is trying to take the lessons of the Oklahoma and North Dakota oil patches and apply them in Washington for the nation’s benefit — and his own.
The Romney energy team, whose full membership list has not been disclosed, holds weekly conference calls, Hamm says. But Hamm is not bashful about his views. His rarely updated Web site says, “Since President Obama’s election three and a half years ago, he and his administration have done everything in their power to stop fossil fuel usage.” Hamm, by contrast, has lauded the virtues of keeping tax incentives for oil exploration companies such as his, even as Romney has opposed such incentives for wind energy. Hamm has also criticized the Environmental Protection Agency for rules that will phase in safer, cleaner hydraulic fracturing practices. Such guidelines, he says, should be left to states. And he supports the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would ease the transportation crunch for North Dakota oil.
Most of all, Hamm promotes a vision of oil plenty. “There are two separate camps,” Hamm said. “One of them is that the oil and gas resource is very scarce and running out; that the glass is not half full; that it is drying up. And the other [camp] being one of abundance and what’s really here.”
He said, “The one of scarcity, that’s just wrong. It’s been overtaken basically by the technology that’s gone on with horizontal drilling.”
Not everyone shares Hamm’s optimism. Oil output in North Dakota has jumped sixfold over the past seven years, perhaps the biggest single increase in oil output worldwide, but that hasn’t stopped prices from soaring. Hamm believes that the Bakken area holds 24 billion barrels, nearly as much as the proven reserves in the rest of the country put together — seven times as much as the most recent U.S. Geological Survey report (now being revised) and more than Prudhoe Bay. By 2020, similar geologic formations and drilling techniques could push U.S. oil production to 6.7 million barrels a day, a level not seen since 1994, says Barrington Research.
Even that wouldn’t be enough to quench U.S. consumption and fulfill Hamm’s vision of energy independence for America.
‘A fantasy world’
Hamm explains his beef with Obama in personal terms. “I had hopes for President Obama as anybody in America did,” Hamm said. “I just felt like he had an open book.”
He says that he met with Energy Secretary Steven Chu to discuss developments in North Dakota and that the Nobel Prize-winning physicist took an interest in the advances in drilling technology. But Hamm says there was never any follow-up, and Chu stayed focused on promoting renewable energy.
Hamm says he was later part of a group that met with Obama and tried to impress upon the president the potential for new domestic oil supplies. “He just passed it off, I felt at that time,” Hamm says. He says that Obama talked about new battery technology and said that the country would soon be able to move away from fossil fuels.
“It was a fantasy world,” Hamm says.
That unabashed view of the virtues of oil differs from Obama’s position, which is to reduce oil use for national security purposes as well as to slow the pace of climate change. One of Obama’s first achievements in office was raising fuel efficiency standards for all American automobiles. If the United States is less dependent on imported oil today than it was a few years ago, that has as much to do with lower consumption as it does with higher U.S. oil production. Any prediction about reducing dependence on imports is based on expectations that U.S. oil demand may have peaked.
Yet Obama, like many executives at the nation’s biggest oil companies, may have underestimated the potential for higher oil output from North Dakota. Instead, he has talked of using natural gas as one way to cut oil consumption. Many city buses around the country sport logos about “this bus powered by clean natural gas.”
In Oklahoma City, Continental Resources has wrapped a few buses with the words: “Powered By American Oil.”
Striking it rich
Optimism and hard work are what made Hamm a quintessential American success story. His public relations person jokes that once people talk to the upbeat, personable oilman, they’re “Hammanized.” Even many of his political foes say he’s hard not to like.
After leaving Lexington, Hamm moved to Enid, a town north of Oklahoma City that was experiencing a small oil boom. He did a joint work-study program, pumping gas while finishing high school. It took up to 60 hours a week, and he wrote a paper about the Oklahoma oil industry success stories of the century. Inspired, he went to work for an oil service company and then for Champlin Petroleum, a major oil company at the time. Oil workers were, he recalls, “a different breed . . . charismatic, uninhibited.” After a few months, he went into the oil service business himself in 1966, starting out with one truck.
Although he was of draft age, with an A1 physical rating, he wasn’t called to serve in Vietnam. “I guess the Lord didn’t mean for me to go,” he says.
In 1971, he lined up his first exploration deal. He was lucky. The first well he drilled produced oil. The second produced at a rate of 75 barrels an hour, “a very, very nice well,” he recalls. The field ended up producing 6 million barrels, enough for Hamm to take college classes in geology and chemistry, though he did not earn a degree.
The sharp price increases that hit with the oil shocks of 1974 and 1979 created new demand for exploration in the United States. That helped Hamm’s service company, which then had 11 rigs, some of which could drill as deep as 20,000 feet.
Companies were beginning to learn how to do “directional drilling,” a precursor to today’s horizontal drilling. Suddenly, urban mineral rights were valuable. “We drilled 16 wells under the city of Enid between 1983 and 1985,” Hamm says.
What set Hamm apart from other moderately successful independent oil companies was the Bakken Formation and more effective drilling techniques. Horizontal drilling can snake a pipe through a two-foot wavy layer of oil-rich rock, and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, can create more fissures over greater distances than before. Instead of tapping 15 or 20 feet vertically, oil companies can now tap miles of oil-bearing rock horizontally.
Hamm turned to North Dakota before most oilmen. Mineral rights were a fraction of what they cost now, and Hamm said he had “a gut feeling” that he would find a lode there. In 2004, Continental Resources drilled what Hamm calls “the first commercially successful well in the North Dakota Bakken to be both horizontally drilled and fracture stimulated.”
The North Dakota rush was on. The number of rigs drilling in North Dakota has increased tenfold since then, and production has jumped sevenfold. And it has turned Hamm, who was already a rich man, into a very, very rich man.
At the top of his game
One sign of Hamm’s changing fortunes — other than the shirt cuffs embroidered with his initials or the large diamond pin in his Hermes tie — has been moving the company headquarters from Enid, where Hamm first went after leaving Lexington, to an Oklahoma City skyscraper. Hamm himself had moved to Oklahoma City eight years ago so his daughters could go to better schools.
A day before the lunch at the Railhead Diner, Hamm showed off his plush new offices, featuring cattle skins on the floor, ornate carved chairs with fur backs, and dark wood paneling. From the desk, which faces floor-to-ceiling windows, he can look out over the heart of Oklahoma City.
“It’s with some reverence that I sit here,” he said, explaining that it was once the office suite of John W. Nichols, an Oklahoma City accountant who built Devon Energy, a huge independent oil and gas company.
Glass cases hold testimonies to Hamm’s donations to diabetes research. There is a small sculpture of an early-20th-century oil worker driving an exploration tool into the ground with a sledgehammer. In the hallway, a case contains a rock collection.
“That one is one of a kind,” he says, pointing to one chunk, “the only piece of a core” sample taken from a large Oklahoma oil field his company found in a crater. Another wall has a signed photo of St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, whom Hamm calls “one of my best friends. . . . He is a team leader.”
Yet Hamm seemed awkward giving the tour. As he strolled down the hall, people scrambled to attend him, but he waved them off, ducking into other executives’ offices to show off the commanding views. When he sat down to talk, he chose a small room with a conference table, a map, and white board walls. This is where much of the company’s real work gets done.
While companies such as Chesapeake Energy focused on natural gas, using fracking in places such as Pennsylvania, Continental Resources has focused on oil. And while natural gas prices have collapsed, oil remains near record levels.
So Continental is thriving. It expects to grow nearly 50 percent in 2012. Capital spending is expected to hit $2.3 billion, up from $1.8 billion, with most of the increase concentrated in the Bakken play, according to Barrington Research. The company is also expanding in similar places, including the Anadarko Woodford play in Oklahoma.
Hamm can’t resist a little dig at natural gas and wind promoter T. Boone Pickens, who bought hundreds of turbines, then had to sell them when he couldn’t complete a project. “Banks were giving them away with toasters,” Hamm jokes.
‘We cleaned it up’
Alhough backing Romney may be Hamm’s first major foray into national politics, he has played at the state level.
In North Dakota, where the legislature only meets every other year, Hamm backed then-Gov. Edward T. Schafer (R), who drove a bus around the state advocating a reduction in state oil taxes. When oil prices are below a certain threshold, no taxes need to be paid for two years, and Bakken wells produce much of their oil in the first two years. Hamm later put Schafer on the Continental Resources board of directors.
Hamm blames politics in North Dakota for charges brought by U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon against Continental Resources and six other companies for causing the deaths of 28 migratory birds that landed in waste pits from drilling activities. Though Continental was charged with only one of those deaths, which would be a misdemeanor, Hamm chose to fight the charges in court and won.
Now that he is backing Romney, he has come under scrutiny from environmental groups for everything from spills to waste pits to his use of hydraulic fracturing and the disposal of used fluids.
“Our air was polluted, and we cleaned it up,” says Hamm. “Our rivers were polluted, and we cleaned them up. What’s going on with fracking? What’s the problem? There’s not a problem. The regulatory aspects should be with the states, with the North Dakota Industrial Commission. . . . None of us wants to pollute any of our water. If it meant not fracking another well, I wouldn’t do it if it weren’t safe.” Environmental groups reply that state agencies don’t have enough inspectors or regulators to monitor the thousands of wells drilled every year and the pipelines and other oil infrastructure.
Many of the things Hamm says in casual conversation might not stand up to greater scrutiny. He once said that the Dickinson, N.D., McDonald’s was the second-busiest in the world, which isn’t the case. More important, he says that the U.S. government could make $12 trillion in royalties from oil and gas drilling on federal lands and waters. Assuming the current 13 percent royalty rate, production on federal lands and waters would have to exceed current worldwide oil production for the next 25 years.
In elaborating on his unhappiness with Obama, Hamm has complained that millionaires are qualifying for food stamps and that under Obama individual freedoms are in danger.
Yet for Hamm, whose family received federal food aid when he was young and poor, life has never been better. And he has the money to promote his views.
Asked whether he felt it was fair that wealthy people like him could write million-dollar checks to sway a national election, he said: “I see President Obama go to a West Coast movie star’s place and raise $16 million in one deal, so it’s six of one, half dozen of another.” He added, “Those are the rules today. I don’t know if they’re right or wrong or what kind of impact it will have. We’ll have to see how it plays out.”
Instead he likes to talk about how the world has more oil in the ground than it has produced. “I tend to look at the big picture,” Hamm said. “That’s what I do. All this other stuff, throw it aside. That’s the prize.”
CUSHING, Okla. – It was sundown when Nat Ninness, 28, drove up the gravel road between an oil tank farm and his sister’s house. Ninness is a driller who lives a mile away, and for years he has traveled out of town for work.
Now, however, some companies are drilling near here again, using hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to explore areas that haven’t been big oil producing places for decades.
“It’s worth my while to come home now,” he said, leaning out the window of his pickup truck with the giant storage tanks lit up behind him by the setting sun. He is working on a well nearby, he said. Other people were finding local work again, too. A welder, a friend of his sister’s, was making $4,000 a week, Ninness said.
So far, this area isn’t considered a hot fracking prospect. Not yet, anyway. The downtown area is moribund. Until that changes, oil workers from this area will continue flocking to places like North Dakota, Ninness said.
“I had some buddies who went chasing around up there,” he said. “One buddy told his girlfriend he was going for a four-week hitch, and she hasn’t heard from him for three months.”
PONCA CITY, Okla. – Keith Mossman gave us a tour of the TransCanada pumping station here, which boosts pressure in TransCanada’s existing Keystone pipeline for oil to travel the final 42 miles to Cushing. New stations will be added for the southern leg of the Keystone XL line going from nearby Cushing to the Texas coast.
The pumping station is surrounded by security fences, but on most days no one is working there. It’s all monitored by computers in Calgary. Mossman comes once a week. He estimates that other workers are there once or twice a week. When we were there no oil was flowing through the station because the existing Keystone line has a junction back in Steele City, Neb., from which oil can be routed to Illinois. The last batch here was pumped the night before and the next one was headed toward Illinois.
The pumping station had a web of pipes and three big pumps. Mossman noted that there is a membrane beneath the gravel to prevent any spilled oil from leaving the grounds of the station or seeping into the ground. He pointed to the pipe fitting seals that had caused leaks at some TransCanada pump stations over the past year and which has been replaced with a new version that has not leaked. He also noted backup devices. “There is a fail-safe for everything,” he said.
Inside the control building, screens showed pressure and flow rates. Mossman, a regional xxx, said even he doesn’t have the authority to change any settings even though he can dial in to look at data.
“Even if someone hacked in,” he said,” they still couldn’t make any changes.”