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Plains Justice Seeks Emergency Response Plans for Keystone XL

February 7, 2011

On February 4, The New York Times reported that Plains Justice has requested details of the emergency planning system for the pipeline that will be operated by Kinder Morgan Energy partners.

At issue is the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s reply to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the safety-advocacy law firm Plains Justice that sought details of the emergency plan for the Express Pipeline System, a network operated by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners that carries crude from western Canada’s oil-sands region across six U.S. states.

However, the agency has been unwilling to disclose any information concerning the emergency procedures that would be set in place. Plains Justice staff attorney, Paul Blackburn is most concerned that if this information continues to be withheld the only people who will ever see the plans are the PHMSA and the oil companies. Blackburn has acknowledge that not every aspect of the plan should be revealed to the public, but it is necessary to allow the public to inspect the plans to make sure the oil companies are held responsible if/when a spill occurs.

“Though in theory you could talk about” a higher risk of terrorist attacks on a pipeline caused by publicizing emergency-response data, Blackburn said, “the truth is, the worst security risk caused to pipelines is a lack of enforcement of the law. By not allowing citizens to review these plans, there is a risk that government and industry will produce insufficient plans and will not be ready to respond to spills when they happen.”

The push for this information being made public comes in the wake of the Gulf disaster. BP’s Gulf of Mexico emergency response plan was never made public until after the spill occurred. This leaves many environmental advocates wondering what the outcome would have been if those procedures could have been reviewed by the public.

The Freedom of Information Act request has not been officially denied by the pipeline agency. A spokeswoman for the agency responded via email saying that every request is looked at on a case-by-case basis and they are still evaluating Plains Justice’s inquiry.

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