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Keystone XL Fork in the Road: TransCanada’s Houston Lateral Pipeline

Houston Refinery at night

The southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline is scheduled to bring oil & tarsands to Houston’s refineries starting in January.

Only Barack Obama knows the fate of the northern half of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  But in the meantime, TransCanada is preparing the southern half of the line to open forcommercial operations on January 22.

Yet, there’s a fork in this controversial pipeline system that has largely flown under the radar: TransCanada’s Houston Lateral Pipeline, which serves as a literal fork in the road of the southern half of Keystone XL’s route to Gulf Coast refineries.

Rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline” by TransCanada, the 485-mile southern halfof Keystone XL brings a blend of Alberta’s tar sands crude, along with oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin, to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas. This area has been coined a “sacrifice zone” by investigative journalist Ted Genoways, describing the impacts on local communities as the tar sands crude is refined mainly for export markets.

But not all tar sands and fracked oil roads lead to Port Arthur. That’s where the Houston Lateral comes into play. A pipeline oriented westward from Liberty County, TX rather than eastward to Port Arthur, Houston Lateral ushers crude oil to Houston’s refinery row.

“The 48-mile (77-kilometre) Houston Lateral Project is an additional project under development to transport oil to refineries in the Houston, TX marketplace,” TransCanada’s website explains. “Upon completion, the Gulf Coast Project and the Houston Lateral Project will become an integrated component of the Keystone Pipeline System.”

Boon for Houston’s Refinery Row

Houston’s LyondellBasell refinery is retooling itself for the looming feast of tar sands crude and fracked oil bounty that awaits from the Houston Lateral’s completion.

“The company is spending $50 million to nearly triple its capacity to run heavy Canadian crude at the Houston refinery, to 175,000 bpd from 60,000 bpd,”explained a March article in Reuters. [cont’d.]

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