LINCOLN — The Keystone crude oil pipeline across eastern Nebraska has been shut down after a "small anomaly" was found on the outside of the pipe during planned maintenance, operator TransCanada said Thursday.
No leaks were detected on the system, according to TransCanada spokesman James Millar.
The pipeline, which went into operation in 2010, carries 590,000 barrels of crude a day from the tar sands region of Canada to the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast.
The 30-inch pipeline is expected to be shut down for three days so crews can take a closer look. The anomaly was not located in Nebraska.
The Keystone pipeline is a smaller cousin to the proposed 36-inch Keystone XL pipeline, a project that generated controversy because its initial route crossed Nebraska's fragile Sand Hills.
While TransCanada officials said the detection of the anomaly showed that its safety systems are working, an environmental group, Bold Nebraska, said it was another example of the safety problems associated with the company.
Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska pointed out that in 2010, 47 anomalies were reported on the Keystone pipeline, and 14 leaks were recorded in its first year of operation. The problems, she said, are linked to the use of inferior pipe manufactured overseas.
Kleeb added that the Canadian National Energy Board recently launched an audit to determine whether TransCanada was complying with pipeline safety regulations in Canada.
"No pipeline that I'm aware of that's 1½ years old has had the number of problems that the TransCanada's Keystone I has," Kleeb said.
Millar said that pipe used by TransCanada, regardless of where it is manufactured, is produced under standards that exceed U.S. government regulations.
"We use the safest steel regardless of where it is from," he said. "To do anything less would be a blatant disregard for safety."
The 2010 anomalies have been dealt with, Millar said, adding that the Canadian probe is only to ensure the company is following proper procedures in hiring independent inspectors of pipeline welds. All welds were inspected, he said.
The Canadian probe was inspired by complaints from a TransCanada engineer about the competency of the inspections. The whistleblower, Evan Vokes, was fired in May.
A letter last week from the National Energy Board stated that many of Vokes' allegations were verified by internal audits by TransCanada but that the company had either remediated the problems or was in the process of addressing them.
The board stated that it was concerned by the company's regulatory "non-compliance," and that it was conducting its audit to determine the adequacy of the remediation efforts and if other corrective actions are needed. The letter also stated that there was no immediate threat to the environment or people.
Millar said Thursday that TransCanada has been complying with a requirement that the company, rather than its contractors, hire the weld inspectors to ensure it is an independent review.