Tag Archives: Alberta Clipper expansion plan (Line 67)

U.S. Not Prepared for Tar Sands Oil Spills, National Study Finds

Repost from Circle of Blue

U.S. Not Prepared for Tar Sands Oil Spills, National Study Finds

By Codi Kozacek, Circle of Blue, 10 December, 2015 16:07

Report urges new regulations, research, and technology to respond to spills of diluted bitumen.

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Oil gathers in a sheen near the banks of the Kalamazoo River more than a week after a spill of crude oil, including tar sands oil, from Enbridge Inc.’s Line 6B pipeline in 2010. It was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. Click image to enlarge. Photo courtesy Sam LaSusa

Spills of heavy crude oil from western Canada’s tar sands are more difficult to clean up than other types of conventional oil, particularly if the spill occurs in water, a new study by a high-level committee of experts found. Moreover, current regulations governing emergency response plans for oil spills in the United States are inadequate to address spills of tar sands oil.

The study by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine confirmed what scientists, emergency responders, and conservationists knew anecdotally from a major oil spill that contaminated Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010 and another spill in Mayflower, Arkansas in 2013. Tar sands crude, called diluted bitumen, becomes denser and stickier than other types of oil after it spills from a pipeline, sinking to the bottom of rivers, lakes, and estuaries and coating vegetation instead of floating on top of the water.


“[Diluted bitumen] weathers to a denser material, and it’s stickier, and that’s a problem. It’s a distinct problem that makes it different from other crude.”

–Diane McKnight, Chair 
Committee on the Effects of Diluted Bitumen on the Environment


“The long-term risk associated with the weathered bitumen is the potential for that [oil] becoming submerged and sinking into water bodies where it gets into the sediments,” Diane McKnight, chair of the committee that produced the study and a professor of engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, told Circle of Blue. “And then those sediments can become resuspended and move further downstream and have consequences not only at the ecosystem level but also in terms of water supply.”
“It weathers to a denser material, and it’s stickier, and that’s a problem. It’s a distinct problem that makes it different from other crude.” McKnight added. Weathering is what happens after oil is spilled and exposed to sunlight, water, and other elements. In order to flow through pipelines, tar sands crude oil is mixed with lighter oils, which evaporate during the weathering process. In a matter of days, what is left of the diluted bitumen can sink.

The study’s findings come amid an expansion in unconventional fuels development and transport in North America. Over the past decade, Canada became the world’s fifth largest crude oil producer by developing the Alberta tar sands. U.S. imports of Canadian crude, much of it from tar sands, increased 58 percent over the past decade, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Though oil prices are at a seven-year low, and market turbulence is expected to persist for several more years, tar sands developers are working to double the current tar sands oil production — around 2.2 million barrels per day — by 2030. Pipelines to transport all of the new oil are expanding too, producing a greater risk of spills.

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A sign held by a protester at a 2013 climate rally in Washington, D.C. notes the lingering difficulties associated with spills of diluted bitumen –namely that the oil can become submerged in the water. Click image to enlarge. Photo courtesy DCErica via Flickr Creative Commons

Whether tar sands producers achieve that level of oil supply is not assured. Public pressure is mounting in Canada and the United States to rein in tar sands development due to considerable environmental damage and heavy carbon emissions. U.S. President Barack Obama last month scrapped the Keystone XL pipeline, an 800,000-barrel-per-day project to move crude oil from Canada’s tar sands to Gulf of Mexico refineries. An international movement to divest from fossil fuels and a legally binding global deal to cut carbon emissions –if it is signed in Paris– could curb demand for tar sands oil.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study adds new data to arguments made by critics of tar sands development.

“The study really confirms a lot of the information that has been out there, there are no real surprises,” Jim Murphy, senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, told Circle of Blue. “You don’t want these things to be affirmed because it’s bad news for communities. But the good part about a study like this is hopefully it will prompt some action. Some folks were hiding behind the lack of a study like this, saying we don’t really know. Those excuses have gone away.”

“The chief takeaway is that this is a different oil, it presents different challenges, and responders and regulators simply don’t have the structures in place to deal with the challenges,” he added.

Nonetheless, energy companies are pursuing pipeline expansions, most notably in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions. Enbridge, Canada’s largest transporter of crude oil, operates a 3,000-kilometer (1,900-mile) pipeline network, known as the Lakehead System, that carries crude oil from Canada to refineries on the Great Lakes. The Lakehead system, in concert with Enbridge’s Canadian main line, is capable of transporting 2.62 million barrels of oil per day. The pipeline responsible for the 2010 oil spill in Kalamazoo was part of the Lakehead system. A link in the Lakehead system ruptured in 2010 and spilled more than 3 million liters (843,000 gallons) of tar sands oil into southern Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. It was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history and its effects still linger because of oil that sank and is embedded in the river’s sediments.

 
“The chief takeaway is that this is a different oil, it presents different challenges, and responders and regulators simply don’t have the structures in place to deal with the challenges.”

–Jim Murphy, Senior Counsel
National Wildlife Federation


Enbridge is currently pursuing upgrades to its Alberta Clipper pipeline, which runs through Minnesota and Wisconsin, in order to boost the line’s capacity to 800,000 barrels per day from 450,000 barrels per day. A second project aims to increase the capacity of Line 61, a pipeline that runs from Wisconsin to Illinois, from 560,000 barrels per day to 1.2 million barrels per day. Opposition to the company’s operation of a pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron join, has been especially fierce, though the line does not currently carry tar sands oil.

“I think at the very least we should be saying no to more tar sands through the [Great Lakes] region until we get a firm handle on how to deal with the unique challenges that tar sands spills present,” Murphy said. “We should also be taking a hard look, as the president did with the Keystone XL decision, about the other negative impacts of more tar sands oil, like the consequences in Alberta with the habitat destruction there, and also the higher carbon pollution content of the fuel.”

The National Academies study concluded that the characteristics of diluted bitumen are “highly problematic for spill response because 1) there are few effective techniques for detection, containment, and recovery of oil that is submerged in the water column, and 2) available techniques for responding to oil that has sunken to the bottom have variable effectiveness depending on the spill conditions.”

“Broadly, regulations and agency practices do not take the unique properties of diluted bitumen into account, nor do they encourage effective planning for spills of diluted bitumen,” it continued.

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A tar ball recovered on the edge of a cove in Mayflower, Arkansas, after tar sands crude spilled from ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline in 2013. Click image to enlarge.

The study’s authors made a series of recommendations to help reduce the damage from future tar sands spills, including:

  • Update regulations that would require pipeline operators to identify and provide safety sheets for each crude oil transported by the pipeline, catalogue the areas and water bodies that would be most sensitive to a diluted bitumen spill, describe how they would detect and recover sunken oil, provide samples and information about the type of oil spilled to emergency officials, and publicly report the annual volumes and types of crude oil that pass through each pipeline.
  • Require the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the federal agency that regulates pipelines in the United States, to review spill response plans in coordination with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Coast Guard to determine if the plans are capable of responding to diluted bitumen spills.
  • Develop methods to detect, contain, and recover oil that sinks to the bottom of water bodies.
  • Require government agencies at the federal, state, and local level to use industry-standard names for crude oils when planning spill responses.
  • Revise oil classifications used by the U.S. Coast Guard to indicate that diluted bitumen can sink in water.
  • Collect data to improve modeling of diluted bitumen oil spills.
    Improve coordination between federal agencies and state and local governments when planning and practicing oil spill response exercises.
  • Develop a standard method for determining the adhesion –a measure of how sticky the oil is–of diluted bitumen in the event of a spill.

After the study’s release, PHMSA said it would develop a bulletin advising pipeline operators about the recommendations and urge voluntary improvements to their spill response plans. The agency also plans to hold a workshop next spring to hear public input on how to implement the recommendations, coordinate with other federal organizations to “advance the recommendations”, and work with industry representatives to improve spill response planning.

“We appreciate the work the National Academy of Sciences has done over the last few years in analyzing the risks of transporting diluted bitumen, including its effects on transmission pipelines, the environment and oil spill response activities,” Artealia Gilliard, PHMSA spokesperson and director for governmental, international and public affairs, said in a statement. “All pipelines transporting crude oil or any other hazardous liquid are required to meet strict federal safety regulations that work to prevent pipeline failures and to mitigate the consequences of pipeline failures when they occur.”


Codi Yeager-Kozacek is a news correspondent for Circle of Blue based out of Hawaii. She co-writes The Stream, Circle of Blue’s daily digest of international water news trends. Her interests include food security, ecology and the Great Lakes.

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    How the State Department secretly approved a major tar sands expansion

    Repost from DeSmogBlog
    [Editor:  Sign the CREDO petition opposing the Enbridge expansion scheme.  – RS]

    Emails: How State Department Secretly Approved Expanding Piece of Enbridge’s “Keystone XL Clone”

    By Steve Horn, April 20, 2015 – 03:58

    DeSmogBlog has obtained dozens of emails that lend an inside view of how the U.S. State Department secretly handed Enbridge a permit to expand the capacity of its U.S.-Canada border-crossing Alberta Clipper pipeline, which carries tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) from Alberta to midwest markets.

    The State Department submitted the emails into the record in the ongoing case filed against the Department by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. Collectively, the emails show that upper-level State Department officials hastened the review process on behalf of Enbridge for its proposed Alberta Clipper expansion plan, now rebranded Line 67, and did not inform the public about it until it published its final approval decision in the Federal Register in August 2014.

    According to a March 17, 2014 memo initially marked “confidential,” Enbridge’s legal counsel at Steptoe & Johnson, David Coburn, began regular communications with the State Department on what the environmental groups have dubbed an “illegal scheme” beginning in at least January 2014.

    Enbridge State Department Emails
    Enbridge State Department Emails | Image Credit: U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota

    Environmental groups have coined the approval process an “illegal scheme” because the State Department allowed Enbridge to usurp the conventional presidential permit process for cross-border pipelines, as well as the standard National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, which allows for public comments and public hearings of the sort seen for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline.

    Further, the scheme is a complex one involving Enbridge’s choice to add pressure pump stations on both sides of the border to two pipelines, Enbridge Line 3 and Enbridge Line 67, to avoid fitting under the legal umbrella of a “cross-border” pipeline.

    Hastening the approval process — and thus dodging both the conventional presidential permit and NEPA process — came up in a June 6, 2014 memo written by Coburn and his Steptoe co-counsel Josh Runyan. Enbridge’s legal argument centered around ensuring profits for its customers “consistent with its obligations as a common carrier.”

    State Department Enbridge Emails
    Image Credit: U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota

    “Wrap This Up…Running Out of Time”

    On March 18, 2014, Ona Hahs, Attorney-Advisor for the State Department’s Office of the Legal Advisor, informed her Department colleagues in an email that “we have to wrap this up” because she was informed by Coburn that Enbridge was moving forward with the project and about to break ground on it.

    State Department Enbridge Emails
    Image Credit: U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota 

    Just over a week later on March 27, 2014, Hahs emailed her colleagues again, informing them that Coburn had just called her again and they were “running out of time” to offer Enbridge what it requested.

    State Department Enbridge Emails
    Image Credit: U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota

    A month later, Robert Cekuta — then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the State Department’s powerful and industry-friendly Bureau of Energy Resources (BER) and now U.S. Ambassador to oil-soaked Azerbaijan — wrote a memo on April 24, 2014 to former BER head Carlos Pascual recommending approval of the “illegal scheme.” 

    Pascual now serves as a non-resident Fellow at the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy, which many suspect is funded by the oil and gas industry, but the Center does not disclose its funding sources. Pascual signed his “CP” initials on the “approve” line, meaning Enbridge’s project had the State Department seal of approval.

    State Department Enbridge Emails
    Image Credit: U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota

    Though officially written by Cekuta, the bottom of the memo indicates it was drafted by both Hahs and Michael Brennan. Before serving in various capacities for the State Department beginning in 2003, Brennan worked for Shell Oil as its Manager for Export Sales Business Development in Asia and Latin America, according to his LinkedIn profile.

    Later that same day, Brennan fired an email off to Coburn informing him of the State Department approval decision.

    “Keystone XL Clone” Precedent Cited

    In the June 6 memo penned by Enbridge’s counsel, its attorneys explained why “interconnections on Line 67 can take place in advance of the U.S. Department of State’s issuance of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (‘SEIS‘) and the requested Presidential Permit to authorize Enbridge to operate the border segment of Line 67 at its design capacity of 880,000 barrels per day.”

    Among the myriad legal cases cited in the memo, Coburn and Runyan pointed to the Sierra Club, et al v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers case reported on by DeSmogBlog, which Enbridge argued and won as a defendant.

    Coburn and Runyan wrote that the Sierra Club v. Army Corps of Engineers case rejects the legal “argument that construction of pipeline outside the area of federal permitting jurisdiction could be [prohibited] pending NEPA review.”

    Because construction of the pump stations and interconnections are not occurring within the border segment of Line 67, and are independent from the Line 67 border capacity expansion…this activity is not required to await the completion of the SEIS,” they wrote.

    That case, like the current one, centered around NEPA.

    In that one, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers handed Enbridge a controversial Nationwide Permit 12 permit to build its now-operational Flanagan South pipeline, which Sierra Club argued circumvented the NEPA process. It appears that case set an important legal precedent.

    Flanagan South connects to Alberta Clipper in Flanagan, Illinois and ends in Cushing, Oklahoma via a connection to the Seaway Twin pipeline, which Enbridge co-owns with Enterprise Products Partners. From there, the heavy tar sands dilbit is taken to Gulf coast refineries, the same ones TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline system currently feeds into.

    Together, all three pipeline pieces make up what DeSmogBlog has called the “Keystone XL Clone” pipeline system.

    “Stand Down”

    Asked about the emails, Doug Hayes, the Sierra Club attorney working on the U.S. District Court of Minnesota case, wrote in an email to DeSmogBlog that he thinks the State Department is essentially partaking in a dereliction of duty.

    “There is absolutely no question that the State Department has the authority to tell Enbridge to stand down and follow the process that was always intended,” wrote Hayes. “The State Department is just not taking its presidential permitting responsibilities seriously and letting Enbridge call the shots.”

    Neither representatives from Enbridge, the Steptoe & Johnson attorneys nor the State Department officials involved in the behind-the-scenes permitting of the “illegal scheme” responded to requests for comment sent by DeSmogBlog.

    A hearing is scheduled for September 10 at the U.S. Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minnesota for the environmental groups’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, which was submitted on April 6.

     

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