Tag Archives: Pipeline infrastructure

Dangerous energy gamble: Pipelines vs. rail

Repost from the Washington Examiner
[Editor: One significant quote among many: “In the last five years, 423 oil trains have crashed in the U.S. Since 2010, those crashes have cost about $45 million in damages. In just the first six months of 2015, 31 oil train crashes cost almost $30 million in damages…. It’s 5.5 times more likely that oil will be spilled during rail transport than from a pipeline, according to a study by the Fraser Institute, an independent Canadian think tank. The risk of deaths, injuries and spills are higher with rail and trucks since vehicles can hit other vehicles, they travel through population centers and the drivers can err. None of those factors exist for pipelines.” – RS]

Dangerous energy gamble: Pipelines vs. rail

By Kyle Feldscher, 11/2/15 12:01 AM
Fire burns at the scene of a train derailment, near Mount Carbon, W.Va., on Feb. 16. Fires burned for nearly nine hours after the train carrying more than 100 tankers of crude oil derailed in a snowstorm. (AP Photo/WCHS-TV)

Energy companies increasingly have turned to rail to ship crude oil during the fracking boom, but with train crashes becoming more frequent, they are pushing for construction of more pipelines beyond the Keystone XL.

However, that effort is being stymied by the collapse of oil prices and concerns about pipeline safety.

On Wednesday, Shell announced it would stop construction on a site in Alberta, Canada, that potentially holds 418 million barrels of bitumen oil. The company blamed the project’s expense in a time of cheap oil as well as a lack of pipeline infrastructure.

It’s one example of low prices and lack of pipelines prompting companies to reconsider drilling for oil, especially in the Canadian tar sands, where it’s more expensive to drill. Pipeline transportation is typically cheaper than rail, which costs about $30 a barrel more.

Fifty pipelines have been proposed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this year. They would carry the light, sweet crude from shale regions as well as the natural gas that has helped make the U.S. the world’s energy leader. ”

Because of the costs associated with [rail], it’s going to drive up the cost of oil and it’s going to be significantly higher than pipelines on a per barrel basis,” said Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the conservative Institute for Energy Research.

Another calculation oil companies must make is the safety of their highly flammable product.

In the last five years, 423 oil trains have crashed in the U.S. Since 2010, those crashes have cost about $45 million in damages. In just the first six months of 2015, 31 oil train crashes cost almost $30 million in damages, mostly due to a major crash in West Virginia.

It’s 5.5 times more likely that oil will be spilled during rail transport than from a pipeline, according to a study by the Fraser Institute, an independent Canadian think tank. The risk of deaths, injuries and spills are higher with rail and trucks since vehicles can hit other vehicles, they travel through population centers and the drivers can err. None of those factors exist for pipelines.

The August study also found oil and natural gas production is rising faster than existing American and Canadian pipelines can handle. Those pipelines would be even busier if production increased in the Canadian tar sands.

Keystone XL, proposed by TransCanada in 2007, would be able to transport 830,000 barrels per day from the tar sands to the Gulf Coast to be refined. Due to the viscous nature of bitumen oil, it’s much easier to transport it by pipeline than by rail, experts say.

When a train carrying oil derails, it’s often catastrophic.

In West Virginia, oil burned for days after 26 oil tanker cars derailed in February. Nineteen of those cars caught on fire and oil spilled into a nearby river. The damages from that crash totaled more than $23 million.

A train derailment in a Quebec community that killed 46 people in July 2013 prompted calls for better rail safety and led some to question whether to transport highly flammable oil at all.

The State Department estimates rail transportation of oil is responsible for 712 injuries and 94 deaths per year, while oil pipelines are responsible for three injuries and two deaths per year.

“For our society, we have to evaluate the value we place on human life and we should make that a priority,” said Diana Furtchgott-Roth, a conservative economist who is the director of the Manhattan Institute’s e21 program.

“The families of those 46 people killed in Lac-Megantic would have been happy to have less oil and having the lives of their family members back.”

Dangerous derailments led the Obama administration to introduce new regulations to make tanker cars safer. The rule, announced in May, requires improvements to braking systems, making tanker cars thicker and more fire resistant and new protocols for transporting flammable liquids.

The number of crashes steadily increased during the last five years, as more trains shipped crude and natural gas, rising from nine crashes in 2010 to 144 crashes in 2014. But as the price of oil plummeted, the amount of crude oil being drilled and shipped leveled off in 2015, according to the Energy Information Administration.

If drilling in the Canadian tar sands in Alberta were to pick up in earnest, State Department officials believe rail transport would lead to 49 more injuries and six more deaths per year. If that oil were to be moved by the Keystone XL pipeline, there would be one additional injury and no fatalities.

Environmentalists, who have been fighting the Keystone XL, point to the State Department’s finding that pipeline spills are often bigger than those from trains and trucks.

They also point to declining oil use and the collapse of prices as great excuses to leave it in the ground.

Zach Drennen, legislative associate at the League of Conservation Voters, said with oil prices as low as they are, it’s economic folly for oil companies to drill in the Canadian tar sands. Without high oil prices, companies can’t afford to build pipelines. They also can’t afford to ship by rail.

That is why green groups think oil companies could be willing to leave the oil in the earth.

“If you look right now, a lot of oil companies are just deciding that’s not where they want to put their money at,” Drennen said.

To Kish, environmentalists’ goal is to make it too expensive to drill.

“They’re going to try and fight against every damn pipeline they can,” he said, “because if they can choke off production and delay construction of pipelines, it causes disruptions.”

But Ken Green, senior director of natural resource studies at the Fraser Institute, said environmentalists’ dream of keeping oil in the ground isn’t feasible.

“The oil in the ground has a market value and everyone knows what the market value is,” he said. “It’s not hard to calculate that market value … My assumption is sooner or later, that value will be sought.”

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    Hillary Clinton finally says she opposes Keystone pipeline, implies support for oil trains

    Repost from the New York Times
    [Editor:  Playing both “sides” and giving in to the supposed inevitability of crude by rail, this quote from the article: “Anticipating criticism from backers of the project that her opposition would cost construction jobs, she pledged to soon detail a clean energy policy that would put thousands of Americans to work repairing leaky existing pipelines and improving train tracks that carry oil by rail.”  See Sen. Bernie Sanders’ unequivocal view on Keystone XL.  – RS]

    Hillary Clinton Says She Opposes Keystone Pipeline

    By Trip Gabriel, September 22, 2015 5:35 pm ET
    Clinton described some drug companies as “bad actors making a fortune off of people’s misfortune.” Photo: Gareth Patterson, Associated Press
    Hillary Clinton | Photo: Gareth Patterson, Associated Press

    Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Tuesday that she opposed building the Keystone XL oil pipeline, revealing her position on an issue that divides two Democratic constituencies, organized labor and environmentalists, and that she has long declined to address.

    In announcing her opposition to the project, a litmus test for grass-roots environmentalists and which her rivals for the Democratic nomination had already opposed, Mrs. Clinton said that the pipeline was “a distraction from the important work we have to do to combat climate change.”

    She declared her position during a campaign appearance in Iowa and on the day Pope Francis, who has challenged the world to act decisively on climate change, arrived in Washington amid a burst of attention. An aide to Mrs. Clinton said that the campaign had briefed the White House ahead of her announcement.

    Mrs. Clinton said that building the nearly 1,200-mile pipeline, which would carry heavily polluting oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast, was not “in the best interest of what we need to do to combat climate change.”

    Anticipating criticism from backers of the project that her opposition would cost construction jobs, she pledged to soon detail a clean energy policy that would put thousands of Americans to work repairing leaky existing pipelines and improving train tracks that carry oil by rail.

    There are “a lot more jobs from my perspective on a North American clean energy agenda than you would ever get from one pipeline crossing the border,” she said.

    Energy and policy experts have long said that the battle over Keystone XL is chiefly political, because the pipeline would have little effect on either climate change or the United States job market. A State Department analysis last year found the pipeline would not significantly add to carbon pollution, because the oil was already reaching refineries by other pipelines and by rail.

    Asked repeatedly about the pipeline since she declared her candidacy this spring, Mrs. Clinton has said that because she initiated a review of the project while secretary of state, it was inappropriate for her to weigh in while the Obama administration studied the issue. While a member of the administration in 2010, she said she was inclined to approve it.

    She declined to address the issue even when she rolled out the first phase of a plan in July to produce a third of the nation’s electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2027.

    “If it is undecided when I become president, I will answer your question,” Mrs. Clinton told a New Hampshire voter at the time who pressed her on the Keystone question.

    She was criticized by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a staunch pipeline opponent, who said, “I have a hard time understanding that response.”

    Last week, Mrs. Clinton moved away from her careful neutrality, telling voters that she was “putting the White House on notice” that she would announce her position shortly, “because I can’t wait.”

    In a statement on Tuesday, Mr. Sanders said he was glad Mrs. Clinton “finally has made a decision, and I welcome her opposition to the pipeline.”

    Environmental groups also applauded Mrs. Clinton. “Secretary Clinton’s recent clean energy proposal, coupled with her opposition to drilling in the Arctic Ocean and now to Keystone XL, is both inspiring and exciting,” the League of Conservation Voters said in a statement.

    Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor seeking the Republican nomination, said on Twitter that Mrs. Clinton’s pipeline opposition means she “favors environmental extremists over U.S. jobs.”

     

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      Pipeline that spilled oil on California coast badly corroded

      Repost from SFGate

      Pipeline that spilled oil on California coast badly corroded

      By Michael R. Blood and Brian Melley, Associated Press, Wednesday, June 3, 2015 10:50 pm
      FILE - This Friday, May 22, 2015 file photo shows signscmarking the beach closed to fishing and harvesting while cleanup crews in the background shovel and rake contaminated sand into bags at El Capitan State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif. Two weeks after an underground pipeline broke on May 19, 2015, crews continued to clean up oil-covered beaches along California’ Central Coast. Photo: Michael A. Mariant, AP / FR96689 AP
      FILE – This Friday, May 22, 2015 file photo shows signs marking the beach closed to fishing and harvesting while cleanup crews in the background shovel and rake contaminated sand into bags at El Capitan State Beach, north of Goleta, California two weeks after an underground pipeline broke on May 19, 2015. Crews continued to clean up oil-covered beaches along California’ Central Coast. Photo: Michael A. Mariant, AP

      LOS ANGELES (AP) — A pipeline rupture that spilled an estimated 101,000 gallons of crude oil near Santa Barbara last month occurred along a badly corroded section that had worn away to a fraction of an inch in thickness, federal regulators disclosed Wednesday.

      The preliminary findings released by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration point to a possible cause of the May 19 spill that blackened popular beaches and created a 9-mile slick in the Pacific Ocean.

      The agency said investigators found corrosion at the break site had degraded the pipe wall thickness to 1/16 of an inch, and that there was a 6-inch opening near the bottom of the pipe. Additionally, the report noted that the area that failed was close to three repairs made because of corrosion found in 2012 inspections.

      The findings indicate 82 percent of the metal pipe wall had worn away.

      “There is pipe that can survive 80 percent wall loss,” said Richard Kuprewicz, president of Accufacts Inc., which investigates pipeline incidents. “When you’re over 80 percent, there isn’t room for error at that level.”

      The morning of the spill, operators in the company’s Houston control center detected mechanical issues and shut down pumps on the line. The pumps were restarted about 20 minutes later and then failed, prompting another shutdown of the line.

      Restarting the pumps could have led to a rupture, or a break in the line could have caused the pumps to fail, but Kuprewicz cautioned it’s still too soon to determine what caused the failure.

      In either case, a hole that size would have leaked at a high rate — even with the pumps off — and may not have been quickly detected by remote operators.

      The agency documents said findings by metallurgists who examined the pipe wall thickness at the break site conflicted with the results of inspections conducted May 5 for operator Plains All American Pipeline. Those inspections pinpointed a 45 percent loss of wall thickness in the area of the pipe break, meaning they concluded the pipe was in far better condition.

      Government inspectors “noted general external corrosion of the pipe body during field examination of the failed pipe segment,” the report said.

      Investigators found “this thinning of the pipe wall is greater than the 45 percent metal loss which was indicated” by the recent Plains All American inspections.

      The agency ordered the company to conduct additional research and possible repairs on the line, which has been shut down indefinitely.

      Plains All American said in a regulatory filing that there is no timeline to restart the line, which runs along the coast north of Santa Barbara. A company spokeswoman said there’s no estimate yet of the cost of cleanup, which involves nearly 1,200 people.

      The agency also ordered restrictions on a second stretch of pipeline, which the company had shut down May 19, restarted, then shut down again on Saturday.

      That second line had similar insulation and welds to the line that spilled oil last month. It cannot be started until the company completes a series of steps, including testing.

      The company said in a statement that it is committed to working with federal investigators “to understand the differences between these preliminary findings, to determine why the corrosion developed and to determine the cause of the incident.”

      Plains said it won’t know the cause until the investigation, including the metallurgical analysis, is concluded.

      The company has come under fire from California’s U.S. senators, who issued a statement last week calling the response to the spill insufficient and demanding the pipeline company explain what it did, and when, after firefighters discovered the leak from the company’s underground 24-inch pipe.

      A commercial fisherman sued Plains in federal court Monday, alleging the environmental disaster would cause decades of harm to the shore. He is seeking class-action status and damages for business owners who have lost money because of the spill.

      As of Tuesday, 36 sea lions, 9 dolphins and 87 birds in the area have died, officials said. Another 32 sea lions, 6 elephant seals and 58 birds were rescued and were being treated.

      Popular state beaches and campgrounds polluted by the spill are closed until at least June 18.

      Plains All American and its subsidiaries operate 17,800 miles of crude oil and natural gas pipelines across the country, according to federal regulators

      The spill is also being investigated by federal, state and local prosecutors for possible violations of law.

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