Friday, December 30, 2011

Oil Pipeline Issues Run Deeper Than Editorial Suggests

Citing jobs and other business concerns, the Journal Sentinel editorial board supports the proposed transnational tar sand crude oil pipeline from Canada to Texas.
On the environmental issues, the paper says this:

Environmentalists also argue that the pipeline poses a threat to sensitive areas along its route. That's a legitimate concern, and accidents do occur with pipelines, as Michigan showed us earlier this year. Every precaution must be taken, especially with the most sensitive areas in question, the Sand Hills region of Nebraska and Nebraska's portion of the Ogallala aquifer.
But precautions are being taken.

TransCanada has agreed to more than 50 safety conditions suggested by the Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. And this will be a new pipeline, built with the latest technology. There's also the fact that hundreds of miles of pipelines already cross the affected area and that pipeline transportation is safer than other kinds. 
I wouldn'r hang my hat on TransCanada's assurances.

Experts not beholden to the industry, but using TransCanada documents and records of earlier spills, have shown there are significant problems with preventing, discovering and stopping spills - - and the critics have also unearthed problems with the company's data - -  according to University of Nebraska engineering professor John Stansbury:
While TransCanada estimates that the Keystone XL will have 11 significant spills (more than 50 barrels of crude oil) over 50 years, a more realistic assessment is 91 significant spills over the pipeline’s operational lifetime.

TransCanada arbitrarily and improperly adjusted spill factors to produce an estimate of one major spill on the 1,673 miles of pipeline about every five years, but federal data on the actual incidence of spills on comparable pipelines indicate a more likely average of almost two major spills per year. (The existing Keystone I pipeline has had one major spill and 11 smaller spills in its first year of operation.)

Analysis of the time needed to shut down the pipeline shows that response to a leak at a river crossing could conservatively take more than ten times longer than the 11 minutes and 30 seconds that TransCanada assumes. (After the June 2010 spill of more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River, an Enbridge tar sands pipeline – a 30 inch pipe compared to the 36-inch Keystone XL – was not completely shut down for 12 hours.)

Realistic calculations yield worst-case spill estimates of more than 180,000 barrels (about 7.9 million gallons) in the Nebraska Sandhills above the Ogallala Aquifer, more than 160,000 barrels (about 6.9 million gallons) of crude oil at the Yellowstone River crossings, more than 140,000 barrels (about 5.9 million gallons) at the Platte River crossing and more than 120,000 barrels (about 5.2 million gallons) at the Missouri River crossing.
Again, citing Stansbury:
Another factor that led to TransCanada’s low spill estimate is that they relied on technological improvements to help protect the Keystone XL pipeline. However, as Stansbury tells us, they are only calculating enhanced computer monitoring technology, not enhanced pipeline construction, which will only alert the company to a leak, not help to prevent one. This is a very significant point, because as we reported in June, TransCanada has freely admitted that their oversight of the pipeline is going to be scarce. By their own admission, TransCanada will have very few foot patrols along the pipeline, and most of the monitoring will be done by bi-weekly flyovers which will not be able to identify an underground leak.

Additionally, their proposed computer systems will not be able to identify pinhole leaks, which could potentially lead to thousands of gallons of oil escaping the pipeline for months before the company notices. TransCanada’s own documents, as detailed by Stansbury, show that the company acknowledges that pinhole leaks could take as long as 90 days to determine.
I hope the paper takes another look.

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