New pipeline policy could solve Keystone XL problems

New pipeline policy could solve Keystone XL problems 06/08/14
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Which are the most dangerous pipelines?

It’s an easy answer. Old pipelines.

Oil companies don’t advertise the first 15 years as the safest pipeline years. All bets are off after 30 years. And almost every pipeline spill in North America shows a pipeline well past 30 years of age.

One of the biggest problems contributing to leaks and ruptures is pretty simple: pipelines are getting older. More than half of the nation’s pipelines are at least 50 years old. — How Safe are America’s 2.5 Million Miles of Pipelines? published by propbulica.org

The average age of North America’s petroleum pipelines is getting older all the time (as there are few new pipelines are being built) so the existing pipeline network continues to age. But some pipelines built 30+years ago are so fragile from a maintenance perspective that they shouldn’t be allowed to transport toxic crude oil, dilbit, petroleum distillate, bunker fuel, or coal oil.

Forty-one per cent of U.S. oil pipe was built in the 1950s and 1960s; another 15 per cent of the country’s 281,000-kilometre network was built before then. In Alberta, 40 per cent of pipe was built before 1990. — Globe and Mail

How long does it take to ‘pay off’ a pipeline investment?

Depending upon the terrain a pipeline is traversing, pipelines can cost anywhere from thousands of dollars per mile up to millions of dollars per mile, especially when laying them through populated areas or under or above rivers and lakes. It can cost billions of dollars to build one pipeline.

Of course, if you want to move petroleum through a pipeline to your oil refinery, you are going to pay a significant dollar amount to transport that oil across the continent. Each oil refinery can refine up to one million barrels of oil per week. The oil refinery has only so much storage available to it on-site so it usually ships the refined product out ASAP via another pipeline system to a rail network, or direct to the customer via yet another pipeline.

U.S. petroleum pipeline map
U.S pipeline map. Toxic liquids show in red colour, while natural gas shows in blue. Image by propublica.org

After 15 years of operation, pipeline companies finally ‘break-even’ on their original investment

“Now we can finally make some money!”

Pipelines are quite costly to gain approval for from national and local regulators, to buy or lease the land, to design, build and operate. It also is the case that oil companies pay millions of dollars per year to the pipeline companies to move their liquids around. It is an annual business of billions, not millions.

We all need to make money and pass the ‘break-even’ point in our investments

We all want and need to make a return on investment (ROI) which is the reason we start businesses in the first place. But, just at the point that a pipeline has finally broken-even investment wise for its investor group, it is beginning to seep oil at the gaskets (called ‘weeping’) and also leak oil at the pump stations, and at areas where the pipeline has been disturbed by ground movement due to frost, ground settling, or earthquake movements. Some of this weeping can continue on for many years before anyone visits that remote area, which may not have been visited since the construction of the pipeline. Running toxic liquids across a continent safely, but economically, are mutually exclusive matters.

But without oil pipelines, our economy would grind to a halt within 90 days

Without pipelines, only coastal cities would be able to receive gasoline, diesel, kerosene, or other liquids used for transportation fuels, via international shipping lines. Other users of petroleum, such as chemical, plastics, and pharma companies would need to relocate to coastal areas to receive their petroleum ingredients.

It is a case of need vs. greed

  1. “We need the oil, keep it coming,” say consumers.
  2. “We need to keep our environment clean,” say a rapidly growing number of citizens/consumers.
  3. “We need to recoup our pipeline investment and make a profit in order to stay in business and we do it all for groups #1 and #2,” say the pipeline companies.

If ever there were a situation calling out for compromise, this has got to be it.

But the simple fact is, old pipelines weep plenty of oil and eventually burst, releasing tons of toxic liquids into the environment. New pipe does not burst or leak — unless it was to be hit by a derailed train, a transport truck, or an airplane crash — all of which are very unlikely events.

A mechanism for safe petroleum transport that works for all

Add a mile of new pipeline | Remove a mile of old pipeline

There are many pipeline systems that have been transporting petroleum for 30+ years in North America. These old pipes weep oil everyday. You might not see it, some of them are underground, or in wilderness areas where pipelines often traverse, or are just not accessible for viewing by the pubic or inspectors for that matter.

Some pipelines in North America are 45+ years old and they are big leakers — and just like purchasing carbon credits — one pipeline company could sell their RRR credits to another company that is ready to build a new pipeline.

It may seem odd for you to hear this solution from a renewable energy proponent; We should build more new pipelines!

What? Yes, but only if we completely remove 30+ year old pipelines on a mile-per-mile basis and remediate the soil and replant native species of plants along the historic route of the removed pipeline.

If pipeline company “A” wants to build a new pipeline, (such as Keystone II, for example) then government regulators should require that for every mile that they want to install new pipeline, the pipeline company is required to completely remove and remediate the soil and plant life, from whence an old pipeline has been removed.

This would help us to get rid of thousands of miles of old, leaking, and rusting pipelines that even the oil companies have forgotten about. They are environmental catastrophes just waiting to happen.

You can never completely empty a pipeline so they just sit there decade after decade weeping oil into the groundwater. Some old pipelines, although very leaky, are kept in place just in case of emergency so oil can be quickly diverted to the old pipeline for transport to a different junction in the system — and thereby still arrive at the oil refinery (and likely a day late and a few tens of barrels of oil short).

But that isn’t the best solution for the environment.

The best solution is easier approvals for newer and safer pipelines, contingent upon Retiring, Removing and Reclaiming (RRR) the land on the same total mileage of 30+ year old pipeline in the North American petroleum distribution network.

If Keystone II is 3500 miles of shiny new, high-tech, and state-ot-the-art pipeline, that’s great. It’s orders of magnitude less likely to leak, than 3500 miles of old pipeline.

All pipelines over 30 years old should be allowed to qualify for this removal/remediation programme. And the pipeline companies signing up for the Retire, Remove and Remediate (RRR) pipeline plan should receive tax incentives to assist in this regard. And, bonus, they can sell the land, once it is remediated.

Birth of a new industry

With the high prices of metals these days, oil and pipeline companies could find that passing the actual RRR work to another company could be the way to go. Even if the old pipe and pumps and pumphouses, etc, end up being sold for the scrap metal value, millions of tons of 30+ year old pipeline is sitting on the ground or just underground, waiting to be picked up and recycled.

Add in soil and plant remediation, and you have a whole new business model. A business where the workers could feel proud of the work they do!

“What do yo do for a living?”

Wouldn’t it be nice for an petroleum industry employee to be able to reply;

“I remove old, leaky pipelines, remediate the contaminated soil, replant the areas with native plants, and recycle millions of tons of old, leaky, pipeline metal.”

That has got to be the feelgood moment of the year, for any oil company employee.

Not your typical oil company employee job description

Yet, with some executive-level decisions and with a common-sense regulatory framework, RRR could finally solve the problem of the many thousands of miles of dormant but still weeping pipelines — and spawn a whole new business model — while helping to protect our North American ecosystems that wildlife depend on.

Cold Lake Alberta oil spill is ‘unstoppable’

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

The Alberta oil sands are either a curse or a blessing, depending on your point of view

For some Canadians (and American guest-workers) the Alberta oil sands mean long-term employment with good wages, and the chance to raise a family in Canada’s north which, if you can tolerate the cold winters, is a beautiful place to raise an outdoors-oriented family, spending the weekends with your kids exploring the thousands of square kilometres of snowy mountains on snowmobiles, hitting the touristy ski slopes, and photographing sweeping prairie vistas.

For others though, the exploitation of Canada’s oil sands are a blight on the collective conscience of all Canadians and a black eye on Canada’s otherwise good reputation among nations.

Image courtesy: desmogblog.ca
Alberta Primrose oil spill — 6000 barrels of oil seep to the surface every two days, and officials concede there is no known way of stopping it — other than just waiting for it to stop. Image courtesy: desmogblog.ca

 

The battle for, or against, the harvesting of the oil sands resource see-saws back and forth. It is has turned into an epic battle between oil companies and environmentalists spanning decades of time, and very clear battle lines between the two groups were drawn long ago.

Renewed interest in the oil sands fight began in 2010, with news that Canada was allowing Chinese companies to purchase multi-billion dollar Canadian and American oil companies which operate in the oil sands region.

And when talks began with the European Union on a massive Free Trade deal between Canada and the EU in 2012, the oil sands business once more came under the media spotlight.

This time, the spotlight is on an ‘unstoppable’ oil spill near a Royal Canadian Air Force base, where the crude oil is bubbling up from deep underground at high pressure in four locations. One of the places where the oil is rising to the surface, is under a lake — which is making a mess of the once-pristine lake and adjoining forest, as more than 3 feet of oil floats on top of the lake and overflowing into the surrounding area.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported on August 1, 2013 that; “Nearly 1 million litres of bitumen leaked into bush on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range” – and the company is reporting the spill as “contained” and will “seep small amounts of oil for years”.

How reassuring NOT!

After bursting to the surface under pressure, the oil mixes with snow, water, and organic materials on the forest floor and the whole oily mess tumbles downhill, creating small ‘rivers’ of oil, heading toward the larger rivers and lakes common in the region.

Cara Tobin; “With any incident the company would go to the site and identify the outer boundaries of the affected area.

There’s two things – one is control and one is containment.

What they have done, to the best of my knowledge, is that they have identified the outer extent of the impacted area, which is generally called delineation. I think they were finishing that process [Friday]. And so they are getting to know and rope off the outer extent of the impacted area.

So that’s one thing. And that’s basically containment… In this case, this is still an ongoing incident. There is no control on this incident.” – Cara Tobin, Office of Public Affairs spokesperson for the Alberta Energy Regulator

If the employees of Canadian Natural Resource Limited (CNRL) hadn’t reported the leak to the media, it may have gone unreported.

The company in charge of the High-Pressure Cyclic Steam Stimulation (HPCSS) oil extraction process (where high-temperature steam in injected deep underground to separate the oil from the sand it is embedded with) at first reported only one spill from one site — saying it had begun leaking only days before. Now we find out four boreholes have been leaking for months.

The one thing you need to know about about ‘unstoppable’ oil spills is that until the underground pressure lowers, the oil will continue pouring out. This de-pressurization might take a month, or it may take 60 years. Nobody knows for certain. It will stop when it stops.

In the case that anyone thinks that this is a minor matter, the total amount of oil trapped in the oil sands is roughly equal to the remaining total oil reserves in Saudi Arabia. Not that all of it will suddenly burst forth from these four locations and empty the entire mess onto the landscape, but there is opportunity at least, for major ecological disaster. There are millions of barrels of underground oil and it is under pressure and connected to thousands of similar boreholes in the area, which is why the oil companies are there, and not somewhere else.

Over the weekend, some 6000 barrels of oil overflowed into 51 acres of forest and lake country, and in some places the oil is one metre deep.

With no end in sight, no available man-made solution, and no future plan to control what is admittedly an ‘unstoppable’ oil spill — all we can do is wait.

And this has happened just when it looked like the oil companies were winning the public relations battle…

Related Articles:

Less than 1% of tar-sands environmental infractions are penalized

 By Kevin Grandia – Special to JBS News

By Jungbim (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Photo: Jungbim

A new report out today finds that enforcement of environmental infractions by companies in the Alberta oil sands are 17 times lower than similar infractions reported to the United State’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The report [PDF], authoured by the environmental non-profit Global Forest Watch, looked at more than 15 years of data on recorded environmental mishaps by oil sand companies, tracking the follow-up actions taken and the final verdict on fines.

The findings are shocking and come at a very inconvenient time for government and industry supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline project that would greatly increase tar sands processing and shipments to the United States.

Of the more than 4,000 infractions reported, less than 1 percent (.09 to be exact) received an enforcement action (that would be less than 40 of 4,000). Compare this to the EPA, which has an enforcement rate of 16 percent for similar infractions by companies under the Clean Water Act.

Global Forest Watch also found that the median fine for environmental infractions in the oil sands over the past 16 years was $4,500. If you were an oil-sands player like ExxonMobil, who reported a profit last year of $44.9 billion, would you change your ways over a $4,500 fine?

Royal Dutch Shell Oil’s CEO, another big player in the oil sands, probably spent $4,500 on golf and dinner yesterday.

TransCanada, the company trying to convince President Obama to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, was out last week touting Canada as a world leader in environmental protection.

TransCanada wrote in the Globe and Mail

The only relevant question is whether the U.S. wants to source its heavy oil from Canada, a friendly and stable ally with strict environmental standards, or from other suppliers whose interests are not aligned with those of the United States and have limited or no environmental standards.

Relevant question indeed, and here’s the answer: Canada does not have “strict environmental standards” at all and this report puts even more pressure on President Obama to not approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

Kevin Grandia is a researcher and writer on environment and human rights issues. He is the president of Spake Media House Inc., a consulting firm that brings online power to non-profits, campaigners, and advocacy groups. His article appears in JBS News with the kind permission of the authour.

Braid: Redford has many more promises to keep | MY COMMENT

Braid: Redford has many more promises to keep The Calgary Herald
By: Don Braid January 12, 2012

MY COMMENT — The Premier of Alberta, Alison Redford is barely on the job 100 days. We should cut her some slack, don’t you think? Would you accept judgement after your first 100 days at a new job? Really?

Ideologue politicians are just as bad for their province as good for their province, it seems. This Premier doesn’t strike me as on of those, refreshingly, she seems to be a pragmatist.

Give her a fair chance to succeed and she will.

Now, what about those oil sands?

Do you agree we should highly-refine the oil sands in Alberta keeping all those jobs in western Canada?

Or should we just extract oil sands, and then just pipeline it away? “Look fast — there goes all the jobs!”

If we keep those thousands of permanent jobs here, (jobs which are not temporary pipeline construction jobs) it helps Alberta and BC in three important ways;

1) Many value-added products are created in western Canada, translating into thousands of jobs for Albertans.

2) The problem of pipeline or supertanker spills are completely eliminated.

3) Environmentalist’s will better accept modern, world-class refineries producing low-toxicity products relatively near the oil sands site – in exchange for eliminating toxic crude oil pipeline and supertanker spills. (Not all environmentalist’s, but most)

The world’s largest petroleum exporter, Saudi Arabia, is already doing this and creating thousands of permanent jobs:

http://arabnews.com/economy/article514179.ece

It’s your call.