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.

British Columbia’s ‘Solar Potential’ Beats Germany or Japan

by Roy L Hales.

Renewable Energy in British Columbia. Rooftop of an almost zero net energy home in Kamloops, BC, courtesy Riverside Energy.
Renewable Energy in British Columbia. Rooftop of an almost zero net energy home in Kamloops, BC. Image courtesy of: Riverside Energy.

Originally published on The Ecoreport.

According to a provincial government study called the Potential for Solar Power in British Columbia: 2007 to 2025, BC’s climate is much more amenable to solar than either Germany’s or Japan’s. The average production of a PV solar array in Kamloops, for example, is 1160 kWh/kW of PV installed. Even Vancouver (1009) has much more solar potential than Tokyo (885) or Berlin (only 848). Ben Giudici, of Kamloops-based Riverside Energy Systems, provided a copy of the study.

“I believe a modestly equipped sustainable home, utilizing solar to produce 50% or more of its own operating electricity, can be built with little or no increase to the building budget if the owner and builder base key construction details on reduction of energy consumption, and are willing to trade off some aesthetics for renewable energy equipment,” said Giudici.

“Construction practices and results in our building industry suggest BC residents are more inclined to equip their homes with granite counter tops, hot tubs, swimming pools, cobblestone driveways and/or other features devoid of monetary payback, than with grid-connected solar arrays which do offer a return on investment,” he added.

Riverside was founded in 1995 and will have completed more than 20 grid-connected solar PV installations by the end of this year. It also provides off-grid solar, wind and micro-hydro systems.

Renewable energy. House in Kamloops, BC that produced 75% of energy needed during the year it was monitored. Photo courtesy Riverside Energy.
Renewable energy. House in Kamloops, BC that produced 75% of the energy it required during the year it was monitored. Photo courtesy of: Riverside Energy.

In 2010, Riverside designed and installed the solar PV system for what was meant to be a zero-net-energy home. Though PV produced almost exactly as expected, the building’s other operating systems consumed more than estimated and solar hot water production fell short of projections.

“During the year CMHC monitored the home, it self-produced about 75% of the energy it consumed,” Guidici said. “That is about 25% short of the net zero target.”

The design of a net-zero home begins with an ultra-insulated and very airtight building envelope. Every construction detail revolves around the goal of reducing energy consumption. After everything else — every electrical, heating, and cooling need — is reduced as much as possible, “then and only then are renewables such as solar PV, solar thermal, etc added.”

“The design and building process is arduous, requiring builders and homeowners to be very committed to the process and the desired net-zero outcome,” he said. “Zero net energy homes, like many other high performance systems, are dependent on their owners to reach full potential. (e.g.. a Ferrari will safely reach much higher speeds with a professional driver at the wheel than if I were driving) Thankfully, sustainable building practices do not need to be ‘net-zero or nothing’ in order to have significant impact.”

Jim and Cathy Brown agree. They are retired teachers who purchased a 5.8 kW system from Riverside in 2012. This provides more than 100% of their energy needs during the summer months, but not nearly enough from November through February. Cathy estimated it supplies 1/3 of their power needs then. They intend to purchase another 5.8 kW array and try to get that up to 2/3.

Renewable energy. Cathy Brown clearing snow off their solar panels in Kamloops, BC. Photo courtesy Riverside Solar.
Renewable energy. Cathy Brown clearing snow off their solar panel installation in Kamloops, BC. Photo courtesy of: Riverside Solar.

“You wouldn’t get anything near this rate of return if you left your money sitting in a bank account,” Cathy said. “And it makes you feel good to know you are doing something to help the environment.”

Guidici emphasized the fact it is all about choice. If a new homeowner decided to live with a a $30,000 kitchen instead of a $45,000 kitchen, and chose an asphalt driveway instead of cobblestone, “… renewable energy systems would soon be paid for.”

“If all else fails, construction and operating costs can be reduced by making the home a little smaller. This is a paradigm shift which may not come naturally for many of us, but fading perceptions of ‘forever cheap’ electricity in BC seem to be moving more people in this direction.”

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This article, British Columbia’s Climate Better For Solar Power Than Germany’s Or Japan’s, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Renewable energy. Roy L HalesRoy L Hales is the editor of the ECOreport (www.theechoreport.com), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of North America. He is a research junkie who has written hundreds of articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.

Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project: ‘Approved’

Joint Review Panel recommends approving the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, Dec 19, 2013

CALGARY ― The Joint Review Panel (the Panel) for the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Project today recommended that the federal government approve the project, subject to 209 required conditions.

Based on a scientific and precautionary approach to this complex review, the Panel found that the project, if built and operated in compliance with the conditions set out in its report, would be in the public interest.

The Panel also recommended that the Governor in Council determine that the construction and routine operation of the project would cause no significant adverse environmental effects, with the exception of cumulative effects for certain populations of woodland caribou and grizzly bear.

In these two cases, the Panel found that cumulative effects as a result of this project and other projects, activities or actions are likely to be at the low end of the range of possible significance. The Panel recommended that these effects be found to be justified in the circumstances.

Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project
Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project

The Panel concluded that the environmental burdens associated with project construction and routine operation can generally be effectively mitigated and that continued monitoring, scientific research and adaptive management could further reduce adverse effects.

The Panel stated that “the environmental, societal and economic burdens of a large oil spill, while unlikely and not permanent, would be significant.” The Panel found that Northern Gateway had taken steps to minimize the likelihood of a large spill through its precautionary design approach and its commitments to use innovative and redundant safety systems.  The Panel also found that, after mitigation, the likelihood of significant adverse environmental effects resulting from project malfunctions or accidents is very low.

The Panel found that “opening Pacific Basin markets is important to the Canadian economy and society.”  The Panel also found that “the project would bring significant local, regional, and national economic and social benefits.”

After weighing all of the oral and written evidence, the Panel found that Canada and Canadians would be better off with the Enbridge Northern Gateway project than without it.

The Panel’s conditions, which would be enforced by the National Energy Board, include requirements for Enbridge Northern Gateway to:

  • Develop a Marine Mammal Protection Plan;
  • Implement the TERMPOL Review Committee Recommendations;
  • Prepare a Caribou Habitat Restoration Plan;
  • Develop a Training and Education Monitoring Plan;
  • Prepare an Enhanced Marine Spill Trajectory and Fate Modelling;
  • Develop a Research Program on the Behaviour and Cleanup of Heavy Oils;
  • Conduct Pre-operations Emergency Response Exercises and Develop an Emergency Preparedness and Response Exercise and Training Program.

The Enbridge Northern Gateway Project is a proposal to build and operate two pipelines and a marine terminal. The pipelines would run 1,178 kilometres from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia, where the marine terminal would be built.

One 914 mm (36 inch) outside diameter line would carry an average of 83,400 cubic metres (525,000 barrels) per day of oil west to Kitimat. The other line, a 508 mm (20 inch) outside diameter pipeline, would carry an average of 30,700 cubic metres (193,000 barrels) of condensate per day east to Bruderheim. Condensate can be used to thin bitumen for pipeline transport. The Kitimat Marine Terminal would have two tanker berths, three condensate tanks and 16 oil storage tanks. Costs for the project are estimated at $7.9 billion.

The Joint Review Panel for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project is an independent body, mandated by the Minister of the Environment and the National Energy Board. The Panel assessed the environmental effects of the proposed project and reviewed the application under both the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 and the National Energy Board Act.

The report, this news release, a backgrounder on the hearing process and a list of frequently asked questions can be found on the Panel’s website at: www.gatewaypanel.review.gc.ca

Ontario Cleans Its Hands Of Coal

by Matthew Klippenstein.

Canada’s “little Germany” has cut per-capita emissions 24% since 1990.

Parliament buildings in Ontario, Canada. Image Credit: Shutterstock
Parliament buildings in the city of Ottawa, province of Ontario, Canada. Image Credit: Shutterstock

The Ontario government announced on Friday that it will introduce legislation next week to ban the burning of coal and the building of new coal plants. The Canadian province expects to have completely outgrown coal by 2014, thanks to a combination of efficiency, nuclear, natural gas and an ambitious renewables program – and to save C$4.4 billion per year (US $4.2 billion) in “externalities” like health costs, from having done so.

The province will end this year on a symbolic high-note as well, completing the conversion of its enormous Nanticoke Generation Station to run on biomass. The coal plant was at one point the single-biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, providing 4 GW of baseline electricity. Half its generating units have been decommissioned in recent years, and the station now operates as a “peaker” plant — idling for most of the day, and only ramping up in times of high electricity demand.

Ontario being a net exporter of electricity – it sold 10 TWh of excess electricity last year, about enough to power Hawaii – the announcement is great news for the lungs of families there, and in the surrounding provinces and states. Going forward, Ontarian children will only have to endure “second-hand smog” from coal burnt in nearby Michigan.

Digging into the statistics*, CleanTechnica found that from 1990 to 2011, Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions dropped 3 percent – achieving only about half of Canada’s Kyoto commitment. But the province’s growth in the past 20 years means its per-capita emissions actually dropped a full 24 percent. Though the province had largely weaned itself off coal by then, the full phase-out should push the per-capita emissions reductions past the one-quarter mark (25 percent).

By comparison, Germany’s Energiewende has powered a 27 percent emissions reduction since 1990, and its stable population means per-capita emissions are down about 28 percent.

Canada’s “little Germany”

Referring to Ontario as a “little Germany” purely on account of its environmental progress would be to underestimate the parallels between the two.

Ontario is Canada’s manufacturing centre, and achieved its emissions reductions even as it began a nine-year run as North America’s top auto manufacturing jurisdiction. (That the province’s auto sector achieved this with high-skill, high-wage, unionized workers, despite lower-cost labour elsewhere, compares well with the German automotive experience.)

And though Ontario doesn’t dominate Canadian Confederation to the extent that Germany does the European Union, its size and influence mean it can be considered first among provinces; it hosts the country’s capital, after all.

The province’s Green Energy Act was partially modelled on the successful policies that drove the German Energiewende. Small surprise, then, that its implementation was only partially smooth. Several wind farm projects located near uncompensated individuals and communities, encountered fierce resistance from the aforementioned uncompensated individuals and communities.

As noted by a recent Dutch study, “people who benefit economically from wind turbines have a significantly decreased risk of annoyance, despite exposure to similar sound levels [as those who do not benefit economically].” Or, to translate from scientific to soundbite English, the Ontario government had forgotten the wisdom of turning local stakeholders into local shareholders.

The province was also judged to have violated World Trade Organization rules when it enforced local-content requirements for renewables to qualify for feed-in tariffs; and the politically-motivated cancellation of two natural gas plants may wind up costing the province one billion dollars.

For all these missteps, Ontario continues to move forward, slowly transforming its electricity, energy use, and economy. (“Little Germany,” indeed…) And while residential electricity rates have risen in recent years, they top out at a maximum 13 cents / kWh during peak hours, still on the low side of North American norms.

Meanwhile, in an alternate universe

One wonders whether Keystone XL and other pipelines would have already received their permits if Canada had followed Ontario’s lead, instead of Alberta’s. (Alberta is home to Canada’s tar sands.) Would counterparties be willing to help Canadian bitumen into international markets if the country could credibly claim to be using the one-time boon to swiftly transition off fossil fuels – developing expertise that could then be exported abroad?

The Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia – encompassing three-quarters of the Canadian population – have reduced per-capita greenhouse gas emissions 24, 17 and 11 percent respectively since 1990. And while Canada’s Kyoto commitments were based on absolute reductions, not per-capita reductions, most observers would acknowledge these achievements as a good start. Residents of the three provinces generate 10 to 13 tonnes of CO2 per year, in line with their German counterparts.

Alas, we don’t live in an alternate universe; and in our universe, the Canadian government has long since chosen to be bellicose and belligerent in pushing its bitumen interests. In addition to cutting climate research and muzzling scientists, the government has spied on pipeline opponents and gone out of its way to describe them in terms befitting the 9/11 terrorists**. During the 2008 election campaign, the ruling Conservative Party even created an online video showing a puffin repeatedly defecating on an opposition leader, and characterizing his carbon tax proposal as a “tax on everything.”

Ironically, investigative journalists have determined that Canada’s oil giants are quietly in favour of a carbon tax, which would reduce regulatory risks to their projects’ profitability. With Shell Oil’s recent announcement that it assumes a $40/tonne CO2 price for new projects, we can assume they’re among this group.

With the federal government set in its self-destructive ways, Canadians have been forced to look to the provincial and municipal levels for leadership on climate issues. And while hard-working stewards from across the political spectrum are working to create a cleaner, better future for community and country, Ontario’s leadership deserves special acknowledgement.

In phasing out coal, Ontario has let go of the 18th century, to better embrace the 21st. The government showed its citizens the willingness to take action to build the better future their children deserve.

Better still, the many other measures the province took leading up to this announcement emphatically proved that Energiewende-esque per-capita emissions reductions can be achieved, even in North America, and even without a price on carbon. Which gives hope – and perhaps even a hint of excitement – about the progress we’ll be able to make when governments begin pricing carbon, worldwide.

* See www.tinyurl.com/CanadaEVSales. Ontario data on “Canada by Province” tab (row 70-ish). German data on “Global GHG’s” tab.

** In the fourth paragraph, Minister Oliver states, “these groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda” (emphasis added). In a post-9/11 world, the concept of radical hijackers universally brings to mind the terrorists from those terrible, tragic attacks. By extension, referring to one’s opponents as radical hijackers is to compare them, by analogy, to the 9/11 terrorists. This document being an open letter published on a government website, this slanderous characterization of pipeline opponents would have been approved by Minister Oliver and the messaging-obsessed Prime Minister as well.

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This article, Ontario Cleans Its Hands Of Coal, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Matthew Klippenstein is a professional engineer and plug-in electric vehicle enthusiast. A member of the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association, he lives with his family in the nearby suburb of Burnaby, tweets at @EclecticLip and blogs occasionally at http://www.eclecticlip.com. A thirteen-year veteran of the fuel cell industry with Ballard Power Systems, he was part of the micro-CHP product team which won the American Electrochemical Society New Technology Award in 2007, and co-authored the company’s white paper on the future of electricity (“electron-democracy”) for a McKinsey & Company essay series to which Steven Chu and Andy Grove also contributed. In roles spanning research, product design and production, he helped the company scale-up from discrete manual assembly to continuous, automated roll-to-roll processing, with the company manufacturing its 1,000,000th production-line MEA (membrane-electrode assembly) in 2010.

Canada’s Largest Solar PV Power Plant To Be Powered By ABB

by Zachary Shahan

ABB_LasVegasSolar
Canada to install another 100MW Solar PV Power Plant in the province of Ontario. Image Credit: ABB

Canada is going to get a new 100MW solar power plant. The Grand Renewable Energy Park will be in Ontario, which is Canada’s most populous province and home to the city of Toronto (which is getting a lot of attention for other reasons right now). This Ontario solar PV power plant will add to existing PV capacity in the province, notably, the Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant which is a 97MW solar installation and at the time of its completion (Sept 2010) was the largest solar PV power plant in the world.

ABB will be supplying Canadian Solar Solutions — the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor for the plant — with about $80 million of balance of system (BOS) technologies “comprising a broad range of power and automation products, including ABB’s flagship automation platform for conventional power generation and renewable applications, Symphony™ Plus.” In addition, ABB will be in charge of engineering, electrical installation, commissioning, and performance testing of the plant.

This is a big project — one of the biggest solar power plants in the world. However, interestingly, this power plant is part of a much, much, bigger renewable energy project. It’s part of a behemoth $5 billion investment by Samsung Renewable Energy in solar and wind energy projects with a total power capacity of 1,369 MW (1.369 GW)!

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This article, Canada’s Largest Solar PV Power Plant To Be Powered By ABB, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Zachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.