By Dirty Tar Sands
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
The best weekly review of tar sands and pipeline
campaign news and commentary.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“They’re highly organized, and they know exactly what they’re doing.”
~ John Kingston, writing about opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline for Platts, a leading source of information on global energy issues
More lessons from Arkansas tar sands spill
All eyes are now on Mayflower, a quaint little suburban town in rural Arkansas surrounded by streams, lakes and wetlands. And now, tar sands crude.
On Date, Exxon’s underground Pegasus Pipeline ruptured, spilling as much as 294,000 gallons of dirty tar sands crude in and around Mayflower. And by “in”, we mean down streets, across lawns, and into gardens, canals, storm sewers, creeks, wetlands and even into nearby Lake Conway, a popular among locals for its fishing and other recreational activities.
If Mayflower has taught us anything, it’s that pipeline spills can happen anytime, anywhere, with disastrous consequences (especially when it’s in the path of tornado). “All of us are in shock,” David Fox, the pastor of the local First Baptist Church, told Inside Climate News. “Manmade disasters are so rare in our state … you don’t think this kind of thing can happen to you.”
But there are a few more specific lessons to be mulled over by those, like President Obama, who must decide whether to allow new tar sands pipelines to be built, and like the NEB, who are deciding whether to allow old oil and gas pipelines to carry more corrosive tar sands crude, through communities across the United States and Canada.
Tar sands crude is nasty stuff
Seven years ago, Exxon reversed the flow of the pipeline and turned it into a higher-volume line carrying diluted bitumen, or dilbit, flowing under greater pressure from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Dilbit, you may be interested to know, is much more dangerous to transport by pipeline than conventional oil. Dilbit is created by diluting bitumen, a heavy tar-like substance containing numerous toxic substances, with either conventional light crude or diluent, a cocktail of natural gas liquids. In this form, it has the consistency of conventional crude and can be pumped through pipelines, but it carries additional risks. The exact composition of diluents are secret, but the mixture often includes benzene, a known human carcinogen.
The secret and not-so-secret ingredients in dilbit may mean it’s even more toxic than regular old light crude. “Without more information on the chemical characteristics of the diluent or the synthetic crude, it is difficult to determine the fate and transport of any spilled oil in the aquatic environment,” wrote the EPA in response to the U.S. State Department’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Pipeline. “For example, the chemical nature of diluent may have significant implications for response as it may negatively impact the efficacy of traditional floating oil spill response equipment or response strategies. In addition, the Draft EIS addresses oil in general and as explained earlier, it may not be appropriate to assume this bitumen crude/synthetic crude shares the same characteristics as other oils.”
Dilbit, unlike synthetic crude, also is more acidic and corrosive than conventional oil. This increases the risk of pipeline leaks, something Congress recently ordered the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to study. Studies also indicate that pipelines operating at temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit spill up to 23 times more often due to external corrosion than conventional oil pipelines. The State Department estimates the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would operate at between 130 to 150 degrees. It was corrosion that caused an Enbridge pipeline to rupture and spills not once, but twice near Marshall, Michigan.
It is also harder to clean up when, inevitably, it spills. When Enbridge’s Pipeline 6B split open in 2009 and spilled one million gallons of dilbit into the Kalamazoo River, near Marshall, Michigan, the dilbit initially floated on the water like conventional crude. But once the volatile diluents evaporated into the atmosphere, the heavy bitumen sank into the water. Because you can’t see it, it’s more difficult to remove.
“[It's] not something a lot of people have dealt with,” said an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official at the Kalamazoo River clean-up site. “When you can’t see [the oil], you don’t know where it is, so it’s very hard to clean it up.”
Old pipelines leak more than new ones
The Pegasus Pipeline was 65 years old when it ruptured. Older pipelines, which have undergone decades of wear and corrosion, can be more prone to leaks, and thus less safe, than new pipelines—especially pipelines carrying corrosive dilbit at higher temperatures.
According to the corrective action order issued by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the “age of the pipeline”, as well as the reversal of its flow and its location near water resources and populated areas, makes the Pegasus Pipeline “hazardous to life, property, and the environment” until “corrective measures” are taken. Even Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver blamed the spill on the pipeline’s age.
Reversing pipelines can be dangerous
When Exxon reversed the Pegasus Pipeline in 2006, it was the first time it had ever been done, a feat of engineering Exxon (ironically, in hindsight) called “historic”. According to federal rules, no permit application or safety review was required to reverse the flow of the Pegasus Pipeline.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) sees things differently now. After the spill, PHMSA issued a corrective action order that admits “a change in the direction of flow can affect the hydraulic and stress demands on the pipeline.” (Woops. Should have thought of that before I guess.)
The Mayflower-Pegasus spill now brings into focus, perhaps for the first time, the increasingly popular industry practice of reversing and repurposing existing pipelines in order to transport booming supplies of heavy crude out of the tar sands region north of the border.
Think tar sands pipelines are safe? Think again.
All of these characteristics make transporting tar sands crude by pipeline much more dangerous than conventional crude, and is something decision makers must carefully consider when they review permits for the growing network of new and repurposed tar sands pipelines that will run through or near hundreds of communities and thousands of streams, rivers, wetlands, lakes and aquifers in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
‘Cause really, no one should have to live with the risks and consequences of tar sands oil spilling into their own backyard, local water supply or favourite fishing hole. I mean, really.
(Read more about dilbit in Inside Climate News’s Dilbit Primer, and about the enhanced risks dilbit poses to pipelines at NRDC’s website. There’s also a good article on National Geographic’s site.)
CLEANING UP DIRTY OIL
Developing the tar sands means cooking the planet
When NASA climate scientist James Hansen said developing the tar sands and other unconventional sources of oil would mean “game over for the planet,” pro-tar sands politicians, industrialists and pundits came unglued, calling him everything from a whacko and fear-monger to a biased (and therefore untrustworthy) scientist.
Well, it turns out that senior members of the Canadian federal government believe, or at least have said, much the same thing. An internal memo, sent by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s deputy minister Serge Dupont and released to Postmedia’s Mike De Souza through access to information legislation, highlighted a section of a Conference Board of Canada report that said demand for fossil fuels could drop if countries attempt to prevent the planet’s atmosphere from warming by more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
De Souza points out that the two-degree threshold is a “goal set out in recent international climate change negotiations, based on scientific and economic studies, to prevent irreversible damage to the planet’s ecosystems and economy. Countries have not reached a consensus on a legally binding deal to achieve the target.”
“The Conference Board analysis hinges on global oil prices and demand rising steadily to 2035,” reads the memo, dated Oct. 26, 2012 and signed by Dupont. “If, for example, new supply sources outpace demand, or if the global energy mix changes drastically in response to global climate change initiatives, then the benefits from oilsands investments may be considerably less.”
Another way to say this is that the expansion dreams of tar sands proponents – namely, Big Oil and the Alberta and Canadian governments – relies on the failure of the global community to implement a meaningful greenhouse gas reduction strategy that quickly reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, especially dirtier hydrocarbon sources like tar sands crude.
In large part, this explains why the Alberta and Canadian governments, in cooperation with the oil industry, have been lobbying to undermine progressive climate policy, such as the European Union’s Fuel Quality Directive and similar proposals in many U.S. states.
If that’s “responsible resource development,” as federal and Alberta politicians to characterize Canada’s tar sands industry, well, we’re in deep, deep trouble.
Federal government implements Orwellian rules to limit pipeline oversight
If there’s one thing the Harper government knows it’s this: If you don’t like the rules, just change ‘em. After gutting most of Canada’s federal environmental legislation to expedite tar sands development and pipeline proposals at the behest of the oil industry, now the federal government is making it more difficult, and in some cases impossible, for members of the public to participate in the National Energy Board’s (NEB) review of Enbridge’s proposal to reverse its Line 9 pipeline through southern Ontario and Quebec. The flow of the aging pipeline is being reversed so it can carry dangerous tar sands crude to the East Coast for export to Asia.
Under the new rules, which the NEB put in place at the direction of the federal government in response to overwhelming opposition from the public during the NEB’s review of the Northern Gateway pipeline, Ontario residents who live along the 639-kilometre pipeline route and want to submit public comments about their concerns – are you ready for it – fill out a long and complex application to ask permission from the NEB, Canada’s pipeline regulator, before they can even submit a letter to the NEB on the Line 9 pipeline proposal.
That’s right. First, set aside your income tax return and spend a couple of days filling out a 10-page application, which includes enough of what the Toronto Star calls “cryptic hurdles” to stymie even the most experienced tax lawyer. Be ready, because you will be asked to describe, in detail, “your specific and detailed interest” in the Line 9 pipeline reversal project, including how you, and you alone, are “directly affected” and/or have “relevant information” to offer up. “Note,” it kindly reminds you, “that mere opposition to or support for the proposed Project will not be enough.” Oh, and don’t forget to include your resumé and some references (presumably high-ranking members of the Conservative Party would be your best bet), because not every average, run-of-the-mill citizen has the skills and experience to stick their noses in the oil industry’s business.
Then sit back, finish your taxes, and wait patiently for the paternalistic NEB, which makes it very clear that not all letters of comment will be accepted, to let you know if you’re worthy enough to participate. There’s no details on how the NEB will decide who’s in and who’s out, but that’s OK. The federal government has demonstrated quite clearly over the last year or two that it is an objective and unbiased arbiter of anything to do with the oil industry. Not.
“Since when does someone’s resume determine if they have the right to be concerned about what’s happening in their home community?” said Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada. “Anyone who lives and works in southern Ontario could be affected by a spill and everyone is affected by climate change. The right to send a letter of comment and have it considered by public agencies is part of the basic rights and freedoms Canadians enjoy.”
The Ontario government agrees. As a result of the Orwellian attempt to limit public input, the province of Ontario has decided to step in and, on behalf of the Ontario public, seek intervener status over concerns about the pipeline, which runs through the Greater Toronto Area. “It’s certainly a significant issue for the people who might be impacted, for the environmental concerns around the pipeline and therefore it’s a serious issue for the province,” Ontario Infrastructure and Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli said at a press conference. “We want to make sure that the interests of the people who might be affected are protected, that the environment will be protected, that the interests of First Nations will be protected in the process.”
Chiarelli, a former mayor of Ottawa, urged other levels of government, particularly those municipalities through which the pipeline runs, to get involved and register as interveners if they’re worried about the potential impacts of the pipeline proposal.
This problematic new process stems from federal Bill C-38 – the omnibus budget bill last spring that gutted federal environmental laws. Enbridge’s proposal for its Line 9 pipeline could allow dangerous tar sands oil to be shipped east through an aging pipeline that crosses some of the most heavily populated parts of Ontario and Quebec. This is the first new pipeline proposal to be up for approval since Bill C-38 passed last year.
Unhappy? Visit Environmental Defence’s website and ask the Ontario and Quebec governments to hold their own environmental assessments on the project. For those who want to voice your displeasure directly to the NEB, the board has kindly “appointed an official to help navigate the process.” His name is Michael Benson, and he can be reached at email@example.com.
STOPPING DIRTY PIPELINE EXPANSION
Arkansas Oil Spill Response a Keystone Cops Rerun
It looks like Exxon’s response to the catastrophic rupture of its Pegasus Pipeline, which leaked as much as 294,000 gallons of dirty tar sands crude into the streets, gardens, canals, storm sewers, creeks and wetlands of Mayflower, Arkansas, is turning into another Keystone Cops rerun.
We’ve seen this episode before. A scathing government investigation into the devastating July 2010 oil spill near Marshall, Michigan found Enbridge, the Calgary-based company that owned the pipeline, handled their response like the “Keystone Cops.”
The spill began after the Enbridge pipeline ruptured and spilled almost one million gallons of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River, poisoning 35 miles of waterway, exposing 320 people to crude oil, and causing the most damaging onshore oil spill in US history. In its report, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said that the accident could have been avoided, and that Enbridge botched their response to the oil spill.
“When we were examining Enbridge’s poor handling to their response to this rupture you can’t help but think of the Keystone Cops,” said Deborah Hersman, the board chairperson, when the report was released.
Now, new evidence dug up by the award-winning Inside Climate News indicates that we may have another Keystone Cops episode in the making in Mayflower, Arkansas.
It’s unclear exactly what happened, but according to transcripts of 911 calls to the police, ExxonMobil, the company responsible for the accident, didn’t know the pipeline had ruptured – there was a 22-foot gash in the pipeline – until someone called to let them know there was oil running through people’s yards and down the street.
The first call, by a resident who said there was oil spilling through the neighbourhood, was made at 2:49 p.m. Contact was made with Exxon at 3:19 pm, fifteen minutes after the evacuations started. Exxon responders didn’t show up until 3:46 pm, almost an hour after the massive leak was reported.
It gets worse.
Apparently, Exxon told the federal National Response Center (NRC) that it noticed a problem at 1:15 p.m. when it spotted a drop in pressure, 90 minutes before the first 911 call reached the Faulkner County sheriff. But the transcripts show that Exxon didn’t place its first call to the NRC until 4:06 p.m., about 20 minutes after its responders arrived on the scene.
The details will eventually come out, but it looks like another case of Keystone Cops running around like chickens with their heads cut off while they try to keep us safe from the inevitable ruination that results when you try to put corrosive tar sands crude in a pipeline.
TransCanada adds another pipeline to growing tar sands network
Meanwhile, yet another pipeline company has put on the table yet another pipeline proposal to get Alberta’s dirty and dangerous – just ask the people in Marshall, Michigan and Mayflower, Arkansas – crude to the ocean so it can be shipped overseas in supertankers.
As TransCanada quakes in its boots over the less-than-certain fate of the Keystone XL pipeline, it has hatched a new plan to turn an aging natural gas pipeline in Canada into a tar sands pipeline headed east. TransCanada’s proposed Energy East Pipeline would transport tar sands crude from Alberta, through Ontario and Quebec, and as far as New Brunswick’s Irving Oil Ltd. refinery and port of Saint John.
According to the Council of Canadians’ primer on the subject, TransCanada wants to convert its Eastern Mainline pipeline, which currently transports natural gas and is operating at half capacity, into an tar sands oil pipeline that could carry eastward up to 850,000 barrels per day. Eighty per cent of the pipeline (between Saskatchewan and Quebec) already exists; it would need to be extended in the west, to connect the pipe to Hardisty, Alberta, and in the east, where it would be extended to either Montreal, Quebec City, or Saint John, NB, all port cities that can help industry get its dirty cargo to international markets.
Like the Pegasus Pipeline that doused Mayflower in crude, the Eastern Mainline Pipeline was built in the 1950s, and would carry a substance (tar sands crude) thicker than the material for which it was originally designed. According to a study by the National Petroleum Council for the U.S. Department of Energy, “pipelines operating outside of their design parameters such as those carrying commodities for which they were not initially designed, or high flow pipelines, are at the greatest risk of integrity issues in the future due to the nature of their operation.”
Like other pipeline projects, this one would create significant risk of oil spills, create few jobs, and provide little oil to Eastern Canada and do little to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, because most of it will be sold to the highest bidder and sent overseas.
But it will make oil companies even richer and more powerful than they already are.
MORE DIRT IN THE NEWS
Tar Sands Blockade joins the PGA Tour
A member of the “highly organized” and extremely effective opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline pulls off an ingenious bit of subterfuge and crashes the Valero Open in San Antonio, where he reveals himself to be something other than an ordinary sign carrier.
Art for an Oil-Free Coast comes to Tar Sands capital
Raincoast’s traveling Art for an Oil-Free Coast exhibition has completed its B.C. leg and soon will head to the heart and soul of Tar Sands Country. Head to Calgary City Hall starting April 15th to view some remarkable art about the remarkable Great Bear Rainforest, and see for yourself why this priceless coast is no place for tankers and tar sands oil.
Native Americans protest first tar sands mine on U.S. soil
Students and community members attended an Idle No More rally to protest the first tar sand project in the United States, in the desert country of southern Utah.
Grand Elder Raymond Robinson continues hunger strike
Grand Elder Raymond Robinson continues his hunger strike to protest new federal legislation in Canada that will bring about horrific damage to the environment. “First Nations are being blackmailed into signing their rights away. These changes have been implemented without any consultation… They are asking us to give up our waters our lands our resources and even our Inherent Aboriginal Treaty Rights.”
Tar sands protestors chain themselves to Canadian Consulate in Seattle
In another Tar Sands Blockade action, a group of Seattle area residents locked themselves to the doors of the Canadian Consulate and poured fake oil on the Canadian and American flags. “We used to look up to Canada as an environmental leader, but promoting extreme energy like tar sands has soiled that reputation forever.”