Sunday, March 31, 2013

Google Search: Pipeline Leak

The Keystone Pipeline aka KXL is intended to be a superhighway to transport oil extracted from tar sands in Canada all the way down to Houston Texas from where it can either be refined and/or loaded directly onto tankers and exported to foreign markets in order to take advantage of higher prices outside of North America.  I am not going to delve into an economic analysis or predict how the pipeline will affect market prices to consumers but I want to point out the tremendous technical difficulty maintaining a leak-proof pipeline thousands of miles long.  It is not a question of will there be leaks, but how disastrous the leaks will be and how often leaks will happen.

Start with the Google search "Pipeline leak"   

Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Pegasus crude oil pipeline, which was shut on Friday after a leak was detected in Arkansas, will need to be excavated as the company looks to determine what caused the breach, a spokeswoman said.
“I can’t speculate on when excavation will happen,” Kimberly Brasington, a spokeswoman for the company, said in an e-mail. “Excavation is necessary as part of an investigation to determine the cause of the incident.”
The 20-inch pipeline, which originates in Patoka, Illinois, and carries crude oil to the Texas Gulf Coast, was carrying Wabasca Heavy Crude from Western Canada, she said.
About 12,000 barrels of oil and water have been collected so far near Mayflower, Arkansas, after “a few thousand barrels were observed in the area,” the Mayflower Incident Unified Command Joint Information Center, which includes Exxon, Faulkner County and the city of Mayflower, said in a statement Sunday.
The pipeline ruptured last week at Willard Bay State Park, spilling diesel fuel into marshes. It was Chevron's third pipeline leak in Utah in the last three years.
Another pipeline leak sent crude oil rushing into a Salt Lake City creek in 2010. Months later, the same pipeline ruptured again.
Each pipeline leak involved a spill of 21,000 or more gallons of crude oil or fuel.
Irving-based Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) has been fined $1.7 million by the The U.S. Department of Transportation over pipeline safety violations relating to a 2011 oil spill in the Yellowstone River.
Reuters reported that the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration said Exxon's Silvertip pipeline leaked roughly 1,500 barrels of oil into the river in July 2011 following heavy flooding in the region. The pipeline carries 40,000 barrels per day of crude in Montana.

Crews were working Tuesday to contain and clean up more than 800,000 gallons of oil that poured into a creek and flowed into the Kalamazoo River in southern Michigan, coating birds and fish.

Authorities in Battle Creek and Emmett Township warned residents about the strong odor from the oil, which leaked Monday from a 30-inch pipeline built in 1969 that carries about 8 million gallons of oil per day from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario.

Crews waded in oily water as they worked to stop the oil's advance downstream. Oil-covered Canada geese walked along the banks of the Kalamazoo River, and photos showed dead fish floating in the spill. The Kalamazoo River eventually flows into Lake Michigan, but officials didn't expect the oil to reach the lake.


Here is the proposed route of KXL through the American heartland, the breadbasket of the USA and the world.

Keystone Pipeline System - Overall Map


Tar sand oil is a thick substance with viscosity that is much higher than crude oil.  Tar sand oil at room temperature is similar in viscosity to molasses and it has to be mixed with light crude oil to create a mixture that can be pumped at all.  Because of the high viscosity of the material the pipeline will have to operate at higher fluid pressure than would be required for thinner viscosity crude oil.  Or the flow rate will have to be reduced below the production level that was projected to sell the project.

The pressure required to push a fluid through a pipe is a function of  viscosity of the fluid, the length and diameter of the pipe, the smoothness of the pipe interior, and the velocity of the fluid. In the formula pressure is directly proportional to viscosity, so if viscosity doubles, the pressure requirement doubles as well.  In the case of tar sands oil, the viscosity is more than ten times thicker than light crude oil.  This means that the KXL pipeline will have to operate at higher pressure and employ more pumping stations than would be required for light crude oil.
Additionally, the tar sands oil has suspended particles of clay and sand in the mixture and these will continually abrade the interior of the pipe particularly at locations where the pipeline changes direction or slope. As the oil slurry abrades the interior surfaces of the pipe, the frictional losses will increase,  driving higher pump pressures or lower flow rates.  As the pipeline weakens from years of abrasion, more locations will rupture and leak, and because the pipeline will be buried below ground, leaks will not be simple to detect or locate.  The high viscosity and pressure losses will limit the effectiveness of the control systems used to detect minor leaks before they become major leaks.

If completed, this pipeline will become a source of ongoing leaks that will grow in magnitude over time.  Eventually the rising maintenance, cleanup, legal and liability insurance costs will drive the Canadian corporation that owns the pipeline to go bankrupt or simply abandon their responsibilities and leave the US taxpayers with the bills for the leaking pipeline.

The Keystone pipeline is bad for the environment and is a bad business deal for the US government and America consumers as well.  

Update: April 1: 
I came across this report from Priceofoil.org  that points out how tar sand oil pipeline operators are exempt from paying into the trust fund that covers the costs of cleaning up oil spills. So the corporations profiting by transporting tar sands oil across America don't have to pay to clean up the spills they created.  A perfect example of corporate welfare.      


Priceofoil.org:  Irrational Exemption, Tar sands pipeline subsidies and why they must end



Neither Congress nor the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) considers tar sands‐derived oil as “crude oil.” In a January 2011 memorandum, the IRS determined that to generate revenues for the oil spill trust fund, Congress only intended to tax conventional crude – not tar sands or other unconventional oils.  This exemption remains even though the United States moves billions of gallons of tar sands oil through its pipeline system every year. The trust fund is liable for tar sands oil spill cleanups without collecting any revenue from tar sands transport. If the fund goes broke,the American taxpayer foots the cleanup bill.

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