Oil transporter tackles safety concerns surrounding Seaway Pipeline
Representatives from Seaway Pipeline Crude Company presented information and addressed questions regarding a proposed pipeline that has garnered environmental concerns among council members and residents at a Farmersville City Council meeting Tuesday night.
In Farmersville, the Seaway Pipeline runs parallel to U.S. 78 north of town and runs within a mile of the town's junior-high and high schools.
Canadian corporation Enbridge, Inc. purchased the Seaway Pipeline in 2011 from ConocoPhillips. In May 2012, it repurposed an existing 36-year-old line to reverse its flow direction, allowing it to transport crude oil from Cushing, Okla., to refineries on the coast near Houston.
Seaway Crude will be responsible for operating the pipeline, and is the product of a 50-50 joint venture between Enbridge and Enterprise Products Partners L.P. in Houston.
Of the many communities in between, the line runs through Grayson, Collin, Rockwall and Kaufman counties. Efforts to stop construction of the pipeline have attracted national attention, being featured in the New York Times and financial and energy trade magazines within the past several months.
The companies plan on increasing flow to the repurposed pipeline from 150,000 barrels per day of light crude to 400,000 of a mix of crude and diluted tar sands crude. That capacity will double once the twin pipeline is completed around February 2014.
Unlike its older counterpart, the Seaway expansion, or twin, will be designed with thicker pipe and will use the most advanced construction techniques.
While the Maximum Operating Pressure (MOP) on the existing Seaway Pipeline is limited to 700 psi in accordance with the Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements, regardless of what is being transported, the MOP for the proposed expansion line is 1440 psi, according to answers submitted by Seaway Crude to the city of Farmersville.
Concerns regarding the increased risks associated with the production and transport of Canadian oil sands crude has been the main topic of discussion among the City Council and the community, as many believe the material poses a greater threat to pipelines and the environment.
In November, Farmersville Mayor Pro Tem Jim Foy hosted a public meeting, at which Rita Beving of Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., outlined the risks behind transporting the diluted bitumen, or tar sands crude, and how it could threaten local wells and waterways, including Lavon Lake.
"It's not your granddaddy's West Texas crude," Beving said at the meeting. "Tar sands is mined, it's not drilled like conventional crude. So it actually looks like asphalt."
To push the solid material through a pipeline, it is mixed with heavy dilutants, is 70 times more viscous and up to 20 times more acidic than conventional crude, Beving said. Tar sands is also highly corrosive due to its sandy nature, so the wear and tear on a pipeline due to pumping at high pressures, coupled with heat due to friction in the line up to 158 degrees, makes the potential for rupture more likely, Beving said.
"It's like pushing peanut butter through a pipeline," she said.
Beving, who was also at Tuesday's meeting, emphasized Enbridge's not-so-favorable reputation at the November meeting. In July 2010, a 43-year-old Enbridge tar sands pipeline ruptured, spilling more than 1 million gallons of diluted bitumen into Michigan's Kalamazoo watershed, making it the largest onshore spill in U.S. history, Beving said. The company is still recovering from the spill, as the EPA directed the company to perform further cleanup efforts earlier this month. To date, the spill has caused $850 million in damages, Beving said.
However, according to representatives from Seaway Pipeline Crude Company, diluted bitumen has been transported through pipelines for decades and does not pose an increased risk, and is no more corrosive to transmission pipelines than other heavy crudes.
The company also stated that, despite what was discussed at November's meeting, it would not be transporting tar sand but "pipeline-quality crude oil with a viscosity that is comparable to heavy conventional crudes."
"[The accident in Kalamazoo] was not a result of transport," said Rick Rainey, vice president of public relations for Enterprise. "The heavy crude was not a factor in the accident. It was a breakdown in the procedural requirements in the crews responding."
Rainey also emphasized Enbridge's overall role in the project, reassuring the City Council it would not be involved in operating the pipeline.
"The interest for Enbridge is purely financial," he said. "The operation and construction will be overseen by Enterprise. We've been responsible operating in this area for many years ... I can't sit here and tell you we'll never ever have a problem with a pipeline [but] we have the people and resources in place to respond. We have a very comprehensive program in place to prevent these [incidents] from happening."
However, Enterprise has also had its share of foul-ups, as state investigators blamed the company for a ruptured gas line explosion that killed a man near Cleburne in summer 2010.
According to state investigators, Enterprise did not mark its lines, leading electrical crews to strike the line.
But, the line "mislocation" incident was not Enterprise's first. According to a report by WFAA in October 2010, records obtained by the news station showed Enterprise was cited by the state for "mismarking" or "misidentifying" its pipeline seven times since November 2007.
"In each case, an unsuspecting third party hit the hidden line while digging," the report stated.
Foy questioned Rainey about the Cleburne explosion, to which Rainey said, "There is current litigation going on with that case. It is company policy not to discuss or have dialogue with anyone about that case while we have pending litigation."
The City Council also asked how increasing flow to the existing 36-year-old pipeline could make it more susceptible to failure, to which Seaway Crude stated, "Age is not the primary factor in determining the condition of a pipeline. Provided they are properly inspected and maintained, pipelines can remain in service indefinitely."
The company also stated that a safety and management program is in place that will ensure reliable operation and protection to communities and the environment, complete with 24/7 monitoring, coatings to prevent corrosion and efforts to ensure safe digging practices near the pipeline.
Farmersville Mayor Joe Helmberger applauded the company's efforts to keep oil production in America and out of the hands of "our friends across the sea."
By the end of the presentation, Foy did not appear as if Seaway's pitch had adequately smoothed the city's concerns.
According to the PHMSA Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Foy said, pipeline standards were not developed with tar sands in mind no way and, therefore, the administration could not assure safety for pipelines using this.
There has been a request to conduct studies in order to develop standards specific to this material which Foy said he believes is expected to come out not yet been released, should be out later this spring. Foy told Enterprise that he hope they wait until those standards developed before start using pipelines used in this way.
"I'm still very concerned about safety of the pipeline. I think some of the information they presented was misleading," he said. "They presented information about different grades of crude oil other than the unrefined tar sands that's actually going to be going through the pipeline. I've tried pinning them down before and they said that they were just the carrier and could not be certain what customers were sending through the pipeline, which I find hard to believe."