Are tar sands oil pipelines safe? Do they ever leak?
Tar sands oil pipelines are definitely NOT safe, they spill all the time!
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (“PHMSA”) is the primary
federal regulatory agency responsible for energy pipeline safety in the U.S. This
agency maintains records and statistics for pipeline incidents in the U.S. According
to PHMSA records, there have been 10,273 reported incidents between 1992 and 2011.
These incidents include 384 fatalities, 1,568 injuries, $5,354,942,041 in property
damage, and 2,529,868 barrels of spilled hazardous liquid (including crude oil).
In 2011 alone, there were 600 incidents resulting in 151,173 barrels of spilled
In fact, the Keystone I pipeline had a whopping 14 spills in just a 12-month period.
Because Keystone I is owned by the same company that wants to build Keystone XL,
and because Keystone I carries the same product that Keystone XL would carry, a look
at Keystone I provides a good indication of what to expect from Keystone XL.
Facts about the Keystone I Pipeline:
TransCanada claims Keystone I was designed with state of the art safety features
and was expected to spill no more than once every 7 years
Keystone I began operating in June 2010; since that time (over the course of a year
and a half) the “state of the art” Keystone I pipeline has spilled at least 14 times
May 2011: A broken pipe fitting in North Dakota caused a 60 foot geyser of tar
sands crude oil and a 21,000 gallon tar sands crude oil spill
May 29, 2011: A pipeline malfunction in Kansas caused a 430 gallon spill
Keystone XL Pipeline’s Spill Potential: Keystone XL Project SPILL POTENTIAL AND RESPONSE Spills could result from many causes, including corrosion (external or internal), excavation equipment, defects in materials or in construction, overpressuring the pipeline, and geologic hazards, such as ground movement, washouts, and flooding. Although the leak detection system would be in place, some leaks might not be detected by the system. For example, a pinhole leak could be undetected for days or a few weeks if the release volume rate were small and in a remote area. In most cases the oil from a small leak would likely remain within or near the pipeline trench where it could be contained and cleaned up after discovery. As a result, for most small leaks it is likely that the oil would be detected before a substantial volume of oil reaches the surface and affects the environment. Spills may be identified during regular pipeline aerial inspections, by ground patrols and maintenance staff, or by landowners or passersby in the vicinity of the spill. For larger spills, the released oil would likely migrate from the release site. However, DOS analysis of previous large pipeline oil spills suggests that the depth and distance that the oil would migrate would likely be limited unless it reaches an active river, stream, a steeply sloped area, or another migration pathway such as a drainage ditch. Estimated Frequency of Spills In spite of the safety measures included in the design, construction, and operation of the proposed Project, spills are likely to occur during operation over the lifetime of the proposed Project. Crude oil could be released from the pipeline, pump stations, or valve stations. Although a large spill could occur at the proposed Cushing tank farm, each of the three 350,000-barrel tanks would be surrounded by a secondary containment berm that would hold 110 percent of the contents of the tank plus freeboard for precipitation. Therefore, there would have to be a concurrent failure of the secondary containment berm for a tank-farm spill to reach the area outside of the tank. Such an event is considered unlikely. DOS calculated estimates of spill frequency and spill volumes. Those estimates included potential spills from the pipeline, pump stations, and valve stations. The calculations used data from the PHMSA spill incident database for hazardous liquid pipelines and crude oil pipelines, and from the National Response
Executive Summary − Final EIS
Center (NRC) database for releases and spills of hazardous substances and oil. Based on those data, DOS calculated that there could be from 1.18 to 1.83 spills greater than 2,100 gallons per year for the entire Project. The estimated frequency of spills of any size ranged from 1.78 to 2.51 spills per year. Keystone submitted a risk analysis that also included an estimate of the frequency of spills over the life of the proposed Project. Keystone’s analysis was for the pipeline only and did not include releases from pump stations, valve stations, or the tank farm. Keystone initially calculated a spill frequency of 1.38 spills per year based only on the historical PHMSA spill incident database available in 2008 when the application was submitted. Keystone also calculated a Project-specific spill frequency for the pipeline that considered the specific terrain and environmental conditions along the proposed Project corridor, required regulatory controls, depth of cover, strength of materials, and technological advances in the design of the proposed Project. Using those factors, Keystone estimated that there could be 0.22 spills per year from the pipeline. Spills from the Existing Keystone Oil Pipeline System The existing Keystone Oil Pipeline System has experienced 14 spills since it began operation in June 2010. The spills occurred at fittings and seals at pump or valve stations and did not involve the actual pipeline. Twelve of the spills remained entirely within the confines of the pump and valve stations. Of those spills, 7 were 10 gallons or less, 4 were 100 gallons or less, 2 were between 400 and 500 gallons, and 1 was 21,000 gallons. The spill of 21,000 gallons occurred when a fitting failed at the Ludden, North Dakota pump station. As a result, PHMSA issued a Corrective Action Order, halting pipeline operation. Keystone was required to consult with PHMSA before returning the pipeline to operation. In that incident, most of the oil was contained within the pump station, but 210 gallons discharged from the pump station to adjacent land. The land affected was treated in place in compliance with North Dakota Department of Health land treatment guidelines.
Keystone XL Project Maximum Spill Volume Keystone conducted an assessment of the maximum potential pipeline spill volume from a complete pipeline structural failure. Keystone estimated that the maximum spill volume would be approximately 2.8 million gallons, which would be possible along less than 1.7 miles of the proposed pipeline route due to topographic conditions. For approximately 50 percent of the proposed pipeline route (approximately 842 miles), the maximum spill volume would be