Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mayflower AR smells like an oil patch...from a broken, ancient decaying pipeline

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said in a recent report that more than half of the nation’s pipelines were built in the 1950s and 1960s in response to higher energy demand after World War II.

Some, like Pegasus, were built earlier.
“An influx of tar sands on the U.S. pipeline network poses greater risks to pipeline integrity, challenges for leak detection systems and significantly increased impacts to sensitive water resources,” environmental group the National Resources Defense Council said in an emailed note on Monday. (from "Smell of oil permeates Arkansas town after Exxon pipeline leaks thousands of barrels of Canadian crude," by Suzi Parker and Kristen Hays, National Post Wire Services, National Post, April 4, 2013, excerpted below)
We all recall the EXXON Valdez that ran aground on the Alaska rocks and spewed millions of gallons of it precious oil along the coast not so many years back. 

Some of us recall, further back in the 1950's that it was the same company, in Canada then called Esso or Imperial Oil whose storage tank sprung a leak and permitted millions of gallons of dark crude to seep into the beaches along the eastern shore of Georgian Bay, not to mention into the ecosystems that dotted the shoreline north of Parry Sound. Compulsory bathing was necessary for months, if not years, when one emerged from swimming at those beaches. I was one of those swimmers.
And while the company did spend considerable money in the clean-up operation, the risk of tank, tanker, tank-truck, and pipeline spill continues.
In fact, the risk may have risen, given the relatively ancient age and decayed condition of the existing pipeline infrastructure and the current "crop" of heavy crude coming from the "tar sands" in Alberta.
Depending on eroding pipes to carry much heavier crude, obviously is not working in the Arkansas town of  Mayflower, and this latest spill, in addition to the other more recent spills from (Enbridge)pipelines in Michigan, for example, may combine to render the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada through (or around?) the Nebraska aquifer dead in the Oval Office.
That is where the decision to finally grant the necessary permit now sits, with President Obama.
I recall working for a chief executive, as his assistant, who reminded his staff frequently that certain problems would, if left untouched, resolve themselves given enough time and the accumulating evidence of "events" and "circumstances.
It would seem, in retrospect, that Obama may have taken a page from that chief executive's playbook in this case. Wait long enough and the evidence will make the case for the executive charged with the decision to approve or disallow.
Clearly, Canadian heavy crude is already flowing into the U.S. from Alberta, with the Keystone XL pipeline, an extension to an already existing and already operating line. Should Obama decide to defer or to cancel the proposed Keystone XL, there will be other methods like tanker-trucks and rail cars and obviously deteriorating pipelines to carry the heavy crude to the insatiable U.S. market.
Will this latest spill, and the clarion calls from the environmental lobby be strong enough to derail the necessary debate on American dependence on fossil fuels? Probably not.
Will the debate take on a new sense of urgency? Probably not.
There will have to be something more catastrophic and more deadly, like an explosion after a spill that results in many deaths (God forbid even the thought!) before the Congress of the United States will be provoked to act against the oil companies, and their massive lobbying onslaught.
And meanwhile Canadian citizens watch, impotent to change their government's enmeshment in the "tar sands" development as the cash cow feeding the Canadian economy, even though prices in North America for that oil are below world averages.
With an environmental "tin ear" and empty head in Ottawa, and a foot-dragging Oval Office in Washington, could it be that the fossil fuel dependence debate will be forestalled for another decade, as we pump tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, while also pouring gallons of the heavy crude over unsuspecting neighbourhoods whose residents were completely unaware they were living on the ground atop the frail and failing pipelines?
Most likely! And tragically!

Smell of oil permeates Arkansas town after Exxon pipeline leaks thousands of barrels of Canadian crude

By Suzi Parker and Kristen Hays, National Post Wire Services, National Post, April 4, 2013
Exxon Mobil continued efforts on Monday to clean up thousands of barrels of heavy Canadian crude oil spilled from a near 65-year-old pipeline in Arkansas, as a debate raged about the safety of transporting rising volumes of the fuel into the United States.
The Pegasus pipeline, which ruptured in a housing development near the town of Mayflower on Friday, remained shut and a company spokesman declined to speculate about when it would be fixed and restarted. The line can carry more than 90,000 barrels of crude per day from Patoka, Illinois to Nederland, Texas.
Exxon had yet to excavate the area around the Pegasus pipeline breach on Monday, a critical step in assessing damage and determining how and why it leaked.

Twenty-two homes in the affected area were evacuated after the spill poured oil across lawns and down residential streets. The smell of oil permeated the town on Monday.
The spill has stoked a discussion about the environmental dangers of using aging pipelines to transport heavy crude from Canada, including tar sands, as a boom in oil and gas production in the United States increases volumes moving across the continent.
The Exxon pipeline was carrying Canadian Wabasca Heavy crude at the time of the leak, a bitumen oil from the massive Pelican Lake field in northern Alberta. It needs to be blended with lighter oils or natural gas liquids to flow through pipelines.
Exxon did not yet have a specific figure of how much oil was released when the 20-inch line ruptured on Friday. The company said Sunday that 12,000 barrels of oil and water had been recovered.
An oil spill of more than 1,000 barrels in Wisconsin last summer kept an Enbridge Inc pipeline shuttered for around 11 days.
Exxon spokesman Charles Engelmann said the ruptured section of the Pegasus pipeline was installed in the late 1940s, but had no information on when it last underwent maintenance.
PIPELINE MAINTENANCE
To prevent and track corrosion buildup, pipelines are periodically “pigged,” or cleaned with a device that moves through the line to remove buildup of hydrocarbons, dirt, and other substances. Often the device is outfitted with sensors that point out areas of corrosion or wear-and-tear that need repair.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said in a recent report that more than half of the nation’s pipelines were built in the 1950s and 1960s in response to higher energy demand after World War II.
Some, like Pegasus, were built earlier.
“An influx of tar sands on the U.S. pipeline network poses greater risks to pipeline integrity, challenges for leak detection systems and significantly increased impacts to sensitive water resources,” environmental group the National Resources Defense Council said in an emailed note on Monday.
Exxon said that trucks had been brought in to assist with the cleanup. Images from local media showed crude oil snaking along a suburban street and spewed across lawns.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and PHMSA, as well as state and local responders, were also present.

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