TransCanada to Build Texas Segment of Keystone XL Pipeline

TransCanada Corp. will proceed with building a $2.3 billion segment of its Keystone XL oil pipeline from Oklahoma to the Texas coast so that it isn’t delayed by U.S. approval for the rest of the line.

The company, based in Calgary, expects the segment to begin carrying crude from the Cushing, Oklahoma, storage hub to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast as soon as mid-year 2013, according to a statement today. TransCanada is separating the Cushing line from its application to President Barack Obama for approval of a Keystone expansion that will bring crude into the U.S. from Canada’s oil sands.

“We remain committed to building this overall project in a timely and efficient manner and to meet demand of shippers,” said TransCanada Chief Executive Officer Russ Girling in an interview today. Shippers are making multi billion dollar commitments spanning decades and “they haven’t wavered from Keystone,” he said.

As originally envisioned, Keystone XL would have carried as much as 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta, Canada, and the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota and Montana along a 1,661-mile (2,673-kilometer) path to Texas refineries. The full $7.6 billion Keystone pipeline needed a permit from the State Department because it crossed the U.S.-Canada border.

Obama’s Keystone Rejection

Obama rejected Keystone XL in January based on concerns the pipeline might pollute drinking water resources in Nebraska. Obama said a Congressional deadline left him too little time to consider the revised route through Nebraska that the company accepted in November.

As a stand-alone project, the Cushing segment will not need approval from the State Department. The pipeline will help relieve oversupplies that have accumulated in the U.S. Midwest because of a lack of pipeline capacity to carry the oil to refineries on the coast.

Cushing is the delivery point for crude oil traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange. A lack of pipeline capacity between Cushing and the Gulf Coast, where most refineries are located, has caused U.S. oil to trade at a discount to imports.

Obama’s administration supports TransCanada’s plan to build the Oklahoma-to-Texas segment separately.

“Moving oil from the Midwest to the world-class, state-of- the-art refineries on the Gulf Coast will modernize our infrastructure, create jobs, and encourage American energy production,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement today.

‘Near Future’

TransCanada will apply for a permit “in the near future” to build the section from the U.S.-Canada border to Steele City, Nebraska, according to the statement. The company may alter the route in Nebraska, the company said in the statement.

Proceeding with the Cushing section of the line will allow TransCanada to realize income from the pipeline before the full project is built, said Steven Paget, an analyst with FirstEnergy Capital Corp. in Calgary.

“The Gulf Coast Project will transport growing supplies of U.S. crude oil to meet refinery demand in Texas,” Girling said in the statement. “Gulf Coast refineries can then access lower- cost domestic production and avoid paying a premium to foreign oil producers.”

Environmental groups remain opposed to all sections of the pipeline because of concerns about the potential environmental impact of tar-like bitumen known as oil-sands crude.

‘National Interest’

“Whether in pieces or as a whole, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest,” Susan Casey- Lefkowitz, director of international programs for the New York- based National Resources Defense Council, wrote in a comment published on the environmental organization’s website. “Raw tar-sands oil going from the Midwest to the Gulf for refining means serious pipeline safety issues for landowners.”

Enbridge Inc. and Enterprise Products Partners LP are preparing to reverse the Seaway pipeline between Cushing and Houston, which will also help alleviate the glut at Cushing. Seaway will be able to carry 150,000 barrels by June 1, and will be expanded to 400,000 barrels by early 2013, the companies have said.

FirstEnergy’s Paget said there’s room for both pipelines, since oil production is growing in the U.S. Also, the full Keystone pipeline will eventually bring much more oil to Cushing, he said.

“The Seaway line’s contracts are independent of Keystone,” said Paget, who rates TransCanada’s shares“market perform” and owns none. “I’m not saying both lines will be full.”

SOURCE: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-02-28/transcanada-to-build-texas-segment-of-keystone-xl-pipeline.html

Corrosion report offers boost for future of Scotland’s Forth Road Bridge

A £1.6billion replacement for the Forth Road Bridge will still go ahead – despite experts stopping the crossing from rusting.

Engineers revealed they have halted corrosion of the bridge’s suspension cables.

But the Scottish Government insist a new crossing is still needed and will open by 2016.

A spokesman said: “The Forth replacement is vital to ensure Scotland’s economic wellbeing.”

Engineers had warned the bridge, which opened nearly 50 years ago, would have to close to heavy lorries by 2017.

But the new findings suggest restrictions could be delayed until much later.

Bridge chiefs are confident that an inspection of the cables, due to start in April, will show no further corrosion.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: “If correct, this willhighlight the poor decisionthe SNP made to plough ahead with the additional bridge.”

 

SOURCE: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/2012/02/26/rust-report-offers-boost-for-future-of-forth-road-bridge-86908-23765336/

Calif. may lower fines for utility in fatal blast

A state administrative judge is proposing to fine a utility under fire for the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion only $3 million, rather than going with a prior plan to charge Pacific Gas & Electric Co. $1 million each day for shoddy record-keeping.

A California Public Utilities Commission judge issued the proposal Wednesday, but it still needs approval by the commission before taking effect.

After a settlement was reached last year, the judge’s proposal would significantly lower the company’s penalties from the original proposal made by the commission’s executive director.

That plan would have fined PG&E $1 million a day for failing to hand over key safety records about its transmission lines, including for sections of the gas line that ruptured in San Bruno.

SOURCE: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2012/02/22/state/n170015S44.DTL#ixzz1nExMbh6d

Corrosion cited in Alabama pipeline explosion

A corroded pipe has been deemed the culprit of a massive natural gasoline explosion in Sweet Water, AL last December.

A Transco natural gas pipeline ruptured at approximately 3:07 p.m. Dec. 3 with an explosion that could be heard for more than 30 miles while shooting flames nearly 100 feet in the air for over an hour.

The pipeline was shutdown immediately after the failure as firefighters battled the blaze for the next 90 minutes.

“Although we have systems and processes in place to prevent and identify corrosion, our investigation indicated there were multiple factors working in conjunction that led to this problem not being recognized,” said Transco spokesman Chris Stockton. “Extremely corrosive soil conditions, combined with failures in the pipeline’s protective coating and cathodic protection system ultimately weakened the pipe, causing it to rupture.”

Stockton said the rupture forced the company to make several changes in its corrosion control program.

“These changes are designed to more closely monitor levels of pipeline protection from corrosion, assure a higher degree of protection equipment uptime, and provide higher standards for levels of corrosion protection,” he said. “We are also continuing our investigation into this failure to better enhance our corrosion control procedures in the future.”

Williams Gas and Pipeline has also been working under a PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) Corrective Action Order, which details actions required to be completed to ensure the safety of the pipeline prior to putting the pipeline back in service. In addition, he said, the company is taking steps above and beyond regulation to ensure the pipeline is safe.

“All anomalies are being carefully investigated and any metal loss indications will be repaired prior to placing the pipeline back in service,” Stockton said. “Once all anomalies have been repaired, the pipe will be hydrostatically tested, which involves filling the pipe with water and pressure-testing it at considerably higher pressures than our normal operating pressures. Once all of these tests are complete, we will seek PHMSA’s permission to restore the line back to service.”

SOURCE: http://www.demopolistimes.com/2012/02/21/corrosion-cited-in-pipeline-explosion/

Lights out for the Blatnik Bridge?

The iconic lights that outline the Blatnik Bridge linking Duluth and Superior will go dark and come down later this year during maintenance on the bridge.

Whether they return when the work is complete in 2013 is up in the air.

Corroded, in the way and “failing at an alarming rate,” the more than 200 decorative lights and their wiring have to be removed as part of a $12 million, two-year maintenance project on the bridge that’s slated to start in May, said Beth Petrowske, public affairs coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Transportation in Duluth.

Putting the lights back up and replacing the wiring is estimated to cost $1.2 million. Minnesota generally splits costs with Wisconsin on Blatnik and Bong bridge projects, but the Blatnik’s decorative lights were a project initiated and paid for on the Minnesota side from the beginning back in the 1990s.

That’s the catch in replacing them.

MnDOT is “willing to cover and can commit to our 50 percent” of the replacement cost, or $600,000, said Duluth District Engineer Mike Tardy. But now, in a time of tight budgets and many other pending road projects, MnDOT says it wants Wisconsin — or some other source — to chip in for the other half.

“I understand that the decorative lights on the Blatnik are an important feature for the area,” Tardy said. “Our challenge is that the price tag to replace them is really substantial. The funding has to come from somewhere.”

To be clear, the lights in question do not include traffic lights and navigational beacons — only the bridge’s “aesthetic” lighting.

State Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, has gotten involved in the issue, reaching across the bridge to Superior Mayor Bruce Hagen and, in turn, officials from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in an attempt to find a solution.

“I was incredulous, (thinking) ‘this can’t be possible,’” Reinert said of when he first heard the lights might be going away. “In terms of Duluth landmarks, I think of the Lift Bridge, Enger Tower and the Blatnik. … The idea of it being gone is just flat-out not OK by me.”

As for WisDOT chipping in money toward the lighting, Chris Ouellette, communications manager for WisDOT’s Northwest Region, said, “We haven’t said yes, but we haven’t said no.

“Our department is in the process of drafting policy for decorative lighting and how funding for that type of project might work,” she said. That discussion is taking place in Madison, she said, and there might be more details to report this week.

Wisconsin Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, said he expects the lighting to be discussed during the annual Superior Days in Madison this week. But he said tight budgets may make it a tough sell.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult,” Milroy said. “It’s something that a lot of people think is an amenity” instead of a necessity.

“When there’s not a lot of money to go around you have to prioritize what’s important,”

Reinert said the goal is for the two states to split costs. But if that doesn’t happen, he said, he and Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, have drafted a bill to require MnDOT to find the money to reinstall the lights. Both legislators said that’s an option they don’t want to use.

“We’re hoping that MnDOT will partner with WisDOT to get the money to get those lights back up,” Gauthier said.

The lights

The decorative lights on the Blatnik originated with a letter from Duluth businessman Monnie Goldfine to then-state Sen. Sam Solon in 1991, said longtime MnDOT spokesman John Bray, now retired after three decades with the agency.

“A lit-up Blatnik Bridge would be a symbol of uniting Duluth with Superior and would serve as a sign that we welcome visitors,” Goldfine wrote in another 1991 letter on the topic to city and state officials.

The letter was written as planning was under way for a massive overhaul of the Blatnik Bridge in 1993-94, when the span was completely closed to traffic for months.

The lights were installed and — after a long delay caused by water leaks into the fixtures — they officially debuted on Nov. 21, 1996.

Since that time, they’ve become a familiar sight in the Twin Ports — and they’ve been subjected to a lot of abuse from Mother Nature and passing traffic.

“The lights are exposed to the harshest environmental conditions that there can be: rain, wind, snow, salt that can cause corrosion … vibrations from heavy trucks. It’s pretty intensive maintenance,” Tardy said.

Now the fixtures have to come down to allow for sandblasting and painting of gusset plates this summer. They’ll be saved for possible reuse; the corroded conduit and wiring won’t be.

The annual expense of operating the lights is about $15,000 to $20,000 — also paid for entirely by Minnesota at present, though Tardy said that’s of less concern than splitting the more-significant restoration cost. There’s a chance operating costs could be reduced with the use of LEDs or other, newer lighting technology if the lights are reinstalled.

Tardy said he’s hoping the return of the Blatnik lights is less an “if” and more a matter of “when.”

“I’m optimistic that we’re going to be able to make this work,” Tardy said.

SOURCE: http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/article/id/223396/

Bangor pier: potential £1m shortfall for maintenance work

Wales’ second longest pier could face a potential shortfall of £1m for vital maintenance work.

Bangor’s Garth Pier should undergo a 25-year overhaul within the next two years.

But because of its location in the protected marine environment of the Menai Strait, it is estimated that the cost of the work could exceed £2m.

Bangor City Council has only about £1m of that cash, and says it will need help to fill the funding gap.

Council clerk Gwyn Hughes said: “The corroded metal needs to be renewed, replaced perhaps.

“It’s an extreme marine environment here,” he added.

“Corrosion happens, so some of the metal joints need to be treated and renewed, and then all the metalwork underneath needs to be painted.

“It’s a major job and it is complicated by the fact that the pier sticks out into the Menai Strait.

“There’s a marine nature reserve here, there are also mussel beds. Wildlife needs to be protected.”

Discussions with structural engineers have revealed that one option to ensure the environment is safe would involve completely encapsulating the steel structure beneath the pier boardwalk, while work is carried out.

Grant aid

But Mr Hughes confirmed that this route would substantially increase the cost of the scheme, pushing it to about £2m or even more.

The council said it had amassed a fund approaching £1m for the work.

“We have been saving for this for the last 25 years,” said Mr Hughes.

I would doubt whether that pot in itself will be enough, and we will be seeking grant aid from various sources.”

The issue has alarmed supporters, who say they are determined to ensure that the future of the pier is safeguarded.

Glenys Pierce has spent the last 14 years running a tourism and information kiosk on the pier and said she remained passionate about the Victorian structure.

“At the end of the day, it needs to be looked after and nurtured, the same you would your own home and garden,” she argued.

“Yes, it needs money being spent on it – but the rewards from spending that money are phenomenal.

“It is important for the city, and let’s hope that the for the citizens of Bangor, that they too feel the same.”

The issue of maintenance costs is the latest event in a long history for the pier.

Decline and disrepair

It was a child of the Victorian era, first opened to the public in 1896, after being built for the sum of £17,000.

But like many of its counterparts scattered across the coastal towns and resorts of Britain, it fell into disrepair, and closed to the public in the 1970s, with the threat of demolition hanging over it.

However, a massive campaign saw the attraction saved, a huge renovation project undertaken, and the pier reopened in its present form in 1988.

Describing the pier as “the jewel in the crown” of the city, Mrs Pierce said she would campaign if necessary to ensure the structure received the costly attention it needs.

She said as far as she was concerned, there would “never, never” be a return to the pier’s dark days in the 1970s.

“Here we are in 2012, and it is here still – and it will remain here,” she stated.

While Mr Hughes recognised there were murmurs of concern in Bangor, he remained upbeat about the pier’s future.

He said the £1m maintenance pot already in place was “good match funding” for approaches to bodies like the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Welsh government.

“I’m sure the authorities in Wales don’t want to see the pier deteriorating. It’s in good condition now – but you’ve got to plan ahead,” he said.

“I’m fairly confident that we will get funding. I’m confident that the work will be done in the next couple of years.”

SOURCE: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-16985287

$67 million requested for pipeline safety

Federal pipeline safety programs would get an extra $67 million and nearly 120 new employees under a proposal President Obama announced Monday that brought cheers from safety advocates pushing to address accidents and growing safety concerns.

The request, part of the president’s $3.8 trillion plan, would almost double the number of enforcement agents nationwide, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The increase also would cover improvements from research to accident investigation to information databases, according to an agency news release.

Pennsylvania safety officials and advocates and the national safety group Pipeline Safety Trust all urged Congress to approve the funding, though Republican leaders have said the president’s budget will be dead on arrival there.

Obama’s plan doesn’t provide a comprehensive solution to several key issues as the state’s pipeline system expands to handle the rush of shale gas, several officials said.

“It is helpful, but there are still huge gaps in pipeline safety,” said Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director of Clean Water Action.

The Obama administration has been pushing for safety system upgrades for more than a year in light of deadly explosions in Allentown, Philadelphia and suburban San Francisco.

Pennsylvania has a growing expanse of pipeline from shale gas development and one of the country’s oldest home heating gas transport and distribution systems. Utility and pipeline companies were spending about $800 million annually going into 2011 to beef up the system, in part to meet increasing federal safety demands.

State lawmakers in December passed rules that will allow them to receive federal funding and hire 12 to 15 inspectors. The Public Utility Commission still wants Congress to pass the increase as part of a general need to improve safety, spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said.

The state has 60,000 miles of pipe, and drillers could add 25,000 miles, according to federal figures and a report from the Nature Conservancy, an Arlington, Va.-based advocacy group. Nationwide, there were 10 pipeline incidents causing six deaths, seven injuries and more than $4.2 million in damage last year, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s online database.
SOURCE: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/s_781486.html

City of San Francisco sues to force feds to improve pipeline safety

The city of San Francisco took the unusual step Tuesday of asking a judge to force federal natural-gas safety regulators to step up efforts in California, saying the government “abjectly failed” to enforce pipeline laws before and after the 2010 explosion that devastated a San Bruno neighborhood.

At issue in City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, is the performance of the little-known U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Although it is charged with enforcing federal safety law, the agency relies on states to do much of its oversight.

Herrera’s suit says federal officials never set standards and let California’s enforcement dwindle in the years leading up to the September 2010 explosion of a PG&E pipeline in San Bruno.

‘Blind trust in operators’

In its investigative report on the blast, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that the pipeline agency tighten regulations on operators. The board’s chairwoman, Deborah Hersman, said PG&E had “exploited weaknesses in a lax system of oversight, and regulatory agencies that placed a blind trust in operators to the detriment of public safety.”

Herrera’s lawsuit echoes those findings, saying the pipeline agency stood by for more than a decade while the California Public Utilities Commission failed to detect PG&E’s safety problems, questionable pipeline-management practices and shoddy record keeping.

The state agency allowed utilities to police and report their own safety violations in lieu of being fined. The agency has changed its approach since the San Bruno disaster and recently proposed a $16.8 million penalty against PG&E for failing to conduct leak inspections on several miles of gas distribution pipelines in the East Bay.

“In the absence of any meaningful oversight by PHMSA, the CPUC has, for decades, forsaken its duty to enforce federal pipeline safety standards,” the city said in its suit. Under those circumstances, the suit said, “it is not a question of if another pipeline will explode, but a question of when.”

The pipeline safety agency issued a statement Tuesday declining to comment on the lawsuit but stressing its “core” commitment to safety.

“That’s why we devoted hundreds of hours of staff support and technical expertise to the NTSB and the California Public Utilities Commission to understand the San Bruno tragedy,” the agency said.

Failure to monitor

The suit said the federal government’s failures were putting San Franciscans at risk. It is the first time a local government has sought stricter regulation from the pipeline safety agency, said Rick Kessler, a lobbyist for the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit that focuses on safety improvements.

“If this brings better oversight and enforcement,” he said, “I applaud it.”

The suit seeks a court order to compel federal pipeline safety officials to set performance standards for state regulators who oversee gas transmission lines.

According to the complaint, the U.S. pipeline agency gave California $1.3 million in 2010 to oversee pipeline safety, yet “never meaningfully evaluated” how the money was spent or measured the effectiveness of the state’s program.

Federal officials knew California’s enforcement efforts had been understaffed since 1998, the suit said, resulting in a small proportion of federal funding being allocated to the state. Inspections became so infrequent by 2006 that the pipeline agency warned the Public Utilities Commission that California was jeopardizing public safety.

The explosion of a gas distribution pipeline in Cupertino in August, in which a condominium was destroyed, is evidence that the federal government hasn’t done enough to strengthen its regulatory efforts since the San Bruno disaster, the suit said.

That explosion happened because of a leak in a notoriously brittle type of 1970s-era plastic pipe, which the government recommended in 1998 that pipeline operators replace. Regulators have never ordered companies to do so, though.

Giving up authority

The federal agency, “for all practical purposes, has allowed gas pipeline operators like PG&E to regulate themselves and, in doing so, has improperly delegated its authority to enforce federal pipeline safety standards to those operators,” the suit said.

Although Herrera earlier threatened to sue the Public Utilities Commission as well, he said Tuesday that the state agency has improved its oversight of PG&E since 2010.

“We are participating in the administrative process to make sure the CPUC follows through on its pledge,” Herrera said in an interview.

PG&E had no comment on the suit except to emphasize actions it has taken since the San Bruno explosion to try to make its gas system safer.

SOURCE: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/02/14/MNKU1N7J3D.DTL#ixzz1mZJosbrD

700 Southern Californian homes supported by jacks are corroding

A design flaw that could affect about 700 homes in Santee, CA has some residents on edge.

Homes in the northwest end of Santee constructed in the 1970s were built to be supported on jacks, which are now starting to rust and wear.

“If it’s dangerous, they need to know about it,” said contractor Art Angelo.

Angelo, who repairs homes, said he found the problem so alarming his company went to the city of Santee to show them the potential hazards.

“I’d say about 90 percent or better of the support that’s holding the house up isn’t there,” he said.

The houses were built by a company called Princess Homes that is no longer in business. 10News found that Princess also built homes in nearby San Carlos and Poway.

A new city policy is in place where homeowners in that area of Santee cannot get a permit to add on to the home or repair the foundation until a civil or structural engineer looks at the home.

Eric Modeen just bought his Santee home and now fears he will have to spend thousands of dollars to fix the foundation.

“I’m nervous,” he said. “We just purchased this house a few months ago. The seller spent about $10,000 to have the foundation repaired, and I assumed this was going to be something I wasn’t going to have to worry about.”

New signs of rust may mean he will have to do more work.

About 60 to 150 jacks are typically underneath each home affected. The city of Santee has created a 12-member task force to prevent any of the homes from collapsing.

SOURCE: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/feb/13/10news-700-santee-homes-supported-jacks/

EPA: US needs $300B in sewer, water work

A federal study shows municipalities nationwide need more than $300 billion worth of essential upgrades to long overlooked water and sewer systems over the next 20 years.

The need is acute in Northeastern states with older systems like New York, which needs $29.7 billion worth of improvements, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said Wednesday. But he said that price is a “just a drop in the bucket” compared to the higher cost of continuing to upgrade parts of sewer and water systems when emergencies strike. He is pushing a bill that would counter planned funding cuts in the federal transportation bill now being negotiated in Washington.

“EPA found that the nation’s 53,000 community water systems and 21,400 not-for-profit, non-community water systems will need to invest an estimated $334.8 billion between 2007 and 2027,” stated the federal Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment, which is updated every four years.

The National Association of Counties’ 2008 report estimated the need for water and sewer upgrades at $300 billion to $450 billion nationwide and the federal stimulus project provided just a fraction of that as the recession reduced local governments’ revenues.

“This is a very serious concern,” said Carolyn Berndt of the National League of Cities. “Many communities have a long-term plan to replace all their underground water infrastructure, but even if they do a couple percentages of pipes a year, it’s still going to take over 100 years for some of them to replace it all.”

She said local governments have been paying more than 95 percent of the cost of water and sewer upgrades since the 1990s as federal aid has declined. Schumer said federal aid covered 75 percent of local costs in the 1980s and 1970s.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” Berndt said. “Some of these pipes are 100 years old. That’s why they continue to see water main breaks.”

The group supports Schumer’s effort, which comes as Congress works to cut spending.

SOURCE: http://online.wsj.com/article/AP219f0f0323df453694748991f44b896d.html