Tobin Bridge rates ‘fair’ in corrosion reports

State-issued inspection reports released on Friday in the wake of a corroded light fixture tumbling onto a ramp of the Maurice J. Tobin Memorial Bridge show that the 62-year-old structure is in “fair” condition with some “severe” structural deficiencies.

The structure of the bridge, which is currently undergoing a $45 million repainting and rehabilitation, was downgraded from a rating of 6, or “satisfactory”condition, in a 2009 state Department of Transportation inspection report to a 5, or “fair” condition, in its most recent 2011 report.

“We base our inspections on the overall rating of the bridge. While some elements of the structure are showing greater signs of wear … the structure as a whole is sound,” said MassDOT spokeswoman Cyndi Roy. “If the rating were to decrease to a 4 (or poor) we would then begin annual inspections of the bridge, versus the current schedule of every two years — the national standard.”

The area where the bridge deteriorated the most from 2009 and 2011 was in its girders and beams, now rated as having “severe/major deficiency.” Deteriorated and cracked concrete parts of the bridge’s substructure columns also were given the same “severe” rating in both the 2009 and 2011 reports.

“It’s not totally unacceptable to have some level of corrosion, especially given the bridge’s location right on the harbor, where the mist and salt lend to creating some corrosion,” Roy added.

The DOT released the bridge reports after holding a press conference to announce that crews overnight Thursday removed seven spotlights from the bridge after one of the lights — there are total of 18 on the bridge — broke free from a bracket under the Tobin’s upper deck and came crashing down onto an approach ramp to Route 1 in Charlestown.

SOURCE: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view/20220721tobin_bridge_rates_fair_in_reports/

NTSB blame multiple corrosion cracks & ‘weak’ regulations – Kalamazoo Oil Spill

The National Transportation Safety Board blamed multiple corrosion cracks and “pervasive organizational failures” at the Calgary-based Enbridge pipeline company for a more-than-20,000-barrel oil spill two years ago near Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.

The cost of the spill has reached $800 million and is rising, the NTSB said, making the pipeline rupture the most expensive on-shore oil spill in U.S. history. The pipeline’s contents — heavy crude oil from Canada’s oil sands — have made the spill a closely watched case with implications for other pipelines carrying such crude.

The NTSB also blamed “weak federal regulations” by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for the accident, which spilled at least 843,444 gallons of oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo in Marshall, Mich. The oil spread into a 40-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo and a nearby wetlands area.

“This accident is a wake-up call to the industry, the regulator, and the public,” NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in a statement.  She added that “for the regulator to delegate too much authority to the regulated to assess their own system risks and correct them is tantamount to the fox guarding the hen house.”

The spill began about 5:58 p.m. on July 25, 2010, when a 30-inch diameter pipeline ruptured. Twice, Enbridge workers tried to restart the pipeline after alarms about abnormal pressure in the line and 81 percent of the oil spilled over 17 hours after those alarms, the NTSB said.

“We believe that the experienced personnel involved in the decisions made at the time of the release were trying to do the right thing,” Enbridge’s chief executive, Patrick D. Daniel, said.“As with most such incidents, a series of unfortunate events and circumstances resulted in an outcome no one wanted.”

The case is being scrutinized by industry and environmental groups because it could threaten plans to build new pipelines to carry crude from Canada’s oil sands, or tar sands, into the United States. TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline is one of the plans awaiting approval.

The NTSB, part of the Transportation Department, said the Enbridge pipeline break “was the result of multiple small corrosion-fatigue cracks that over time grew in size and linked together, creating a gaping breach in the pipe measuring over 80 inches long.”

SOURCE: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/ntsb-blames-enbridge-weak-regulations-in-kalamazoo-oil-spill/2012/07/10/gJQAWzqgbW_story.html

Alberta pipeline spills prompt questions

EDMONTON – Three pipeline spills in Alberta this spring have many people wondering whether there are better ways to move the petroleum products that are the lifeblood of Alberta’s economy.

The oil industry’s reliance on pipelines — which organizations such as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Canadian Energy Pipelines Association say are the safest way to transport products— have companies like TransCanada and Enbridge proposing to expand their lines to carry Alberta bitumen to refineries in Texas and tankers at Kitimat, B.C., for shipment to Asia and its hungry economy.

“The industry really does move all of its oil and natural gas products through pipeline to get to market,” says Greg Stringham, vice-president of markets and oilsands CAPP. “Today in Canada, we are actually producing … almost three million barrels a day, and that’s across the country of course, from the field, to the upgraders, to refineries.”

To put that volume in perspective, CN Rail began in 2010 to test its ability to move heavy crude, light oil, and bitumen to markets in Eastern Canada and the United States.

The company moved three million barrels of oil last year, and expects to move 15 million barrels in 2012. That’s about five days worth of total production.

“Rail does play a part. But (pipelines) are the main transportation grid we use to move oil across the continent. It really has proven to be a very reliable, very safe, and a very efficient way to move this product,” Stringham says. “We are getting fairly constrained on the pipeline capacity given the growth that is happening.”

The use of tanker trucks to move oil is more difficult to measure. Alberta Transportation does not keep track of vehicles carrying petroleum on roads, but can say 430 of 602 “incidents” in 2011 involved petroleum products. The department defines “incidents” as anything that prevents a product from getting to its destination.

Expanding the reach Alberta’s pipelines is key in maintaining the province’s economic stake in the global oil market, provincial Energy Minister Ken Hughes says.

With that need comes a responsibility to maintain the pipeline system.

“The industry as well as the government need to ensure that we have ways to demonstrate the solid aspects of this way of transporting fuels across Canada,” Hughes says. “North America will continue to be heavy users of oil and of natural gas. Those products have to get to market somehow. What we need to do is ensure that they get there with as few incidents as possible.”

The Pembina Institute think-tank, which is among the environmental groups supporting a call for an independent investigation of Alberta’s pipelines, suggests there could be alternatives to building pipelines — particularly the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway line to Kitimat, B.C., which has raised concerns from First Nations communities and municipalities along the proposed northern route to the West Coast.

Nathan Lemphers, a senior policy analyst in the Pembina Institute’s oilsands program, says the capacity of existing pipelines could be increased by increasing the number of pumping stations. Alternatively, companies could transport more product via rail.

“It’s not necessarily a clear-cut solution. There’s benefits and drawbacks to each method of transporting oil,” Lemphers says.

Pipelines leak. Trains derail, tanker trucks crash.

Since trains typically move less product than pipelines, spills are smaller. Derailments can be recognized far faster than pipeline spills.

A natural gas operator in Michigan was the first to notice oil spilling from Enbridge’s pipeline at the Kalamazoo River in 2010. The incident has since netted the company a multimillion-dollar fine in the United States and raised questions about the state of the control room in Edmonton, after testimony given during the investigation shed light on what was happening during the 17 hours it took to shut the line.

“When you have the government coming out and saying, well, simply trust us, we have adequate measures in place without actually coming forward and offering evidence for that position, it puts the government in a fairly precarious situation,” Lemphers says. “Having more information on the table will help ground further discussions” about pipeline expansion.

“Having pipelines in your backyard is nothing new for Albertans, but Albertans also have strong ties to the land and want to see the land conserved,” he says.

Doug Goss still remembers an oil spill that cut summer short at Wabamun Lake in 2005.

“It was a disaster, in every sense of the word,” Goss says. “When you get to the point where the front of the beach is covered in oil and there’s dead animals all over the place, and you’re told you can’t use the lake for the rest of the summer for any reason, it’s pretty devastating.”

But unlike the recent spills, the one at Wabamun Lake was from a 43-car train derailment.

That summer, 1.1 million litres (7,000 barrels) of Bunker C fuel oil spilled into the lake, creating a seven-kilometre slick. The cleanup took nearly a year and cost CN Rail an estimated $28 million.

“We haven’t had any issues since that spill many years ago. We cross our fingers all the time that that won’t happen again,” Goss says. “As a resident, we would be proponents of whatever system is proven to be the safest to transport substances like oil.”

The Wabamun incident sparked a provincial study and recommendations for a faster, more comprehensive response to environmental disasters.

Despite a growing volume of freight being moved along its tracks, CN’s derailments are down. In 2011, the company had 55 main track derailments, compared to 110 in 2005. To date, there have been 27 derailments along main tracks compared to 34 at this time last year.

SOURCE: http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/Alberta+pipeline+spills+prompt+questions/6896510/story.html

Alberta’s big small-pipe problem

They are the little brothers and sisters of the pipeline world. Some are barely large enough to jam a hand into, but they do the dirtiest work in the energy business, ferrying great volumes of raw oil and gas from wells to processing plants.

And though they are small, they often carry large risk, an issue of mounting concern in Alberta, a province that has seen a series of spills train a global spotlight on pipeline safety.

These smaller pipes can often be overlooked, next to the big ones that garner attention when they rupture into the Kalamazoo River — an accident that cost Enbridge Inc. a historic $3.7-million (US) fine this week, on top of $725 million in cleanup costs — or at an Alberta pumping station where the company recently had another large spill.

But in Alberta, the pipe is almost all small. Some 327,000 kilometres of pipe that is eight inches and smaller in diameter spread across the province like a network of veins. It is roughly 90 percent of all pipe in the province, a vast web of steel that is uniquely vulnerable to problems, and uniquely difficult to both oversee and maintain.

In large measure, that’s because the stuff those pipes carry is often nasty: impure, unprocessed energy laced with hydrogen sulphide and water and sand, each of which can inflict damage on buried steel. Construction methods of smaller pipes mean they often can’t be monitored and inspected using the best tools. Some of the junior and mid-sized oil and gas companies that run them don’t have the large dedicated inspection teams employed by larger pipeline operators.

Alberta’s energy regulator says problems on small pipes often lead to small spills, dampening the need for concern.

Alberta’s oil and gas regulator, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), noted in a 2007 report that “most of Alberta’s pipeline infrastructure is used for the production of raw oil and gas, which by nature can be highly corrosive.” It said corrosion has been growing as a problem — from 63 percent of all leaks and ruptures in a 1998 report to 70 per cent less than a decade later.

And though overall accidents have been declining, last year Alberta saw 1.5 failures per 1,000 kilometres of pipe — or nearly 500 on its length of small lines. That’s down from an average in previous years of 3.5. Many of those spills are small — all leaks, regardless of size, get reported. But the ERCB also doesn’t record spills at pipeline facilities, like pumping stations, where many of them happen. That makes its numbers tough to compare with other jurisdictions.

The risks on small pipes are magnified by the low flows on stretches that might carry intermittent volumes of product from, say, oil tanks to a processing plant. When flow is slow or stopped, water and hydrogen sulphide are better able to corrode pipe. Sediments can also deposit, creating a mud where microbes can begin to eat away steel.

The ERCB played down the effect of corrosive products, which tend to create “pitting corrosion” that leads to “small volume spills (small leaks) that are not a significant safety hazard because they do not catastrophically rupture,” spokeswoman Cara Tobin said in an e-mailed statement.

(Although small pipes can lead to big spills: In December, 2011, 12,000 barrels spilled from a small Pengrowth Energy Corp. line, while 5,000 barrels leaked from a small Pace & Oil Gas Ltd. well pipe in May). The regulator requires surveillance of pipeline right-of-ways, corrosion evaluations, yearly inspections of water crossings and “continues to review and update its regulations and requirements to improve all aspects of pipeline performance,” she said.

Plus, industry has ways to combat corrosion. Pipes can be protected with MATCOR’s “cathodic protection,” products which uses electric current to counteract corrosion.  Cathodic Protection is mandatory in Alberta. They can also be chemically shielded from corrosion, and maintained with pigs, devices that travel inside the pipe, either to scrub it or detect areas of weakness.

But small pipe is often the hardest to “pig.” Worldwide, roughly a third of all pipe is not piggable. Alberta’s ERCB has no figure on what percentage of its pipe cannot accept pigs — and pigging is not required — but it’s likely to be large. Alberta’s pipeline system is made up of an enormous number of very short lengths, averaging just 1.6 kilometres long.

SOURCE: http://www.bnn.ca/News/2012/7/4/Albertas-big-small-pipe-problem.aspx