Category Archives: Oil Sands

Corrosion Committee to Explore Effects of Crude to be Transported by Keystone XL

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Committee will analyze whether diluted bitumen has an increased potential for release compared to other crude oils.

NACE International – The Corrosion Society along with three of its ‘Fellow’ membership will participate on a newly appointed National Academy of Sciences (NAS) committee formed to analyze whether diluted bitumen (dilbit) transported by transmission pipeline has an increased potential for release compared with pipeline transmission of other crude oils. The NACE Fellows are Dr. Brenda J. Little of the Naval Research Laboratory, Dr. Srdjan Nesic of Ohio University and Dr. Joe H. Payer of the University of Akron.

A chief concern about the transport of Canadian crude through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is a claim that dilbit poses more release risks than other types of crude. In particular, the committee will examine whether there is evidence that dilbit has corrosive or erosive characteristics that elevate its potential for release from transmission pipelines when compared with other crude oils. Should the committee conclude there is no evidence of an increased potential for release, it will report this finding to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) by spring 2013. Alternatively, if the committee finds evidence indicating an increased potential, it will examine the adequacy of PHMSA’s pipeline safety regulations in mitigating any increased risk and report back to PHMSA by the fall of 2013.

“With all of the controversy surrounding Keystone XL, it is very important that a well-qualified team analyzes the risks, if any, of diluted bitumen,” said NACE Executive Director Bob Chalker. “NAS has put together the right group for the job. NACE supports this effort and I will be interested, along with many others, in seeing the final results.”


Searching for answers after Red Deer’s pipeline spill

For a pipeline that is nearly half a century old, a river crossing can pose all manner of hazards. Bacteria and corrosion can attack from inside. Floodwater, scouring away the river bottom and heaving against the exposed pipe, can damage the outside. Pipes installed using old methods can be particularly vulnerable.

Sometimes, the result is catastrophe.

Last week, the Rangeland pipeline, built in 1966 and run by Plains Midstream Canada, ruptured beneath the flooding Red Deer River. It leaked 160,000 to 480,000 litres of oil, coating the banks with crude when the waters receded and leaving a large stain on Gleniffer Lake, a reservoir that supplies drinking water to Red Deer, Alberta’s third-largest city.

It may take many months to conclude what went wrong with the Rangeland pipe, and Plains has declined to comment on the cause, saying it is focusing on a cleanup effort that continued on Monday with more than 100 workers.

Today, companies building across major rivers typically use horizontal drills to burrow deep beneath the water – anywhere from eight to 30 metres – into stable rock. Those crossings are considered some of the safest parts of a pipeline. “Virtually all creeks and rivers are drilled under,” said Kevin O’Brien, president of IMV Projects Inc., a Calgary engineering firm that works on pipelines. Environmental regulations won’t even allow other methods “except in rare circumstances where not technically feasible.”

Techniques decades ago involved digging into the riverbed. Dredges, diggers and backhoes were all used, sometimes with the help of temporary dams, to open a trench for the pipe. Depending on the method, the pipe might be pulled into place, or coated in concrete, floated above the trench with barrels and then dropped down and covered with sediment.

The risks were numerous: Trenching in a flowing river meant it was difficult to create a clean bed for the pipe. Dropping it into place could introduce stress and strain, creating weak spots. And the cover was not always certain: The pipe might be buried two to three metres from the bottom of the river, but rivers are dynamic systems with the power to sweep away sediment, exposing the pipe. When they do, the force of the water can crack a pipe, or throw rocks that puncture its sides. In other cases, the trench was too shallow, compounding the problem.

“Some of those older ones, they weren’t too deep. They might have a couple, three feet of cover,” said Barry Singleton, senior vice-president of Singleton Associated Engineering Ltd., which designs pipelines. Even then, construction crews knew that what they were doing might not last.

“Lots of times they would install two crossings – they would install a spare,” Mr. Singleton said. “There were concerns back in the day.”

But external issues are only part of the potential problems. River crossings are low parts of the pipe, where water can collect, posing a risk of corrosion. Older pipes also may not be used as consistently – the Plains Rangeland system, for example, operated intermittently – which allows sediment to collect in low spots.

“Things start falling out [of the oil] and start stagnating,” said Izak Roux, technical manager for RAE Engineering and Inspection Ltd., which specializes in pipelines. A kind of mud layer can build up, and “then you can start having what we call a bacterial attack. This bacteria can eat right through the steel, and then you get a leak as well.”

Worse, many older pipes use sharp bends to get into and out of the riverbed. Those bends can make it impossible to push through cleaning tools called pigs. Neither Plains nor Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board responded to questions on whether the Rangeland pipe is accessible to pigs.

But those pipes “constructed in the ‘50s and ‘60s, not all of them are piggable,” Mr. Roux said. “That’s basically the problem we have on the older lines.”


Debate Intensifies Over Oil Produced From Canada’s Oil Sands

As the U.S. continues to increasingly rely on Canada as its most important foreign oil source, environmentalists and scientists are concerned about the repercussions of the partnership.

The U.S. has worked to fundamentally alter domestic oil and natural gas drilling over the past decade, as lawmakers work to achieve the long sought after goal of energy independence. While drilling activity has jumped both on and offshore in the U.S., the nation has increased its Canadian imports target as well.

However, Canada’s oil sands produce a kind of oil that engineers assert has a greater negative impact on the environment. Refining such oil requires new technology that releases a substantial amount of greenhouse gases, environmentalists say, and they are growing more concerned by the symbiotic relationship between the two North American neighbors and allies.

CNN reports that imports of oil from Canada’s oil sands are poised to jump more than 300 percent over the next 10 years. The failure of backers to ensure the construction of a pipeline that would transport such oil directly from Canada to refineries in the U.S. underscored how environmentalists have opposed the jump in what they deem “dirty oil,” but proponents are pushing forward with plans to build even more ambitious pipelines over the next few years.

By 2020, the U.S. is expected to import almost 10 percent of its total oil consumption from Canada’s oil sands, with more than 1.5 million barrels reaching the U.S. each day according to data from the Sierra Club. Such a precipitous uptick would require a major restructuring of the nation’s domestic refining facilities, and could spur a major wave ofengineering research and development as scientists work to improve such a process, experts say.

Canada’s oil sands produce bitumen, unlike wells in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world where crude oil is extracted. Bitumen, according to scientists, is significantly heavier than crude and, as a result, requires a more demanding refining process. What’s more, it is so viscous that oil companies must first dilute the fossil fuel with natural gas liquids before it can be transported through pipelines.

The debate over the transportation of bitumen has become the focal point of controversy as imports surge, according to the news provider. Environmentalists contend it is exceedingly dangerous to send bitumen through pipelines, as it could spur corrosion. However, scientists have thus far been unable to conclusively prove a causal relationship.

Moreover, some industry watchers have questioned whether the nation’s existing pipeline architecture is capable of transporting bitumen. UPI reports that pipeline operators said such an assertion is unsubstantiated, but the Sierra Club has argued the U.S. is not prepared for the coming deluge of bitumen imports.

“We’ve got all this unconventional crude and we’re completely unprepared for it,” said Michael Marx, a campaign director at the environmental organization.

Marx also said that bitumen is more difficult to clean up than conventional crude, as it is heavier than water and sinks. “We just don’t have the technical sophistication to vacuum oil off the bottom of a river,” Marx said.

Officials in Canada have strongly argued against the “dirty oil” label over the past few years. While they concede it requires a more thorough refining process, they noted that the U.S. routinely imports non-crude heavy oils from other nations. Still, environmentalists have increased their efforts to slow the surge in oil imports.

Oil engineers at the U.S. Department of Transportation, which is tasked with regulating oil pipelines, are currently working to more effectively study the subject. The oil industry and environmentalists are awaiting the results.