Tag Archives: bitumen

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

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

NACE International Logo
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.”

SOURCE: http://www.virtual-strategy.com/2012/06/21/committee-explore-effects-crude-be-transported-keystone-xl-includes-three-nace-fellows

Risks for expanding a heavy crude oil pipeline are too high

Within weeks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is supposed to decide whether to authorize a 1,600-mile expansion of a tar sands crude oil pipeline network across six Midwestern, Western and Southern U.S. states and three Canadian provinces. Alternatively, she could pass the decision on to President Barack Obama.

The expanded pipeline network, owned and operated by a Canadian company called TransCanada, would be able to push 450 million to 550 million gallons of heavy tar sands crude per day from a processing facility northeast of Calgary, Alberta, to refineries and ports on the Gulf of Mexico.

The expansion, called Keystone XL, would interconnect with TransCanada’s Keystone 1 pipeline, which phased into operation in 2010 and early 2011. Keystone 1 stretches 2,151 miles from Alberta to Cushing, Okla. It includes a leg that cuts from west to east across Missouri, dives under the Mississippi River just north of St. Louis, connects on the Illinois side to the Wood River Refinery at Roxana and ends at a storage site at Patoka, Ill.

Bitumen, the petroleum essence of tar sands crude, is a heavy, nearly solid substance that requires dilution with toxic solvents before it can move through pipelines. Even then, high-pressure pumps are required to keep the material moving, and friction of the diluted bitumen against the inner walls of the pipes raises temperatures to 150 degrees or higher.

  • At a U.S. House oversight subcommittee hearing in June, Cynthia Quarterman, the head of the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, testified that current integrity standards for oil pipelines do not consider the abrasive effects of tar sands oil. She said no studies of such effects were done before or since the integrity regulations were adopted.
  • In 18 of the last 21 years, toxic liquid spills from pipelines in the United States were greater than 4 million gallons per year. Pipeline equipment failures, installation errors and construction defects were the main reason for half of the spills; 42 percent involved crude oil.
  • In the summer of 2010, a pipeline near Marshall, Mich., operated by Enbridge Energy spewed 843,000 gallons of tar sands crude into the Kalamazoo River. More than a year later, 35 miles of the river remain closed, and estimates of the costs are at half a billion dollars and rising.
  • This summer, an Exxon Mobil pipeline in Montana burst and sent at least 42,000 of regular crude oil into the Yellowstone River. After an initial denial, the company said that the pipeline previously had carried abrasive tar sands crude, raising concerns that corrosion that might have contributed to the failure.

A report commissioned by TransCanada projected the equivalent of nearly 120,000 full-time jobs resulting from the Keystone XL project, although more recently, proponents have been using a figure of 20,000. A State Department analysis projected closer to 2,500 jobs per year for two years.

Project boosters also are touting increased American energy security because tar sands crude would come from Canada, not the Middle East or other trouble spots. But recent TransCanada annual reports to stockholders note that more than 80 percent of Keystone’s capacity already is committed under contracts averaging 18 years, and at least one large purchaser, Valero Energy, has suggested to its investors that much of that heavy crude could be refined into diesel and shipped to markets in Central and South America and Europe.

SOURCE: http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2011/10/11/2077674/risks-for-expanding-a-heavy-crude.html#ixzz1aW3dBfio

Canadian officials dismiss accident risks on oilsands pipeline

Ottawa – Federal bureaucrats are casting doubts on claims that a controversial oilsands pipeline expansion in the United States would be prone to accidents because of the corrosive nature of crude oil derived from Alberta’s bitumen deposits, according to internal government briefing notes.

The possibility of pipeline leaks caused by the crude oil from the region, commonly referred to as the tarsands, was raised in February by several American environmental and advocacy groups, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The concerns were dismissed at the time by the Alberta government as well as TransCanada, which is proposing the multi-billion dollar Keystone XL pipeline expansion that would link the oilsands to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

An assessment of the environmental groups’ report by Natural Resources Canada, released to Postmedia News through access to information legislation, has also defended the safety of the project while acknowledging the damaging nature of the warnings on public opinion.

“This is a new area of research for everyone,” said a briefing note drafted by Bruce Akins, a senior adviser on oil and gas regulations issues at Natural Resources Canada. “Further, (a government scientific research unit) suggests that with proper care and treatment, a pipeline carrying more corrosive products should be able to last as long as one carrying less corrosive products.”

Akins also warned that the NRDC report could influence the project’s fate as well as another pipeline project, proposed by Enbridge, that would link the oilsands with the British Columbia coast.

“However, once posted on the Internet, an (environmental group’s) report tends to have its own life, and will be cited repeatedly, regardless of whether some or all of its assertions have been debunked, or responded to,” said the briefing note. “What will be most important is whether this report, and its recommendation to not certificate the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. until further safety research has taken place and regulations passed (which would take years), is taken seriously by the U.S. administration.”

A scientist at the department’s research lab, CanmetENERGY, who is studying the corrosive properties of different petroleum products, explained in an interview that the high Total Acid Number of bitumen crude oil would not cause corrosion at temperatures under 200 C.

“Since the pipeline is running at much lower temperature, say 55 degrees centigrade, this is not going to have any impact on it,” said Heather Dettman, a bio-processing senior scientist who is based in Alberta. “The TAN can impact in the refineries, but you have to be above (temperatures of) 200 degrees Celsius.”

She said water could also cause corrosion, but noted this also applies to other forms of oil if the pipeline is not adequately built.

The assurances from the Canadian government were immediately rejected by Richard Kuprewicz, an engineer who advises a U.S. government safety panel on pipelines. Kuprewicz said that weaker existing regulations in the U.S., compared to Canada, could allow for corrosion, even at temperatures under 100 C.

“I don’t want to embarrass anybody, but they have no idea what they’re talking about,” said Kuprewicz, who runs a pipeline consulting firm. “This line will have water in it, just by the nature of the beast.”

But he stressed that the company could address concerns promptly if it was willing to work with environmental groups.

“These aren’t deal killers but you’ve got to address them right up front,” said Kuprewicz. “If the parties were to get in a room and act as adults and clearly address their concerns, and rather than be in denial and try to fight, the parties could say, we could address these issues by (working together).”

Recent protests against the Keystone expansion project that have provoked hundreds of arrests in the U.S. have been indirectly aimed at growth of the oilsands industry which requires higher amounts of water, energy and land use when compared with conventional oil production.

Recent statistics from Environment Canada have revealed that the oilsands industry now contributes to global warming more than all of the cars on Canadian roads and that it is projected to continue exponential growth that could cancel out efforts of other Canadian industries to reduce their carbon footprint and meet targets set by Prime Minister Stephen Harper under the Copenhagen climate change agreement.

Policy analysts at the Natural Resources Defense Council said the existing evidence from the records of pipeline companies indicate that the U.S. government and scientists have not done enough research to analyze the risks.

“What we’re calling for is additional study,” said Anthony Swift from NRDC international program. “We’re seeing new pipelines devoted to the movement of this particular substance and the fact that we’re moving forward on these projects with no due diligence is highly disturbing.”

SOURCE: http://www.canada.com/business/Exclusive+Feds+dismiss+accident+risks+oilsands+pipeline/5432407/story.html#ixzz1YjMH99vP

Oil sands critics target a new concern – pipelines

The crude oil that is pulled from Canada’s oil sands is thick and heavy, a black tar-like substance that takes large amounts of energy and effort to make into end products like gasoline and diesel. Even some people in the Alberta energy industry describe it as “nasty” stuff.

But is it also dangerous?

Over the past few months, critics of the oil sands have taken a new tack. They are now arguing that oil sands crude, which contains more contaminants than traditional sources of crude, poses a risk to pipeline safety – and they’ve linked the recent spate of North American oil pipeline spills to what they say is the corrosive content of oil sands products.

It’s an argument that began with environmental groups, but has now been taken up by legislators. Last week, for example, Alcee Hastings, a U.S. Democratic congressman, warned that “the risk of an oil spill from these tar sands pipelines is very real.”

“The oil eats away the pipelines, compromising them and leading to frequent spills,” he said during a debate on the proposed TransCanada Corp. Keystone XL pipeline, which will bring oil sands crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast if it is approved. That echoes a February report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, an influential U.S. environmental group, which called oil sands crude a “highly corrosive, acidic, and potentially unstable” substance that “may be putting America’s public safety at risk.”

That conclusion has always been contradicted by industry, which has maintained that oil sands crude is safe. TransCanada, for example, has argued that it simply would not place at risk its $13-billion Keystone line by filling it with a dangerous substance. Yet the debate highlights the political obstacles that exist for the project, a crucial piece of infrastructure for getting the ever-rising volume of Alberta oil to market.

The two sides have left little middle ground between them. So who is right?

Interviews with academics, engineers and federal officials make clear that oil sands crude does indeed appear to pose additional risks. But those risks are largely borne by refineries that have had to deal with a dirtier and more corrosive substance than industry has been accustomed to.

In pipelines, independent sources suggest that the danger is substantially lower. Indeed, in decades past, thick bitumen was actually used to coat pipelines as protection against corrosion. And pipelines are partly shielded by the fact that they operate nearer room temperatures. Refineries, in contrast, process crude at up to 400 degrees Celsius, and the fierce heat promotes a series of chemical interactions that don’t happen at lower temperatures.

The corrosion question largely surrounds the properties of diluted bitumen, also called “dilbit.”

Oil sands producers generally produce two different products. One, “synthetic crude,” has passed through a sort of pre-refinery, called an upgrader, to transform it into a lighter substance that contains far fewer impurities. Dilbit comes from producers that don’t run upgraders. Instead, they take the oil sands crude and, with minimal processing, thin it with a lighter oil and pump it into a pipeline. As a result, it contains far higher levels of numerous noxious substances, including sulphur, acids, salts and sediments.

That in itself has raised some concerns.

Take sulphur, for example. Oil sands crude contains sulphur levels up to 10 times higher than other oil. But in dilbit, the sulphur is locked up with heavy oil molecules. As a result, it is largely harmless inside a pipeline, said Harvey Yarranton, a professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Calgary.

“You’d have to put it into reaction temperatures to release that sulphur – and those are above 300 Celsius,” he said.

Acids and salts are also found in substantially elevated levels in dilbit. But both substances are “not corrosive under pipeline conditions,” according to Natural Resources Canada, whose researchers have studied the corrosiveness of different oils. Acids need temperatures above 200 Celsius for corrosion to occur, the government said in a statement.

One area of concern remains sediments – little bits of sand that are embedded in oil. Industry measures these in pounds per 1,000 barrels. Conventional oil might measure 30 to 50 pounds per 1,000 barrels. Scott Bieber, a marketing manager with oil field services giant Baker Hughes Inc., has seen oil sands bitumen hit 500.

Sediments can contribute to corrosion in pipelines – and they have become a significant menace in refineries, where they have proven difficult to remove and help foul wastewater, Mr. Bieber said.

And environmental critics say that with the expansion in the oil sands, more study needs to be done of the effects dilbit has on pipelines. In particular, the thickness of oil sands crude – it’s far more viscous than conventional oil – creates friction inside pipelines that creates higher temperatures.

With Keystone XL, TransCanada has predicted temperatures as high as 55 Celsius. That remains far from the heat in a refinery, but higher temperatures do speed corrosion, and Anthony Swift, an energy analyst with the National Resources Defense Council, said governments both in Canada and the U.S. should take notice.

“There’s enough information out there about [the risks of] this stuff that merits a study,” he said. “The government should be protecting the public, and it’s a huge concern when they turn a blind eye to a potential danger.”

SOURCE: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/oil-sands-critics-target-a-new-concern-pipelines/article2116408/

Regulators Concerned About Canadian Oil Corroding U.S. Pipelines

U.S. regulators express concern that diluted bitumen from Canadian oil sands may be corrosive to pipelines and risk should be assessed.

The United States is benefiting greatly from the Canadian oil sands, providing abundant fuel from a friendly neighbor to the north, thus reducing dependence on foreign oil from nations with a less-friendly attitude toward the U.S.  One would assume that U.S. regulators would be happy to get their oil from Canada, but not so fast.  Apparently U.S. lawmakers are expressing concern that the diluted bitumen derived from Canadian oil sands may be corroding U.S. oil pipelines.

U.S. Congressman Henry Waxman, the leading Democrat on the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee, is worried that regulatory oversight isn’t keeping up with an increasing amount of diluted bitumen being transported via U.S. pipelines. “I’m concerned that the industry is changing, but the safety regulations are not keeping up with the changes,” he said at an Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing. “That could be a recipe for disaster down the road.”

Anthony Swift of the Natural Resources Defense Council said at the hearing, “It is in the public’s best interest for our pipeline safety for regulators to evaluate the risks that high volumes of heavy, corrosive and abrasive crudes, such as diluted bitumen, will have on the U.S. pipeline.”

A number of pipeline accidents in the U.S. Midwest have some questioning whether diluted bitumen may be to blame. TransCanada’s existing Keystone pipeline leaked 10 barrels of oil, due to a faulty fitting at a Kansas pump station last month. That accident followed a 500-barrel spill at a pump station in North Dakota in early May.

The committee last month passed a bill requiring the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to study the impact of diluted bitumen on U.S. pipelines.

Even Republicans think the issue should be investigated. “I think it is something we need to look into,” said Republican Representative Joe Barton.

However, President of the Association of Oil Pipelines Andrew Black disputes any claims that diluted bitumen is contributing to pipeline corrosion, saying, “Diluted bitumen has been moved through pipelines for many years.”

At any rate, what harm could come from assessing the risks?  If there’s no problem, then we continue to take advantage of Canadian oil.  If there is a corrosion problem, we invest in pipeline infrastructure to reduce corrosion.  It would be nonsensical to risk losing the pipelines, which cost billions to construct, simply because we didn’t take action early on.

SOURCE: http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Regulators-Concerned-About-Canadian-Oil-Corroding-U.S.-Pipelines.html