LATEST PIPELINE SPILL MAKES THE CASE FOR THE KEYSTONE XL
Coincidental environmentalists: these Laborers rallying in 2011 on behalf of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the jobs it would create also were supporting the cleanest, safest, least environmentally harmful way to transport oil from Western Canada, Montana, and North Dakota to market. It has become clear that producers will continue to develop and ship that oil with or without this LEED-certified, state-of-the-art pipeline, so building it is the best way to protect the environment. (Photo courtesy Midwest Region LECET.)
April 11, 2013: Last month, the 90,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) Pegasus pipeline ruptured while carrying heavy crude oil similar to the oil the 800,000-bpd Keystone XL will transport if built. The Pegasus Pipeline was built in the late 1940s, long before today’s extensive pipeline regulations and the agency that enforces them even existed. Its ground cover would have been much shallower than that specified for the Keystone XL and other modern pipelines. The technology that will be incorporated by the Keystone XL to prevent, detect, and stop spills had not even been dreamed of when the Pegasus was built.
The Pegasus spill clearly illustrates the need to strengthen this nation’s existing pipeline infrastructure. It also should serve as a clarion call to approve and build the Keystone XL and other new pipelines that incorporate the latest materials, technology, construction techniques, and engineering and operating standards.
This recent spill and other developments have begun to answer the question of what will happen if the Keystone XL isn’t built. The diversion of increasing North American oil production into older pipelines and riskier, dirtier modes of transport is no longer a prediction of what might happen if the Keystone XL isn’t built; it is an observation of what already is happening.
Whether or not the Keystone XL should be built, for the past four years, it has not been built. In those four years, oil production in Western Canada, North Dakota, Montana, and other areas that will be served by the Keystone XL continued to grow, despite efforts by various groups to stop it. Oil producers have continued to seek and to develop every other mode of transport, including rail, road, barge, and older, existing pipelines. Rail carriers desperately seeking new shippers have been pursuing oil companies desperately seeking shipping capacity. Transcanada recently announced plans to develop a new pipeline to Canada’s east coast that would incorporate a stretch of older, existing pipeline already in the ground. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Amid a surge of oil production in North America, producers, refiners and shippers have scrambled to reconfigure the continent’s aging pipeline infrastructure to accommodate all the new crude coming out of the ground. Pipeline companies have proposed new lines, reversed the direction of flow on existing lines and moved ahead with capacity expansions. Producers and refiners have also taken to the railroad, moving increasing volumes of oil by track.
Ironically, while Keystone XL opponents have been enormously successful in delaying this vital project, those very delays have disproved one of their core assertions: that blocking the pipeline will stop or slow development of Canada’s oil sands. They have blocked the pipeline, yet oil companies continue to invest in the tar sands, continue to develop them, and continue to find other ways of getting that oil to market. While delaying the Keystone XL has certainly denied oil producers the shipping capacity they want in the short term, it has also denied them access to the newest, safest, cleanest, and most technologically advanced means of getting their product to market.
As former U.S. energy transportation safety chief Brigham McCown points out in Forbes, pipelines remain the safest, cleanest means of transporting oil and other hazardous materials, and the newer the pipeline, the safer. Indeed, McCown writes, increasingly stringent regulation, better technology, and improved materials and construction techniques have led to an overall decline in spills from all pipelines, old and new.
Thanks to strong government oversight by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (“PHMSA”), new technologies, and a shared safety responsibility by all stakeholders, pipeline incidents continue to decline. Over the past 10 years, the frequency of pipeline spills has decreased by 59%, and the volume of pipeline spills has decreased by 43%, even as overall production has increased both the mileage of active pipelines and the freight tons shipped by them.
The Pegasus spill presents a strong case for building the Keystone XL, for moving forward with other pipeline projects like it, and for doing more to maintain, repair, and reinforce existing pipelines. It should also serve as a stinging indictment of those who would delay, block, and kill the newest, safest pipelines, thus diverting oil and gas into older, riskier, dirtier means of transport.
Ed Rehfeld, Manager of Communications
Laborers show their support for the Keystone XL and the jobs it would create.