Posts Tagged ‘oil’

Coast Guard Documents Fourth Keystone Leak

Posted: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 8:22 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Check that: it’s apparently not the pipeline we have to worry about; it’s those darn leaky pump stations.

Carrie La Seur of Plains Justice gets the scoop on the fourth documented leak along TransCanada’s Keystone I tar sands pipeline. According to incident report #951480 filed by the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Response Center, Keystone Pump Station 24 near Hartington, Nebraska, sprang a leak. The report says, “caller stated a check valve on a pressure transmitter located on the suction side of a line pump stuck open releasing 5-10 gallons of crude oil onto the ground.

The leaks must be working their way south. Check out TransCanada’s Keystone system map:

Map of Keystone I Pump Station leaks, May-Aug 2010
Map of Documented Keystone I Pipeline Pump Station Leaks
May–August 2010 (click image to enlarge)

The previous three Keystone leaks happened at the Carpenter Pump Station in Beadle County in May, then the Roswell Pump Station in Miner County in June, then the Freeman Pump Station on August 10. Was the pipeline passing a stone or something?

Once again, let us review TransCanada’s June 2006 pipeline risk assessment:

…the estimated occurrence intervals for a spill of 50 barrels or less occurring anywhere along the entire pipeline system is once every 65 years, a spill between 50 and 1,000 barrels might occur once in 12 years; a spill of 1,000 and 10,000 barrels might occur once in 39 years; and a spill containing more than 10,000 barrels might occur once in 50 years. Applying these statistics to a 1-mile section, the chances of a larger spill (greater than 10,000 barrels) would be less than once every 67,000 years [ENSR Corporation for TransCanada, “Pipeline Risk Assessment and Environmental Consequence Analysis,” Document No. 10623-004, June 2006].

Given four incidents in three months, we are now in the clear on small leaks for 260 years. Thanks for getting those out of the way, TransCanada!

Bear Butte Promising Easy Oil?

Posted: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 8:49 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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At the Mitchell McGovern Debate Tournament last weekend, I was chatting with some of my fellow McGovernites about the state of the state. We thought maybe we Dems aren’t so bad off being way, way out of power. Governor-Elect Daugaard and the Republican supermajorities in the Legislature will fully own the next two budgets, and those two budgets won’t be pretty. The GOP will have to make hard cuts or raise taxes. “What else are they gonna do,” one of my interlocutors mused, “strike oil?”

Little did we realize

Work is under way to develop an oil field near Bear Butte in western South Dakota that could eventually produce 4 million barrels of crude.

The state Board of Minerals and Environment on Thursday approved Nakota Energy LLC’s application to establish a 960-acre field for the production of oil and gas, with spacing of no more than one well in each 40-acre tract.

…The oil field, located on private land, is slightly more than a mile from Bear Butte, an important religious site for American Indians that juts above the prairie on the northern edge of the Black Hills. Developers said the oil field should not bother anyone at Bear Butte [Chet Brokaw, “Companies Plan Oil Wells Near SD’s Bear Butte,” AP via ABC News, 2010.11.19].

Pastor Hickey, you didn’t have anything to do with this, did you?

Some local oil exploited by local producers would be better than those darned foreign tar sands. West River oil will likely kill fewer ducks. Just remember, kids, to solve the state budget crunch, you still have to tax that oil.

Tar Sands Bad for South Dakota

Posted: Monday, November 22, 2010 at 8:21 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Hat tip to Great Plains Tar Sands Pipelines!

The Sierra Club documents how the push for toxic Canadian tar sands oil threatens the health and welfare of South Dakotans. The environmental organization profiles three South Dakotans who have fought Big Oil: Kent Moeckley of Britton and Carolyn Harkness and Ed Cable of Union County.

Moeckly was a notable opponent of TransCanada’s Keystone I pipeline, which is now buried under his farmland in Marshall County. When TransCanada announced the pipeline route, Moeckly and his neighbors asked TransCanada to consider alternative routes. He says an oil leak in his neighborhood’s sandy, permeable soil could threaten the aquifer that feeds the local rural water system, an objection much like that curently raised by Nebraskans worried that Keystone XL could damage the Sand Hills and the massive Ogallala aquifer. TransCanada paid no attention:

Moeckly says pipeline consultants didn’t even survey his land before they reported it as “low consequence” status, which allowed TransCanada to build the Keystone I through the aquifer in 2009, using thinner pipe and higher pressure than any other pipeline before it. When farmers in the area requested thicker pipe to reduce the risk of water contamination, their concerns went unheeded.

“TransCanada absolutely ignored us. They plowed on through,” Moeckly says [“Toxic Tar Sands: South Dakota,” Sierra Club, Nov. 2010].

TransCanada finished the pipeline last year. They left debris and dirt piles on Moeckly’s land that have trapped water and left 15 acres unusable. (Where are the conservative property rights hawks speaking up for Moeckly’s rights under the takings clause?)

Harkness and Cable are trying to save Union County from even worse disruption at the hands of the still-pending Hyperion refinery. This tar sands refinery would tear up thousands of acres of prime farm land and threaten the aquifer, air quality, and even the simple view of the stars at night.

Carolyn Harkness would find her farm home 300 feet from the refinery. She doesn’t want to give up land that is everything to her family, her home, business, and retirement. She also sees a higher obligation to keep the refinery from tearing up Union County:

“This land belongs to God and it is our responsibility to save it for future generations. It has treated us well,” she says. “We need to return the favor” [Sierra Club, Nov 2010]

Ed Cable lives three miles from the proposed refinery site and share’s his neighbors’ concerns about pollution that owuld ruin one of the cleanest places in the country. Cable has led the legal fight to block construction of the refinery. His group, Save Union County, has played a key role in pushing South Dakota’s regulators to do something like due diligence in, if not stopping the refinery, at least making sure the Texas dreamers behind it get their enviromental ducks in a row.

Oops—did I say ducks in a tar sands story?

Moeckly, Harkness, and Cable understand that increasing our dependence on dirty foreign oil is not good for our way of life. As we see from the Keystone I pipeline, the tar sands are already damaging our fair state. We should say no to any more development of this unsustainable resource.

Heidepriem Cites TransCanada Leaks; Daugaard Dwells on Dollars

Posted: Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 7:55 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Jon Walker wrote up our gubernatorial candidates’ views on energy in that Sioux Falls paper Monday. Among other important issues, Walker asked the candidates whether they support TransCanada’s Keystone pipelines.

Democrat Scott Heidepriem, who represented South Dakota landowners in their fight against TransCanada’s eminent domain effort, hits all the right notes—not just green notes, but red-blooded South Dakotan notes:

Heidepriem: I can’t argue it’s a good thing particularly from the three leaks. Land was disrupted. It took a lot of fertile farm ground with almost no jobs created. They used a heavy hand to do that with eminent domain. That’s not being a good corporate citizen. There should be no incentive on contractor excise and sales tax. Why does South Dakota feel the need to hemorrhage citizen tax dollars? [quoted by Jon Walker, “On Energy, Candidates for Governor Vow to Be Strong Voice,” sidebar, that Sioux Falls paper, 2010.10.04]

Hey, Scott! Where’d you first read about those three leaks? Oh yeah….

Republican Dennis Daugaard apparently isn’t worried about oil leaks, continued addiction to dirty fuel, weak job production, tax refunds for foreign oil corporations, or violations of South Dakotans’ property rights. He thinks those property tax dollars make everything hunky-dory:

Daugaard: It’s good. It allows us to reduce our dependency on oil from unfriendly nations. Most landowners I’ve spoken with are happy to have the pipe under their property. … They still pay us $25 million a year in property taxes [quoted by Walker, 2010].

Pay close attention, fellow voters: the Republican here is saying something is great because it pumps more money into the government coffers, while the Democrat is speaking up for individual property rights instead of tax breaks for foreigners.

Does anyone else smell irony there?

TransCanada: Oil Leaks Normal

Posted: Monday, August 2, 2010 at 8:41 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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WNAX gets comment from TransCanada on its oil leaks in May and June at the Carpenter and Roswell pump stations on the Keystone pipeline. “To a certain extent, these are normal parts of bringing the pipeline into service,” says company spokesman Jeff Rauh.

Why yes, oil spills do appear to be normal operating procedure for oil companies, along with explosions, destruction, and death, as documented by this new National Wildlife Federation report (PDF). Summarizing the last decade of oil industry malfeasance, NWF counts 2554 significant incidents, 161 deaths, and 576 injuries from pipeline mishaps alone.

South Dakota doesn’t appear much in the NWF 2010 report. Alas, as TransCanada seeks to bring more of its normal pipeline operations through South Dakota, I worry we’ll figure more prominently in the 2020 edition.

TransCanada Keystone: Two Leaks in Two Months

Posted: Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 7:38 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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I was wrong: the June oil spew at Pump Station 22 near Roswell on the TransCanada Keystone Pipeline was not the first reported spill. Shortly after posting the DENR report on the Roswell incident, I received this DENR report documenting a 5-gallon leak at Pump Station 21 near Carpenter in Beadle County on May 21, 2010. This time a leaky valve was the culprit.

Leaky valve… would that be anywhere near a pipe joint… the kind of joint Welspun might have built… the kind of joint that was the source of hundreds of defects in Welspun-supplied steel in other pipelines built between 2007 and 2009?

Five gallons doesn’t sound like much, and tar sands oil is supposed to be relatively more viscous than regular crude oil, meaning it shouldn’t spread as much. But heavy rain during the leak appears to have spread the oil around the site in a 47×29-foot area. The clean-up crew ended up hauling away 185 cubic yards of contaminated dirt and 9356 gallons of contaminated water. Compare that to the 100-gallon leak at Roswell, which resulted in removal of 200 cubic yards of oily soil and only 2500 gallons of yucky water.

A mere five gallons of spilled oil is pretty good for local business. The May spill report includes receipts from Safety-Kleen out of Sioux Falls for about $9500 in giant Shop-Vac services. I wonder if TransCanada and Governor Rounds included that in their promises of economic benefits from the pipeline.

Now here’s the really good news about the Carpenter and Roswell spills: in its June 2006 pipeline risk assessment for its State Department permit application, TransCanada predicted the following spill frquencies:

Of the postulated 1.4 spills along the Keystone Pipeline system during a 10-year period, the study’s findings suggest that approximately 0.2 would be 50 barrels or less; 0.8 would consist of 50 to 1000 barrels; 0.3 would consist of between 1,000 and 10,000 barrels; and 0.2 would contain more than 10,000 barrels (Appendix A). The spill volume frequency distribution likely underestimates the proportion of spill volumes under 50 barrels due to reliance upon the greater than 50 barrel reporting criteria within the USDOT incident database. The curent analysis tends to overemphasize large spills and underreport the small spills, making the assessment conservative.

Based on probabilities generated from the study, the estimated occurrence intervals for a spill of 50 barrels or less occurring anywhere along the entire pipeline system is once every 65 years, a spill between 50 and 1,000 barrels might occur once in 12 years; a spill of 1,000 and 10,000 barrels might occur once in 39 years; and a spill containing more than 10,000 barrels might occur once in 50 years. Applying these statistics to a 1-mile section, the chances of a larger spill (greater than 10,000 barrels) would be less than once every 67,000 years [ENSR Corporation for TransCanada, “Pipeline Risk Assessment and Environmental Consequence Analysis,” Document No. 10623-004, June 2006].

In other words (Canadian readers will appreciate this), two spills in one year means we are ahead by a century.

Now, if only our local media weren’t behind by a century. If I were a paid journalist, I’d find two reported oil leaks before the pipeline became fully operational a significant story. But still no word from the mainstream media….

Bonus: Here’s a reminder from WEB Water Development’s June 2007 filing with the PUC on the environmental threat posed by the Keystone pipeline:

The TransCanada-Keystone Oil Pipeline plan calls for a wide separation between mainline automated valves and manual valves. For example, the distance between the pump station at the North Dakota-South Dakota state line and the next pumping station near Ferney, SD is about 42 miles of 30 inch pipe which would hold about 156,660,000 gallons of crude-oil (3,728,571 barrels). The distance between the Fernery pump station and the next pump station near Carpenter, SD is about 47 miles of 30 inch pipe which would hold about 175,312,000 gallons of crude oil (4,174,000 barrels). In addition to the 4 automated valves at compressor pump stations, the TransCanada-Keystone Pipeline will have 7 to 10 manually operated valves on the 220 miles of pipeline in South Dakota, with some valves being 20 to 30 miles apart. In the event of a major pipe failure, there may not be time to reach valves to stop the crude-oil from draining out of the pipeline on to productive farm land and into wetlands. Manually operated valves won’t do much good if the TransCanada operations staff are hundreds of miles away in Alberta or Omaha. A pipe failure at a low elevation point on either the 42 mile reach between North Dakota and Ferney, SD or the 47 mile reach between Ferney and Carpenter, SD could result in a spill of millions of gallons of crude oil. By way of comparison, the 155 mile WEB water mainline has 31 manual isolation valves, with each valve located every 5 miles, and six pump stations and control points which are monitored and operated by a computerized SCADA system and operations staff dispatched out of Aberdeen, South Dakota.

BP, TransCanada Buy Same “Scientists”

Posted: Saturday, July 24, 2010 at 8:19 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Classic Big Oil playbook: BP is trying to stifle science. As it rounds up experts to help build its defense against over 300 lawsuits stemming from the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, BP is trying to get academics under contract not just to testify on their behalf, but to prevent them from offering any testimony for plaintiffs against BP. Those contracts include confidentiality clauses that would restrict scientists on BP’s payroll from publishing any research results on the oil spill for three years.

Hmmm… why kill all the lawyers when you can buy all the scientists?

Anyone care to speculate how many of the 3% of active climate scientists who still deny anthropogenic climate change have been similarly bought by Big Oil? Or how many of these educated folks who helped prepare the inadequate draft environmental impact statement for the Keystone XL pipeline may have contracts to ensure they never say a discouraging word about the designs of Big Oil?

Worth noting: Entrix, the consulting firm TransCanada paid to write the DEIS and lowball the risk of pipeline rupture, is also BP’s go-to team for environmental consulting. Also, one of the Entrix folks in charge of oil spill risk assessment in the DEIS has as her highest degree an MBA from questionable for-profit online University of Phoenix.

EPA: Keystone XL Environmental Study Inadequate

Posted: Friday, July 23, 2010 at 7:27 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline faces some serious problems. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) has declared the pipeline “would be a step in the wrong direction, undermining the President’s efforts to move America to a clean energy economy.” The folks who plan to make the steel for Keystone XL produced all sorts of defective steel for other pipelines between 2007 and 2009.

And now the Environmental Protection Agency has said the State Department’s draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Keystone XL is inadequate.

“Inadequate”—that’s govspeak for “It sucks.” EPA only has three categories for rating the adequacy of DEIS’s: “inadequate” is the lowest rating possible. To provoke one government agency to so directly contradict another, the State Department must really have failed to do its homework on Keystone XL.

The opening statement from EPA’s letter to State:

[W]e think that the Draft EIS does not provide the scope or detail of analysis to fully inform decision makers and the public, and recommend that additional information and analysis be provided. The topics on which we believe additional information and analysis are necessary include the purpose and need for the project, potential greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the project, air pollutant emissions at the receiving refineries, pipeline safety/spill response, potential impacts to environmental justice communities, wetlands and migratory birds [Environmental Protection Agency, letter to State Department, 2010.07.16].

Pipeline spills— like the 3300-gallon spill that contaminated Belle Creek in southeastern Montana last November and cost Texas-based Encore Operating a $93K fine. EPA notes that TransCanada won’t tell us what mystery chemicals it plans to mix with the tar sands oil to make it flow through the pipeline, sicne the mix of “cutter stock” is declared “proprietary.” Keeping that information secret makes it difficult to calculate the full impact of spills on the environment and to plan proper safety and clean-up responses when (not if) a spill happens.

EPA says the State Department takes far too narrow a view of the impact of Keystone XL on the environment and our long-term energy security:

Alongside the national security benefits of importing crude oil from a stable trading partner, we believe the national security implications of expanding the Nation’s long-term commitment to a relatively high carbon source of oil should also be considered [EPA, 2010].

On greenhouse gases, EPA says State only calculates the impact of construction and operation of the pipeline and refining on our end. EPA suggests State include the emissions at the Canadian end as well. EPA estimates that converting tar sands into pipable oil will emit 27 million metric tons of CO2 above the emissions of normal crude oil production. Says EPA, that’s equivalent to firing up seven new coal-fired power plants.

Dang—that’s what I’ve been saying!

Review the full list of EPA recommendations for bringing the DEIS up to snuff, and you’ll see that EPA is not saying that Uncle Sam should shut down Keystone XL. But EPA is saying that if we are going to permit Keystone XL, we need a lot more rigorous science to understand, plan for, and mitigate its drastic impact on our environment and our energy security.

Related: In a press release, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scott Heidepriem connects the EPA’s letter and the curent administration’s “coddling” of TransCanada. Heidepriem notes that he supported but Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard and his boss opposed a two-cent-per-barrel tax on pipeline oil to cover the cost of spill clean-up and a cancellation of millions of dollars tax refunds for the Keystone pipeline projects.


  1. TransCanada doesn’t think Keystone XL needs any more studies.
  2. Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach spent $55,800 earlier this month to buy a Washington Post ad defending the project from Congressional criticism. I wonder how much of the public coffers he’ll spend lobbying the EPA on behalf of Big Oil.
  3. The Sierra Club “applaud[s] EPA’s scrutiny” and calls EPA’s ruling a “game changer.”
  4. Some nice people in Nebraska are applauding as well.

Plains Justice Seeks Keystone Investigation

Posted: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 5:15 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Indian Welspun Supplies Defective Steel to Six Pipelines

Indian steel used to construct TransCanada pipeline in South  Dakota, 2009“Made in India”: photo taken September 3, 2009, of Welspun pipe laid in Miner County farmland as part of TransCanada Keystone pipeline in South Dakota

Want to avoid BP on the prairie? Then you might want TransCanada to suck the oil back out of the Keystone pipeline and check for defective steel.

Plains Justice has documented a pattern of defective steel used in the pipeline construction boom from 2007 to 2009. Much of the defective steel found in six Kinder Morgan and Boardwalk pipelines was produced by India’s Welspun, which also supplied 47% of the steel for the Keystone pipeline, which TransCanada laid across eastern South Dakota last summer.

The 3710 pages of federal safety documents obtained by Plains Justice through Freedom of Information Act requests find several instances of defective steel rushed into production and installation during the same time period as the building of the Keystone pipeline. The documents

Read updates on Welspun and TransCanada at the Madville Times!

from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration include no evidence of defects in the Keystone pipeline… but they also include no evidence that the PHMSA conducted any investigation of the materials that went into the Keystone pipeline.

Plains Justice reports they have since received phone calls (but no documentation) from the PHMSA assuring them that the agency will require TransCanada to conduct a high resolution deformation scan of the already buried Keystone pipeline and a high resolution deformation tool run of the planned Keystone XL pipeline that will cross West River.

Now recall, TransCanada already got permission to use thinner than normal steel on Keystone and wants to do the same on Keystone XL. Thinner steel means they’ve already sacrificed some safety margin that might have mitigated danger from flawed steel.

Plains Justice is alarmed, as ought be every South Dakota landowner with possibly untested and defective Indian pipe running under their land ready to spring an oily leak. In a June 28 letter to the PHMSA, Plains Justice requests that the feds require TransCanada to conduct an in-line inspection before starting regular operations and publicize the results. Among other things, Plains Justice also recommends TransCanada take the prudent step of reducing the operating pressures in the Keystone pipeline and documenting the source of all steel used in Keystone’s construction.

Just in case you don’t want to read the 3710 pages of federal safety documents yourself, Plains Justice boils them down to a 17-page report on the use of substandard steel in U.S. pipelines.

For the sake of farmers like Mike and Sue Sibson, not to mention our wetlands and drinking water, let’s hope that Plains Justice is wrong and that TransCanada just happened to get all of Welspun’s good steel.

KELO on Pipelines: Why Worry?

Posted: Monday, June 21, 2010 at 8:04 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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KELO kisses Big Oil’s backside with more happy coverage of TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline. Specifically, they trot out Public Utilities Commissioner Gary Hanson to tell us we don’t have to worry about a BP-Gulf-scale oil leak from TransCanada’s pipelines. Cherlene Richards’ corporate propaganda includes assurances that TransCanada has a good track record, has tested the pipe, and has all sorts of redundant shut-offs and safety measures. Commissioner Hanson assures us the state has plenty of emergency plans in case something bad does happen.

Completely missing from this objective, professional journalism: information or comment from anyone opposing the pipeline. Hanson is the only individual cited. For those who want to learn more, Richards provides a link to the TransCanada website.

Richards could easily have included opposing views like this:

The company has stressed repeatedly that it’s committed to the highest safety standards — that comparisons to the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico are “completely unfair.”

Yet critics see little distinction. “BP didn’t think their well would ever leak,” Cindy Kreifels, executive vice president of the Nebraska-based Groundwater Foundation told The Tyee. “They supposedly had disaster plans in place and it has not made a difference” [Geoff Dembicki, “Gulf Disaster Raises Alarms about Alberta to Texas Pipeline,” The Tyee, 2010.06.21].

…or this reminder that pipelines inevitably leak… sometimes twice:

As the leak in the Gulf continues, on Tuesday the Trans-Alaska “Alyeska” Pipeline owned by BP and other oil companies, started spewing several thousand barrels of crude oil and was shut down. It’s not clear when the pipeline will reopen. The accident occured about 100 miles south of Fairbanks.

Four years ago 267,000 gallons leaked out of the same pipeline as investigators on the North Slope eventually found what was described as “severe corrosion” requiring the replacement of some 20 miles of pipeline [Joe Jordan, “Nebraska Eyes on Leaky Alaska Pipeline,” Nebraska Watchdog, 2010.05.27].

…or this concern about the threat to the Ogallala Aquifer:

The Ogallala Aquifer is one of the world’s largest aquifers and covers areas in South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas. Some portions of the aquifer are so close to the surface that any pipeline leak would almost immediately contaminate a large portion of the water [“Staying Hooked on a Dirty Fuel: Why Canadian Tar Sands Pipelines Are a Bad Bet for the United States,” National Wildlife Federation, 2010].

And don’t forget the 33,000 gallons of oil that spewed into a Salt Lake City creek after an electric arc made a hole the size of a quarter in a Chevron pipeline.

KELO has been in TransCanada’s camp for some time. They gave some coverage to landowner opposition, but then turned to happily running TransCanada’s propaganda and ignoring the impact of the Keystone pipeline project on landowners forced to accept it. And I still haven’t caught a story on TransCanada’s road damage on KELO.

Thank goodness for blogs like Great Plains Tar Sands Pipelines and Dakota Today that bring some balance to the corporate news.