Six huge tanks of combustible, toxic jet fuel planned for Richmond site

Pete McMartin
Ho hum. Another day, another plan to ship a dangerous commodity through a B.C. port. Environmentalists must be suffering outrage fatigue.

First, it was oil pipelines.

Then, coal expansion.

And now, jet fuel.

And as usual, it involves tankers.

This time it’s on the Fraser River.

A consortium of airlines — the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation — wants to ship offshore jet fuel to a storage terminal it hopes to build in Richmond. It would be just upstream from the George Massey Tunnel.

The jet fuel would then be pumped by underground pipeline to the airport. The 15-kilometre-long pipeline would go through Richmond. In all, it will cost $93 million.

Why do the airlines want this?

At present, Vancouver International Airport gets 60 per cent of its jet fuel from the ARCO refinery at Cherry Point, Wash. – by truck or barge — and the remaining 40 per cent by the Kinder Morgan pipeline from the Chevron refinery in Burnaby.

The consortium claims the ARCO and Chevron sources are outdated and unreliable sources for the future.

Critics say bull, it’s because offshore jet fuel will be cheaper.

Whatever the reason, that offshore fuel will arrive by barge or Panamax tanker, which will then sail up the main channel of the Fraser, dock and off-load into six enormous tanks with a total capacity of 80 million litres. Never before have such tankers carrying such a cargo been up the Fraser.

As much as the airlines assure everyone that the proposal is safe, and that jet fuel is much harder to ignite than gasoline and oil, critics beg to differ. Tank farm fires have occurred in the past, and to spectacular effect, including a fire at the Miami International Airport in 2011. (The Miami airport fire chief said the fire, which was massive, came within minutes of being truly catastrophic when one 700,000-gallon tank was almost breached.)

The immediate neighbours downstream of the tanks will be a public park, a 180-unit condominium development and the Riverport cinema and sports complex. They’re about 400 metres away.

Those tanks will also be just upstream from the Fraser River estuary — that great incubator of salmon, the feeding ground to millions of birds and home to people living on its banks in Richmond and Delta. If there was a spill, or a tanker ran aground, or the tanks caught fire, the estuary will suffer incalculable damage. Environmentally, jet fuel is extremely toxic.

Salmon and birds don’t vote, however. And Richmond has an international airport that needs fuel. And as the jobs-before-environment wits would have it, “Cry me a river.”


Critics of the proposal believe there is a safer alternative. One citizens’ group, VAPOR, or Vancouver Airport Project Opposition Richmond, proposed a pipeline be built from the ARCO refinery directly to YVR. The airline consortium rejected that proposal, however, because of what it said were time and bureaucratic constraints on both sides of the border.

This time, more than just citizens’ groups are critics. Richmond city council’s reaction to the plan has been apoplectic. It has expressed its anger to the provincial Environmental Assessment Office, which is the Ministry of Environment wing that, in tandem with Port Metro Vancouver, is jointly reviewing the proposal.

Richmond council is not only upset with the nuts and bolts of the plan, but with the fact that it has absolutely no say in the matter. Nor did the city’s mood improve when it discovered that safety measures it had suggested were ignored. Council was so angry that earlier this month it demanded a meeting with Environment Minister Terry Lake and Energy Minister Rich Coleman to air its concerns.

Critics of the EAO also include B.C. Auditor General John Doyle, who released a report in July 2011 slamming it for failing to properly assess projects that were potentially harmful to the environment. Doyle criticized the EAO for relying on proponents’ own reports for ensuring compliance and for the obvious conflict of interest therein.

And in 2011, the federal office of Environment Canada wrote the EAO that “the (jet fuel) project would present a new and unacceptable risk” to the estuary and that there was “limited ability” to control a spill. It suggested the EAO and the consortium go back to the drawing board.

They have. The consortium proposed an alternative, less obtrusive pipeline route through Richmond, and the EAO reconsidered the new information.

So what began in 2009 as a 180-day review has yet to see the finish line. The government was to hand down its decision on the proposal Jan. 25, but Lake extended the deadline yet again last week. The new deadline is Feb. 25. Either this is a case of a government exercising extreme caution or of having no idea what it is doing. I’ll emulate the government and reserve judgment.

When the decision does come, critics say it will be made with very limited public input. There were calls for written submissions and a few public information meetings, but speakers were allowed only two minutes apiece and restricted to addressing only technical aspects of the proposal.

A familiar complaint lately. And a familiar scenario.

Depending on what side you fall on, the B.C. coast — all of a sudden, and in alarmingly concentrated sequence — has been either blessed with new industrial developments or beset by them.

And that will be the defining question of this province:

Which view will prevail?
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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Plan to pipe jet fuel to YVR delayed several months

METRO VANCOUVER – A controversial proposal to pipe jet fuel to Vancouver International Airport via a Fraser River terminal has been delayed for several months.

Environment Minister Terry Lake says an environmental assessment for the Vancouver Airport Fuel Delivery is suspended pending further study on the effects of land and marine fuel spills.

He said, in a statement late Monday, that a symposium featuring experts in fuel spill response is being held March 25 to 27 to discuss the best practices for B.C.

After a new preparedness plan is complete, the government will decide whether to grant an environmental certificate for the project.

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie is opposed to the project which will involve fully-loaded tankers travelling on the Fraser River to southeast Richmond.

Under the proposal, jet fuel will be piped 15 kilometres to the airport through a pipeline running diagonally across Richmond.

In an editorial Monday to The Vancouver Sun, Brodie said council has “steadfastly opposed this proposal from the outset” because of the many economic, social and environmental risks to Richmond and surrounding areas.

“Jet fuel will be off-loaded perilously close to environmentally sensitive areas on both sides of the river,” he wrote.

“Despite repeated requests, there has been no satisfactory plan developed to address potential environmental impacts should there be a major spill in these sensitive areas.”

Adrian Pollard, project director for the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation said environmental protection on the Fraser River is a top priority and experts with the corporation have consulted thoroughly with the federal and provincial governments to develop protection and response strategies.

“We understand that before the government makes a decision on our project, it wants to complete work that it began last year on spill response regimes covering land-based spills and marine spills that may impact BC shorelines,” said Pollard.

“We await the conclusion of that work, and are confident that the spill prevention and response measures we are proposing will match the high standards that the government is seeking to implement.”

The province was due to make a decision on whether to grant the environmental assessment certificate by the end of February.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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Richmond opposed to airport jet fuel delivery proposal

The Vancouver airport Fuel Delivery Project will involve fully-loaded tankers up to 950 feet in length regularly sailing up the South Arm of the Fraser River to southeast Richmond.

Upon each tanker’s arrival, the jet fuel will be piped to a storage tank one kilometre away. From there, it would travel 15 km to the airport through a pipeline running diagonally across Richmond.

City council has steadfastly opposed this proposal from the outset because of the many economic, social and environmental risks to Richmond and surrounding areas. The province is due to make a decision on whether to grant the environmental assessment certificate by the end of February.

Richmond strongly believes the project is motivated by the airlines’ business desire to fully control the supply of jet fuel rather than any time-sensitive need. Currently, jet fuel is supplied through a pipeline that runs from north Burnaby to Richmond. This source is supplemented by tanker trucks coming from the Cherry Point refinery in northwest Washington.

The proponents acknowledge there is additional, unused delivery capacity in the existing jet fuel line. The applicants’ flight and passenger projections demonstrate that when combined with additional available storage, the projected jet fuel needs of the airlines could be met for decades to come.

Consultants estimate twinning the Burnaby pipeline could meet projected jet fuel consumption needs at least until 2027 at about one-third of the capital cost of the proposal.

Prime habitat for birds is located in Richmond. Jet fuel will be off-loaded perilously close to environmentally sensitive areas on both sides of the river. Despite repeated requests, there has been no satisfactory plan developed to address potential environmental impacts should there be a major spill in these sensitive areas.

Additionally, jet fuel will be unloaded close to residences, businesses, recreation facilities, industries, agricultural operations and within reach from Ste-veston, the largest commercial fishing port in Western Canada. Each could be detrimentally affected in the event of a disaster.

The tank storing up to 80 million litres of jet fuel represents an obvious fire risk at a location far removed from any of the city’s existing fire halls. To provide basic protection, a new fire hall and a water-based firefighting vessel all with specialized equipment and personnel would be required.

The province should not grant the environmental assessment certificate.

Malcolm Brodie Mayor of the City of Richmond
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Empowered green groups gain upper hand in pipeline battle

WASHINGTON — Meet the people on the winning side of Canada’s oil discount — the U.S. environmental activists who have wreaked havoc in the oil sands industry by trashing its practices and shutting it out of new markets by stalling proposed pipelines such as Keystone XL.

They include Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, Danielle Droitsch, Anthony Swift of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which bills itself as the United States’ most effective environmental action group backed by 350 lawyers; and Jason Kowalski and Ben Wesser, with, a grassroots organization that uses protests and social media to stop climate change.

They are uncompromising, empowered and feel good about their progress in capping the growth of fossil fuels — particularly those from Canada.

Agree with them or not, their record is astonishing: They have outmanoeuvred the powerful oil lobby and stalled the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas; they have managed to blame emissions from oil sands’ fuels for U.S. climate disasters such as Super Storm Sandy; and they believe they are on the cusp of strangling oil sands growth.

Yuri GripasNRDC’s Danielle Droitsch speaks next to advisor and lobbyist Susan Casey-Lefkowitz at their office in Washington in early February.
In interviews in the slick downtown Washington base of the NRDC, the activists were unapologetic about the distress their campaign is causing in Canada — and particularly in Alberta, where pipeline bottlenecks are depressing the price of oil, cutting into company revenues and forcing provincial budget cuts.

“The economic distress that we see right now is nothing compared to the economic distress that we will see in the future from the impacts of climate change,” said Ms. Casey-Lefkowitz, director of the international program at the NRDC.

The lesson to take away with what is happening with the shortfalls in Alberta is that diversification of the economy is critical
“The lesson to take away with what is happening with the shortfalls in Alberta is that diversification of the economy is critical … the way forward in terms of our economic and national security is building a world where we depend on clean energy.”

Their energy answer for Alberta? Forget the petrostate and switch to wind.

Why Obama will okay the Keystone pipeline
Rival pipeline projects could help shrink crude discount
Alberta may offer more concessions to secure Keystone approval: envoy
Obama should ‘face down critics’ and approve Keystone XL: science journal
Never mind that Canada is a sovereign country with the right to make its own decisions.

“This is not an issue of borders anymore,” she said. “And we are seeing that with a lot of our environmental work. Most of the environmental problems are global challenges. And that is why we work so closely with colleagues in Canada.”

How did groups like NRDC,, and their close partners the Sierra Club, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Friends of the Earth, become so powerful they believe they alone have the right answers on the climate and on energy?

James Vines, a partner in Washington at King & Spalding LLP, a top law and lobby firm representing major international energy players, said environmental organizations have been empowered by deep pockets and the U.S. legal system, which provides many avenues that allow private parties to challenge energy project.

While the fight against Keystone XL has garnered a lot of attention because of its size and because it crosses the Canada-U.S. border, he said it’s just one of hundreds of fossil fuel projects opposed by environmental non-governmental organizations during the permitting process.

If a permit for a project is granted, Mr. Vines said the fight moves to the courts, where the activists routinely challenge its validity and the validity of the environmental impact studies.

Even when NGOs don’t win, lengthy delays often frustrate proponents and some times cause them to give up.

The Albertans are simply not fighting back hard enough
“The Canadians are not experiencing in Keystone something that other oil producers aren’t facing,” Mr. Vines said. “The Sierra Club and others have very, very deep war chests to challenge all these projects and they win some and they lose some. From their perspective, if they keep one of those projects from being completed, that is a victory.”

The attacks are so common that project proponents are now building years of delays and lawsuits into their business strategies, he said.

Mr. Vines said it is disappointing that Keystone XL proponent TransCanada Corp. wasn’t able to contain the controversy by doing what other U.S. energy project proponents commonly do — use the legal system as aggressively as the NGOs, with the goal of keeping the permitting process based on fact and science.

Using basic public relations, the strategy largely employed by the oil sands sector, “just doesn’t get the job done when the opponents are as well-funded and determined as those who oppose K-XL,” he said. “Successful energy project proponents usually must use the legal system to create a rigorous and defensible formal record on the scientific and legal merit of their project, one that will withstand rhetoric-based counter arguments in the trial and appellate courts.”

Indeed, the decision on Keystone XL itself boils down to whether it can cross a border, he said.

But TransCanada has “allowed cumulative impacts under the [U.S. National Environmental Policy Act] to not just mean a couple of hundred yards from the border, and then what happens in the surrounding communities, they have allowed the cumulative effects to be the border to the Gulf, the whole 1,300 miles of the project.”

Even the messaging was late and poor, making Canada easy to pick on and a “soft target,” said policy advisor Fred Cedoz, vice-president with GWEST in Washington, who has represented Canadian interests including the Alberta Enterprise Group, an Edmonton-based public policy advocacy group.

“The Albertans are simply not fighting back hard enough,” Mr. Cedoz said. “In the U.S., in order to keep our energy sector alive, we know how to push back on these, we know all the processes to use.”

President Obama is expected to rule in the next few months whether to give a permit to Keystone XL, after twice rejecting it because of environmental movement opposition.

Indeed, environmental organizations opposing Keystone XL are planning to use available processes to the fullest.

Because they helped Barack Obama get re-elected, they will be watching for specifics on his climate change intentions when he delivers his State of the Union address Tuesday evening.

And to ensure he stays on plan, they are behind the mass demonstration at the White House planned for Sunday, the day before President’s Day, when 20,000 people are expected to converge from across the continent to demand rejection of the Canadian pipeline project once and for all.

With the regulatory process on Keystone XL still under way, they said they will keep working on Capitol Hill and on the Administration to ensure a “robust” discussion on the oil sands’ impacts on the climate.

Even if Keystone XL is approved, they’ve got a litigation strategy in their back pocket to dispute the permit and cause further delays.

The upshot? Keystone XL will not be built by 2015, as TransCanada anticipates, because they will have barely finished the first phase of litigation on the permit, Mr. Vines predicted.

U.S. environmental activists, lead by and the Natural Resources Defense Council, don’t believe a word that Canadian governments, the Canadian oil sands industry and myriad analysts and researchers are saying about environmental improvements, Canada’s plans to build pipelines West and East to sell the oil to other markets if the U.S. doesn’t want it, that producers are using rail, trucks and barges to move their product in the absence of pipelines.

They believe a rejection of Keystone XL will go a long way to capping oil sands growth, but they are hedging their bets by also working with “Canadian partners” to stop Northern Gateway, the reversal of Line 9 and any other oil sands pipelines that would enable oil sands exports.

Here’s what they are saying about Keystone and the oilsands in general:

On Keystone XL: “The Keystone XL pipeline, by virtue of its size, by virtue of the fact that it’s opening up the Gulf Coast, has grown to be a very significant issue. The NRDC has identified that pipeline to be a very significant decision that signals both the expansion [of the oil sands] and where the U.S. is going on its clean energy policy.” — Danielle Droitsch, senior attorney at the NRDC focusing on Canada.

On why Keystone XL is not needed: “We made a major stride with car efficiency standards, and Keystone XL is not just about what our energy mix is today, it’s a 50-year piece of infrastructure that would increase the carbon intensity of the oil we do use, and once its built, we are stuck with it.” — Anthony Swift, attorney for the international program at NRDC.

On rail transport: “There is no question that … marginal barrels are being moved to the Gulf Coast, but the fact of the matter is that rail doesn’t support a model that justifies dramatic tar sands expansion.” — Mr. Swift.

On continuous improvement in the oil sands: “We are not convinced, from the outside looking in, that the environmental impacts are really being addressed. The issue is on the ground, and that includes expanding at these phenomenal rates. Right now the impacts on land, air and water are significant, and the technological improvements are microcosmic compared to what the impacts are.” — Ms. Droitsch.

On China’s investment in the oil sands: “Right now China doesn’t have the refining and upgrading capacity to take the bitumen. We have a large program in China and an office in Beijing. As far as we can tell, there is no intent by the Chinese government to take that capacity. We treat them more as investors than we do as consumers,” Susan Casey-Lefkowitz.

On Keystone XL’s contribution to U.S. energy security: “We don’t believe at all this is going to help energy security. We think this is an export pipeline.” — Ms. Droitsch.

On the U.S. relation with Canada if Keystone XL is rejected: “I don’t think that a rejection of Keystone XL would be a huge blow to Canada, or a huge surprise necessarily. The public concerns from Americans have been very clear, but also concerns in Canada have been very clear, about tar sands development, about the rate of expansion, about what it means climate change within Canada.” — Ms. Casey-Lefkowitz.

On the fossil fuel industry: “The fossil fuel industry has had their way with the world for a century and needs to be on the way out,” Jason Kowalski, policy director,

Trans Mountain Pipeline operators ignored alarms warning of Abbotsford oil spill: report

By Gordon Hamilton, Vancouver Sun

Kinder Morgan’s Sumas terminal or tank farm sits across from the intersection of McKee Road and Sumas Mountain Road in Abbotsford. Residents who smell vapours report to the emergency number.
Kinder Morgan’s Sumas terminal or tank farm sits across from the intersection of McKee Road and Sumas Mountain Road in Abbotsford. Residents who smell vapours report to the emergency number.

A National Energy Board report reveals that Trans Mountain Pipeline operators ignored warning alarms for three-and-a-half hours before responding to a gasket failure that resulted in a crude oil spill last January at its Sumas tank farm near Abbotsford.

It took six hours after the first warning sounded for Trans Mountain’s Sumas operator to arrive on the scene, where a spill was discovered. The crude oil did not escape from a containment area but noxious fumes were released into the atmosphere, affecting nearby residents.

The NEB estimates 90,000 litres of crude oil escaped.

This latest oil spill report comes at a time when pipeline owner Kinder Morgan is applying to expand the pipeline’s capacity from 300,000 barrels a year to 750,000 barrels to feed Asian markets. It has given the company a black eye, said Ben West, of the Wilderness Committee.

The report is critical of monitoring staff at Trans Mountain’s control centre at Edmonton, stating that the control centre operator failed to set an alarm within the required time limit of 15 minutes after an oil transfer had taken place at the Sumas tank farm the evening of Jan. 23, and then failed to respond to leak warning alarms that sounded every hour until the operator’s shift ended.

The NEB report finds that the leak was detected later than it should have been, the control centre operator did not follow procedures and there were improper alarm settings in a recently-installed data acquisition system. The board states Trans Mountain Pipeline has identified corrective actions to address the report’s findings.

“The board finds that these actions are appropriate to prevent the occurrence of similar incidents in the future.”

The report, which was released earlier this month, states that the operator assumed the alarms were being caused by high winds and did not send a field technician to investigate.

Further, the operator failed to understand that the volume in the tank was dropping.

“The night shift CCO (control centre operator) did notice the trend, but considering the initial volume change as relatively small, interpreted the cause as a weather event, not a possible leak,” states the report.

The spill happened at an undetermined time around midnight Jan. 23 as a result of a gasket failure on the roof of a tank caused by pressure from frozen water in the roof drain system.

The temperature was cold and a strong wind was blowing. There had been a transfer of warmer crude oil into the tank earlier in the evening; after the transfer, the control centre operator failed to set the warning alarm.

There were two alarm systems, a new system and a legacy system. The new alarm was set at 11:26 p.m., Jan. 23 but the one that the operator was to use for monitoring, the legacy system, was not set until 1:11 a.m., Jan. 24.

At 2:39 a.m., Jan. 24 the first alarm from the legacy system was received. The command centre operator decided it was a false alarm.

At 3:11 a second alarm was received, from the new system being installed on the pipeline, but the operator again assumed it was a false alarm.

At 4:11, a third alarm was received. The centre operator deemed it notable but did not see any change in the tank level so left a note on it for the day shift.

A new shift arrived at 5 a.m. The day operator reviewed tank levels but determined the one-cubic-metre change was within the accuracy level of the measuring device.

At 5:47 the fourth alarm was received and at 5:50, the operator called the Sumas terminal operator to investigate. The terminal operator arrived on the site at 6:50, discovered the leak and closed the roof drain, isolating the source.

The control centre received the first odour complaint at 7 a.m.

The fact that, similar to Enbridge’s 2010 spill on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, Trans Mountain Pipeline staff ignored warning alarms raises concerns over Trans Mountain’s plans to twin its Edmonton-to-Burnaby pipeline, said Jay Ritchlin, director-general of the David Suzuki Foundation.

“Even with highly advanced systems you will have a spill. This case seems to be a really egregious case of human error. It’s tragic. What you have is the release of a chemical that does significant harm to human health and the environment during the peak period when you could actually hope to do something about it,” he said. “I think people are seeing more and more instances of spills … and are seeing difficulty in getting any realistic response. I think it will make people more suspicious that these kinds of things can be run safely.”

After the spill, Kinder Morgan spokesperson Lexa Hobenshield said the only threat to residents was from nuisance odours.

In an email Tuesday, she said: “We take all incidents at our facilities seriously. Kinder Morgan Canada completed a thorough investigation and learned lessons after oil from a storage tank was released into a fully contained area on KMC’s Sumas Terminal property on January 24, 2012.

“As a result of our investigation, we have established new prevention and community notification measures, which we have communicated to the Sumas Mountain community, and will continue to provide updates as needed.” (What are these?)

Abbotsford resident and pipeline opponent Michael Hale, who discovered the NEB report, said it reinforces his concerns.

“There seems to be a propensity on the company’s part to minimize the seriousness of what was involved,” he said.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Kinder Morgan ignored warnings in Sumas Mountain oil spill: report

As Kinder Morgan visits Fraser Valley communities holding open houses on its Trans Mountain oil pipeline twinning project, the National Energy Board (NEB) has issued a critical report into the company’s oil spill in Abbotsford earlier this year.

On Jan. 24, 110,000 litres of oil leaked from a holding tank at Kinder Morgan’s Sumas Mountain terminal site. The cause was pressure on a gasket caused by freezing water, according to the NEB.

The report issued earlier this month to interested parties and posted on the NEB site on Nov. 22 found “the leak was detected later than it should have been,” the company’s management of procedures was “inadequate” and that the operator “failed to recognize the leak situation” on two occasions.

Critics of the company and its Trans Mountain pipeline say the report reveals deficiencies in Kinder Morgan’s response to leaks.

“When I ask the company about the risk of spills they point to the spill at the tank farm in Abbotsford in January this year, which they claim was ‘quickly contained,'” Michael Hale, Chilliwack resident and member of the PIPE UP network said. “Over 110,000 litres of a noxious petroleum product were spilled. The more information I get, including this report from the National Energy Board, suggests that the containment was not that simple or quick.”

In material handed out at the Chilliwack open house on Tuesday, the company says: “Trans Mountain pump stations and terminals have monitoring and spill containment systems that are rigorously maintained and meet NEB standards.”

The comparison has been made to the huge oil spill into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010 that was not noticed by Enbridge’s monitoring system in Edmonton for 17 hours.

In the Abbotsford spill, the NEB report said that at 2:39 a.m. on Jan. 24, a “creep” alarm was received at Trans Mountain’s Edmonton control centre but it was determined to be a false alarm due to high winds.

A second alarm at 3:11 a.m. was also dismissed as false.

It took two more alarms and a shift change before a terminal operator was sent out at 5:50 a.m. to attend the Sumas site and investigate the cause of the alarm.

At 6:50 a.m.-four hours after the first alarm-the operator arrived on site, discovered the leak, closed the valve and isolated the source.

There were no injuries or environmental damage as the leak was contained to the site although noxious fumes were released that affected neighbours.

The NEB was notified of the leak at 8:16 a.m. after the Transportation Safety Board and before the nearby Auguston Traditional School, the Abbotsford Police, FVRD, Fraser Health and MLAs John van Dongen and Randy Hawes, among other agencies.

Since 1961, there have been 78 reported spills on the Trans Mountain pipeline some of which were below the reportable threshold of 1.5 cubic barrels.

More than 70 per cent of all spills have occurred at pump stations or terminals, according to Kinder Morgan.

The company is currently amid public consultation meetings on a $4.3-billion twinning of its 1,150-kilometre pipeline. This would more than double the capacity from 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 750,000 bpd.

For its part, Kinder Morgan representatives say they have learned from recommendations made after every spill.

Critics are quick to point to incidents such as the one in Abbotsford as a cause for concern.

“Including the spill 2012, there have been a total of four major spills since Kinder Morgan bought this line in 2005,” said Chilliwack resident and PIPE UP member Sheila Muxlow. “One in Abbotsford in 2005 spilled 210,000 litres into Kilgard Creek. A spill of 250,000 litres in Burnaby in 2007 caused people to be evacuated from their homes, a cleanup that took over a year and fines levied on Kinder Morgan. Another spill in Burnaby in 2009 resulted in 200,000 litres being spilled at the tank farm there.”

The Nov. 22 report concluded: “The NEB expects companies to demonstrate a commitment to continual improvement in safety, security, and environmental protection, and in promoting a positive safety culture and strong management systems. The Board is satisfied that TMPU’s corrective actions are appropriate to prevent the occurrence of similar incidents in the future.”

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© Copyright (c) Chilliwack Times

Original source article: Kinder Morgan ignored warnings in Sumas Mountain oil spill: report

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Rebutting industry’s arguments against due dilligence for tar sands pipelines

Natural Resources Defense Council

Anthony Swift’s Blog

Rebutting industry’s arguments against due dilligence for tar sands pipelines

Anthony Swift

Posted November 14, 2012 in Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming, U.S. Law and Policy

In response to growing public concerns about the safety of tar sands pipelines and the risks that tar sands spills pose to their communities, industry lobbyists at the American Petroleum Institute (API) and its surrogates have been busy making the argument that industry’s plans to transport millions of barrels of tar sands on the U.S. pipeline network requires no due diligence. The Kalamazoo tar sands spill in Michigan tragically demonstrated the consequences industry’s failure to evaluate the safety risks of the pipeline transport of tar sands diluted bitumen – after more than two years and nearly a billion dollars in cleanup cost, officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have found that nearly 40 miles of the Kalamazoo river is still contaminated by submerged tar sands. In the face of a public increasingly concerned by proposals to build tar sands pipelines like Northern Gateway through British Columbia, Keystone XL through the Ogalla aquifer to the Gulf Coast, and Enbridge’s pipeline through Canada’s eastern provinces and New England, industry lobbyists have been making a number of disingenuous arguments to avoid doing due diligence. But their arguments simply do not withstand close scrutiny.

Let’s take a closer look.

Claim 1: According to API, “crude derived from tar sands has been transported by pipeline since 1968”

This statement is incredibly disingenuous. When the tar sands industry refers to crude oil derived from the tar sands, what they’re actually talking about is tar sands bitumen which has been processed in upgraders to create “synthetic crude oil.” Upgrading facilities located on tar sands mines have historically put raw tar sands bitumen through an initial refining process. While synthetic crude oil is ‘derived’ from tar sands, it is physically and chemically different than bitumen.

In our report Tar Sands Pipeline Safety Risks, NRDC raised the alarm that tar sands production had far outstripped the capacity of upgraders to process it. Rather than build new upgraders, in the late 90s industry began mixing tar sands bitumen with volatile natural gas liquids and transporting the heavy, viscous mixture – called diluted bitumen – in pipelines. It was this mixture that spilled into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010, causing the most expensive pipeline accident in U.S. history.

Claim 2: According to API, diluted bitumen is not heated for transportation in pipelines

API often makes the claim that tar sands diluted bitumen is not heated from transportation in pipelines and that “the range of temperatures for all crude oils from Canada is 40 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.” As they say, a picture is worth 1000 words, so the best place to start is TransCanada’s own temperature effects study for Keystone XL:

TranCanada Temperature Study.png

Figure 1. TransCanada’s temperature affects study for Keystone XL, State Department Final EIS

Now this chart may prove to be conservative – Keystone 1’s maximum temperature is listed as 158 degrees F. To clarify, tar sands diluted bitumen is so viscous, or thick, that when it is pumped at high pressures in pipelines, it generates a tremendous amount of friction which in turn generates heat. As tar sands diluted bitumen moves further down the pipeline, it gets hotter and hotter.

And that in itself is a cause for concern. Temperature is a known factor in pipeline spills – dramatically increasing the rate of spills due to external corrosion. A small patch of pipelines moving heavy crude in Kern county, California demonstrate the risk of high temperature pipelines. A statewide study of pipeline safety in the 90s revealed that higher temperature pipelines were almost 12 times more likely to fail due to external corrosion than ambient temperature pipelines moving conventional crude.

External Corrosion Incidents.png

Figure 2. Relationship between pipeline temperature and spills, California State Fire Marshalls (CSFM) 1993

Claim 3: The U.S. currently refines heavy crude oil blends from Mexico and Venezuela which have similar properties as diluted bitumen

This is another industry red herring. While certain crudes from Venezuela and Mexico have similar levels of corrosivity as Canadian tar sands, they are not transported on the U.S. pipeline system. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) tracks imports of crude into the country with some specificity. Their databases show that heavy crudes from Venezuela and Mexico are refined on the same coastal refineries in which they’re imported. The only crudes which are moved on the U.S. pipeline systems are ones which are significantly lighter and less corrosive – similar to crudes produced in West Texas and North Dakota.

Texas City Refinery.png

Figure 3. Satellite image of Texas City refinery – a typical coastal refinery where heavy crudes are processed at port of entry.

Claim 4: U.S. regulators at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) have sufficiently strong regulations to ensure the safety of diluted bitumen tar sands pipelines

That’s not what PHMSA’s Administrator Cynthia Quarterman told Congress. When asked, she told the House Energy and Power subcommittee that 1) pipeline safety regulations weren’t established with diluted bitumen in mind and 2) her agency couldn’t assure the safety of pipelines move diluted bitumen without more study.

Moreover, following the San Bruno and Kalamazoo pipeline disaster, federal investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have laid blame on both pipeline operators as well as regulators at PHMSA, repeatedly citing weak regulations and poor enforcement as contributing factors.

“Pervasive organizational failures by a pipeline operator along with weak federal regulations led to a pipeline rupture and subsequent oil spill in 2010” NTSB on Kalamazoo tar sands spill, July 10, 2012

Claim 5: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) controls the sediment levels in pipelines in their tariff agreements

FERC doesn’t have jurisdiction over pipeline safety for hazardous liquid pipelines and doesn’t set its tariff requirements to ensure their safety. Refineries have reported significantly more sediment in Canadian heavy crudes. In fact, under FERC’s tariff requirements, a pipeline like Keystone XL would move 125 pounds of sediments and water per minute. Neither industry nor regulators have investigated the safety risks associated with these sediment levels – and doing so isn’t part of FERC’s job or expertise.

Claim 6: Analysis of pipeline failure statistics by Albertan regulators at the ERCB “hasn’t detected any significant differences between pipelines handling conventional crude versus pipeline carrying crude bitumen, crude oil or synthetic crude oil.”

This would be useful information if the ERCB had any means of detecting differences between pipelines carrying diluted bitumen and conventional crude, but they don’t. ERCB tracks conventional crude, synthetic crude and diluted bitumen pipelines simply as “crude oil pipelines.” Those pipeline categories are all tracked as “crude oil” in ERCB’s spill statistics. Until the ERCB starts collecting more precise data, it will be unable to detect problems with diluted bitumen pipelines – whether or not they exist.

Claim 7: Alberta Innovates found that Canadian tar sands had properties similar to other heavy Canadian crudes

In Tar Sands Pipeline Safety Risks, NRDC compared diluted bitumen to West Texas Intermediate, a light crude representative of the crudes historically moved on the U.S. pipeline system. It’s similar to the crude produced throughout Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, North Dakota and Montana. API and other industry groups claimed it wasn’t fair to compare tar sands diluted bitumen with WTI, because diluted bitumen isn’t anything like WTI. On that point we agree. However, industry groups then argued that diluted bitumen should be compared with similar heavy crudes that had not been historically moved on the onshore pipeline system in significant volumes – such as Mexican, Venezuelan or Canadian crudes.

Alberta Innovates conducted such a study, comparing diluted bitumen to very heavy blends of Canadian crude which 1) required similar unconventional production processes as tar sands, 2) could not be moved in pipelines without being mixed with volatile light natural gas liquid condensates, 3) had not historically been moved in significant volumes on the U.S. pipeline system, 4) have significantly increased in production over the last ten years on the same pipelines moving tar sands.

Heavy Crude versus diluted bituemn.png

Figure 4. Both tar sands diluted bitumen and the heavy Canadian crudes Alberta Innovates compares it to have not been historically been move on the U.S. pipeline system in large volumes, data from U.S. Energy Information Administration

As we discussed when the report came out, industry should not be allowed to avoid doing diligence regarding diluted bitumen transport in pipeline because diluted bitumen compares with a similar crude for which industry has also not done due diligence.
Comments (Add yours)
Michael Berndtson — Nov 15 2012 08:43 AM

Tar sands is like creosote. Creosote is coal tar derived and cut or diluted with a solvent like diesel or mineral spirits so it can flow. Its specific gravity as a liquid mixture is around 1.0 to 1.1 (water being 1.0). The issue with tar sands flowing through the XL Pipeline along the Great Plains is upon the “extremely slight chance of a spill” – the fluid won’t necessarily stop at the near surface water table – but continue migration downward through the subsurface – potentially impacting the lower aquifer. When creosote is spilled into the subsurface it kind of separates into its original components as it flows downwards. So lower density stuff pools on the near surface water table – and the denser stuff to sinks until something stops it – tight clay or bedrock.

Bottom line. Subsurface remediation becomes a common place light non-aqueous phase liquid (LNAPL) petroleum hydrocarbon remediation to a big messy LNAPL and dense NAPL or DNAPL remediation. See Superfund sites for wood treating like Libby Groundwater. Hopefully this was considered already for permit bonding.

Michael Berndtson — Nov 15 2012 09:52 AM

The second paragraph in the comment above makes little to no sense. Sorry. The bottom-bottom line is that subsurface remediation, should it ever be necessary would be more similar to a typical DNAPL project rather than a more commonplace LNAPL projects, i.e. more costly. Always write, proof-read, submit (WPS).

Paving the way for pipelines

Kimberly Shearon

Ecojustice’s quick reaction re: Bill C-45 and what it means for the environment, particularly pipelines.

Paving the way for pipelines – industry wins, environment loses, more bad news for Canadians



OCT 18, 2012 12:54 PM


Oct 18, 2012

VANCOUVER — A second omnibus bill, C-45, tabled today by the federal government picks up where last spring’s budget bill left off, and further eliminates environmental hurdles for projects like Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline.

Buried in the 457-page bill are changes to the laws that once protected Canada’s waterways, including the neutering of the Navigable Waters Protection Act. As a result, of the 32,000 or so lakes in Canada, only 97 are still protected by this law.

Pipelines however, are also directly exempted from this law. Under the Act, pipeline impacts on Canada’s waterways will no longer be considered in environmental assessments.

“Simply put, lakes, rivers and streams often stand in the path of large industrial development, particularly pipelines. This bill, combined with last spring’s changes, hands oil, gas and other natural resource extraction industries a free pass to degrade Canada’s rich natural legacy,” said Devon Page, executive director of Ecojustice.

“With this bill, the federal government’s position is very clear: building pipeline projects like Northern Gateway and making way for increased tanker traffic is more important than safeguarding Canada’s rivers, lakes, streams and oceans. If you fish or play our waters, or care what goes in your water glass, you should be alarmed.”

The bill also contains changes to Canada Shipping Act, Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, and further changes to the Fisheries Act.

Bill C-45 follows in the wake of Bill C-38, the highly controversial omnibus budget bill unveiled by the federal government last spring. The bill, which pushed through sweeping changes to landmark environmental laws like the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and Fisheries Act, become a flashpoint for nation-wide protests and a target of international criticism.

“The federal government is giving these industries more than they have ever asked for, all at the expense of average Canadians who want to ensure that we protect our natural legacy for our kids,” Page said.

To arrange an interview, please contact:
Kimberly Shearon, communications coordinator | Ecojustice
604.685.5618 x242

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Pipeline Whistleblower: Cracks in The System

Insider ties poor weld inspections to rising rate of ruptures. Part two of a Tyee investigation. Part 2 of a series.

[Editor’s note: Keying off his new book The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude, Andrew Nikiforuk will give a free talk on the evening of Oct. 3 in Vancouver moderated by Tyee editor David Beers. Tickets are going fast. Details here.]

Evan Vokes, a 46-year-old Calgary pipeline engineer, is a man with a mission, and a conscience.

While building natural gas pipelines in Canada, Mexico and the United States for TransCanada Corporation, he started raising concerns about industry practices.

Vokes had an important inside job: he was the guy that ensured the pipelines were constructed safely.

His specific duties included metallurgy and welding. He also specialized in an important accountability process known as non-destructive examination. And he didn’t like what he was seeing.

At the invitation of Russ Girling, TransCanada’s CEO, Vokes provided documents to senior executives of the company (it is Keystone XL’s controversial sponsor) that allegedly documented systemic failure to follow code and regulations in 2011.

Shortly afterwards, the engineer lodged a complaint with regulators in Canada and the U.S. Last May TransCanada fired the engineer without cause.

Drawing on examples from the records of Enbridge and Kinder Morgan (the CBC is investigating TransCanada’s record) Vokes is going public with his concerns about an industry facing unprecedented growth and what even the National Energy Board (NEB) describes as “an increased trend in the number and the severity” of pipeline incidents.

Vokes has stellar company. In particular, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has accused Enbridge, a Canadian company jointly regulated by the NEB and the U.S. Pipeline Hazardous Materials Standard Administration (PHMSA), of nurturing a “culture of deviance” on safety and integrity issues after a dramatic Michigan pipeline rupture in 2010. That debacle caused the largest and most expensive onshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Moreover, a lengthy 2008 audit of the company by the National Energy Board documented similar flaws two years before the event.

It found that company was not upholding the rules and regulations on pipeline integrity and safety in Canada either.

“Enbridge’s integrity management program for pipelines and facilities do not meet some of the provisions required by” Onshore Pipeline Regulations and CAS-Z662 Oil and Gas Pipeline Systems, said the extensive audit which the NEB did not make public at the time.

In addition to “multiple findings of non-compliance and non-conformance” with regulations, the NEB also documented that Enbridge didn’t have a process for “defining and evaluating the level of qualification and competence of contractors and consultants.”

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The company also didn’t know how valid and effective its assessments of corrosion and cracking were in its pipeline safety program.

As a result the NTSB concluded that Enbridge’s Michigan spill was partly the result of weak regulations, weak enforcement and a corporate disregard for learning from past mistakes.

In attempt to catch-up with events, the National Energy Board released a discussion paper on pipeline safety that pointedly echoes the very issues raised by Vokes.

The paper says that “accident prevention requires active leadership by management on safety issues” and adds that “there must be effective implementation of the right controls to manage, mitigate or eliminate hazards and risk.”

‘Someone is going to die’

It’s exactly these kind of problems and accountability failures that Vokes is now trying to highlight as Canada prepares to double its pipeline capacity with controversial bitumen and diluent highways across the continent.

“Someone is going die and they just don’t know it yet,” explains Vokes, a large, intense and careful man who spoke to both the Tyee and the CBC over the last several weeks.

He’s also filed his concerns and allegations with the National Energy Board, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) and U.S. Pipeline Hazardous Materials Standard Administration (PHMSA). Documents have also been sent to the office of the prime minister.

The NEB told the Tyee that the board is taking the allegations and complaints made by Vokes seriously and is investigating them. In contrast, AGEGA, a self-regulating professional body, did not answer two separate queries from the Tyee.

“My motivation is to prevent unnecessary death and environmental damage,” adds the engineer who has also been a welder and millwright.

“The controls for the industry are there but they are not being implemented or enforced. We have the technology to do things right, but we don’t have the willpower.”

Adds Vokes: “The pipeline industry must take accountability for the true safe construction of pipelines rather than a risk based approach based on faulty data sets on threats to integrity.”

Risk-filled enterprise

Pipeline builders depend on high quality steel, careful engineering, expert welding and competent safety programs that are all subject to a variety of strains and stresses including commercial pressures to get pipe in the ground as fast as possible.

Dense professional jargon, detailed engineering codes and intricate metal science often make pipeline construction and integrity “a difficult subject to understand,” adds Vokes.

“The public has little protection from engineering decisions on pipelines, whether or not they are made by professional engineers,” says the engineer.

The most critical issue is not what companies do after a pipeline has been built, explains Vokes, but the quality of materials, welding and inspection performed during the construction.

In fact, the near doubling of pipeline incidents on Canadian pipelines (from an average of 95 to 161 in 2011) in some ways mirrors British Columbia’s leaky condo scandals.

Several codes now govern the construction of pipelines carrying hydrocarbons in North America, including the American Society for Mechanical Engineering B31.4 and B31.8 and the Canadian Standard’s Association Z662 also known as Oil and Gas Pipeline Systems.

These codes are good says Vokes, but “do not contain a blanket statement for permitting a violation when a company is in a hurry. Those violations happen everyday in this town. But there is no ‘get er done’ clause.”

Case examples: Cracks in the system

In 2008, Enbridge built a 504-kilometre long oil pipeline from Cromer, Manitoba to Clearbrook, Minnesota called Southern Lights.

Shortly afterwards, the National Energy Board, which oversees the safety of interprovincial pipelines, heard about numerous welding quality problems along the pipeline.

“Given the potential systemic nature of defects associated with pipe manufacture and pipe field joining” an NEB letter asked Enbridge for more information about the cracks popping up in its girth welds, a growing epidemic throughout the industry.

A girth weld joins the individual sections of the pipe. If it is not done properly it can break or crack either during construction or later, resulting in leaks and ruptures. PHMSA flagged the problem with a major advisory in 2010.

Enbridge replied to NEB’s request for more information with an unsigned report on girth weld cracks. The four-page document noted that there were 21 cracks and two hydrostatic testing failures in the Southern Lights pipeline on the Canadian side of the project as well as cracks in the U.S. portion. (Hydrostatic testing fills a pipeline with water under high pressure and is a rudimentary way of determining if a pipeline will rupture in service.)

Enbridge’s anonymous 2009 report (like any professional group such as doctors and lawyers, engineers must authenticate and validate documents by signing them) explained that the cracking problems “occurred in high wind chill conditions brought about by ambient temperatures combined with strong Prairie winds.” It added the pipeline had been built according to code and duly repaired “with best welding practices.”

But Vokes says that’s probably not the whole story as pipelining is an outdoor endeavour. A properly supervised welding operation takes the weather conditions into account and modifies welding procedures accordingly. “If you have a high repair rate on a pipeline then you are not following proper welding procedure,” he explains. “Pipeline welding is a manufacturing process on the move.”

Implementation is everything in this business, adds Vokes. “Quality plans count. If you don’t make your welders follow the specified plan, you have a fuck-up.”

Industry experts as well as a 2002 paper on the integrity of pipelines make exactly the same point: “Cracking in pipelines is not usually a defect assessment problem; it is usually an indication that operation, product or environment is a major problem.”

In fact a natural gas pipeline (Rocky Express) built by Houston-based Kinder Morgan across the Great Plains in 2007 and 2008 experienced endless repair work due to shoddy welding practices and commercial pressures to get the pipe in the ground.

In 2012, PHMSA fined Kinder Morgan, which wants to expand its TransMountain pipeline across the Canadian Rockies, nearly half a million dollars for 13 specific violations of pipeline construction codes and regulations. (The NEB currently has no system for fining companies that violate regulations but has proposed one.)

The list of Kinder Morgan’s transgressions is long.

According to PHMSA, Kinder Morgan did not follow quality welding procedures properly; nor did it perform welding “in accordance with proper procedures.” It also “did not adequately inspect the welding.” In addition, the company failed to prevent damage to pipe while backfilling trenches. Nor did the company remove defects in the pipe properly. It also didn’t use the properly designed pipe along one section.

But poor welding isn’t the only cause of cracked pipe in the industry. External and internal corrosion play major roles as does dented and damaged pipe. The National Energy Board now reports that nearly 30 per cent of all pipeline failures Canada are due to cracking.

Non-destructive examination

During the construction of a pipeline, inspectors must confirm and validate a number of procedures to ensure the integrity of the welds on an ongoing basis.

Manual welds with a cellulosic rod are common for pipes going up and down steep slopes. But a bad weld, say, at the top (12 o’clock position at the start of the weld) or at the bottom (six o’clock position) on a high strength steel pipe made by a cellulosic rod, can cause what the industry refers to as delayed cracking, cold cracking or hydrogen cracks.

Hydrogen, the first element on the periodic table, can migrate in solid steel to an area of stress at warm temperatures. When the steel cools, the hydrogen can get stuck and cause delayed cracking. It has long been a major issue in pipeline and building construction around the world.

To check for such cracks the industry uses a variety of different tools after the weld is completed. (In engineer jargon, “non-destructive examination” (NDE) checks the quality of pipeline welds and materials without damaging them.)

Or as Vokes puts it: “Welding determines the speed of construction and NDE holds it hostage.”

The primary tools include radiography (it looks for defects in pipe density with gamma rays); manual ultra sonic, which looks for defects by sending a signal into the pipe with a fixed angle probe; or automatic ultra sonic (AUT). It uses sophisticated probes that look at the pipe from many angles.

Of the three tools AUT is the most effective for scanning the whole pipe and identifying the nature of defects and validating the integrity of the weld. “With AUT you can inspect any pipe wall, a quarter inch or thicker. It’s the best.”