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Climate Progress

Climate Progress

Joe Romm is a Fellow at American Progress and is the editor of Climate Progress, which New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called "the indispensable…

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Defective Pipeline Concerns Prompt New Rules For Keystone XL

TransCanada will have to meet two extra safety conditions if it gets the go-ahead to build the northern portion of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, due to concerns from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) that defects could occur during construction.

PHMSA slipped in the two conditions towards the end of the appendices of the State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement, released this January. They dictate that TransCanada hires a third-party contractor chosen by PHMSA to monitor Keystone XL’s construction and report any faulty construction techniques back to the agency. In addition, TransCanada will be required to adopt a quality management program to make sure that Keystone XL is “built to the highest standards by both Keystone personnel and its many contractors.”

As AP reports, PHMSA has reason to be worried about construction defects along the pipeline. Last year, PHMSA sent TransCanada two letters warning the company about defects on Keystone XL’s southern leg, which runs from Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast and began shipping oil in January.

In one letter from September, PHMSA said TransCanada had experienced a “high weld rejection rate,” with 72 percent of welds needing repair over the course of just one week. During another week, 205 out of 425 welds required repairs. PHMSA inspectors found TransCanada wasn’t using approved welding procedures to connect pieces of pipeline, and that the company had improperly tested the workers they hiring — meaning the workers building the pipeline weren’t qualified to do so.

TransCanada’s high weld rejection rates — described as “horrible” by one engineering professor — is sobering news. Robert Bea, professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, told the AP that if Keystone XL were held to the same standards as a nuclear power plant, a weld rejection rate of one-tenth of a percent would be alarming.

“In this case, you are talking about a pipeline that has requirements on its performance that rival those of a nuclear power plant,” he said.

PHMSA also sent a letter to TransCanada saying that government inspectors had noticed parts of the pipeline had been laid without properly clearing rocks away from pipeline trenches, and that a coating that protects the pipeline from corrosion had been damaged due to improper welding. That damage led to Keystone XL being dug up in 98 places for coating repairs.

TransCanada told AP that the company had “identified and addressed” the issues pointed out in the letters. “The fact that the anomalies on the exterior of the pipe were discovered in the first place is a direct result of the 57 special safety conditions we agreed to implement on this project and Keystone XL, many of which are not required by regulation but are standard practice on all TransCanada pipeline construction projects, ” Davis Sheremata, a spokesman for TransCanada, said.

The letters aren’t the only evidence of faults along Keystone XL’s southern leg, however. A November report found that TransCanada had dug up the pipeline 125 times to fix dents and sags, defects that can weaken pipelines and eventually lead to spills. And as Bloomberg reported last year, TransCanada won’t be using the most advanced spill detection technology, which employs infrared sensors or fiber-optic cables to find even tiny spills, on Keystone XL. That failure to include high-tech spill detection is concerning, especially when paired with news that PHMSA could be shrinking its staff by nine percent by mid-June, due to agency-offered employee buyouts. President Obama’s decision on Keystone XL isn’t expected until after November.

By Katie Valentine




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  • ComradeAnon on May 28 2014 said:
    When the claims for jobs were mentioned, didn't realize they were for environmental remediation.
  • Rob Dekker on May 29 2014 said:
    This ain't no ordinary oil pipeline.

    It will be transporting diluted bitumen, which contain 30 % ultra light hydocarbons as diluent (incidentally most of which will be from our own US sources), and the rest bitumen from the Canadian tar sands. Which contain 4-5 % sulfur, an acidity of up to 10x what even heavy Maya crude, high concentration of heavy metals and carcinogens.

    Not to mention that this toxic sludge is pumped at elevated temperatures (operating temperature 120-150 F) and double the pressure (1,100 psi instead of 600) of other oil pipelines.

    What could possibly go wrong ?

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