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James Stafford

James Stafford

James Stafford is the Editor of Oilprice.com

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Weekly Energy Update: Keystone XL – The Safest Pipeline Ever Built

A leaky future with pipelines and the unresolved fallout from the Manhattan Project; water competition in dry states between frackers and farmers; and a look at exploration challenges in the forbidden (and forbidding) Arctic in this week’s premium newsletter …

Pipeline leak detection is about to go another round in the media with TransCanada Corp.’s announcement that Keystone XL will be the safest pipeline ever built and won’t need expensive, high-tech leak detection systems. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any leak detection, it just means the pipeline will rely on computer software, flyovers and surveys rather than higher tech infrared sensors, acoustic sensors, and fiber optic cables. The difference is between detecting big leaks and small leaks (before they become big). It could be an issue for Keystone XL as it awaits approval from the US government, even if it will be the safest pipeline ever built. 

The US Environmental Protection Agency has already recommended that Keystone XL employ advanced external leak detection tools, but TransCanada says it’s not practical for its 4.7 million-barrel/day pipeline capacity. This despite the fact that new leak detection systems would have reportedly cut 75% of the cost of major leaks that totaled $1.7 billion in damage (not including clean-up costs and financial impact) between 2001 and 2011.

If TransCanada gets it way on this it will mean that its planned internal leak detection would only pick up spills of more than 12,000 barrels per day or more, according to some accounts. But external leak detection systems could cost an additional $700,000+ for TransCanada. (Earlier this year we ran a very interesting interview with Synodon Inc. (SYD) on leak detection. Be sure to check that out here).

Water is also emerging as a major issue this summer in states where hydraulic fracking is prevalent, such as Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. All of these states are suffering from drought and farmers and frackers are going to have to compete against each other and amongst themselves for water resources. As demand rises and supply is sucked up, the price of water is increasing in these areas. Of course, frackers can afford the higher water prices much easier than farmers.  

And then we have the stalled clean-up of the nuclear wasteland that is Hanford Nuclear Reservation, back on the national media radar thanks to a personal visit to the site by newly appointed Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. Moniz has promised to have a new plan by the end of the summer for resolving the clean-up of the US’ most contaminated nuclear site. The home of the World War II-era Manhattan Project—where the plutonium was made for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki—needs a massive waste water plant to treat the millions of gallons of radioactive waste leaking from 177 underground tanks. So far the waste water treatment plant has had a few stops and starts. The short story is that it’s gotten nowhere, while highly radioactive waste continues to leak out. Even when it does get started, the clean-up will last decades and cost billions—the last tally is $115 billion, on top of the $36 billion taxes have already funded.

For our premium subscribers, this week in the summer heat we bring you Arctic cold, taking you through the paradox of climate change, which simultaneously opens up the Arctic for breathtaking exploration potential and poses some frightening environmental challenges. We also bring you the latest (and probably the last, for now) in our ongoing series on US shale plays. And don’t miss out on trader Dan Dicker’s weekly market analysis.

Give Premium a try – it’s completely free for the first 30 days and we have multiple payment options for subscribers. It is a time investment you will not regret making. Click here for more info.

That’s it for this week – I hope you enjoy the intelligence notes below and have a great weekend.

Best regards,

James Stafford
Editor, Oilprice.com


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