Last Thursday, the Association of Oil Pipe Lines’ Andy Black sat down with E&E TV to talk about pipeline safety and the initial findings from the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the 2010 Marshall, Michigan incident. Black spoke at length about how what flowed through Line 6B – crude oil from Alberta’s oil sands – was not a contributing factor in external corrosion discovered in NTSB’s analysis.
You can watch the full interview here, but here are some excerpts from the interview:
Monica Trauzzi: So, what does [the NTSB] report and sort of the things that it outlines and lays out for the future, what does it mean for the Keystone XL pipeline? What are the broader ramifications of it?
Andy Black: I don’t think it has much to do with Keystone XL. The NTSB made a specific finding that internal corrosion was not the cause of the accident. And the allegations are that oil sands crude is more corrosive than other crude oils and that’s just not the case. When you look at Department of Transportation pipeline accident records going back to 2002, when the accident records improved, not one oil pipeline carrying crude oil from the Canadian oil sands has had an internal corrosion-caused failure. Bitumen is produced in the Canadian oil sands and, yes, it comes out sandy. But it’s processed up there in Alberta. It’s separated from the sands, the other sediment, the water. It’s diluted by being mixed with natural gas condensate and then the diluted bitumen that’s ready for pipeline transportation is just like any heavy crude. In fact, it has to pass the product quality specifications that are a standard part of FERC tariffs and those specifications deal with corrosive elements like sediment and water. We get this charge a lot, that oil sands crude is more expensive and it’s just not logical. Pipelines are very expensive to build and the operators expect them to have long lives. Refineries are expensive to build and retrofit and are expected to have long lives. It’s just not logical that a pipeline operator or a refinery would put into it an asset like crude oil that is too corrosive for it to handle.
MT: The because the initial process is different than what we’ve seen before, how do you guarantee that it’s not going to be, over the long term, more corrosive?
AB: Well, it’s tested. It’s tested when it’s ready to go into a pipeline. Any shipper can do product quality specification tests and an oil pipeline operator does too. An oil pipeline doesn’t want a corrosive product to enter its pipeline and ruin the pipeline. Absolutely, the production is different. It’s either mined or it’s developed in situ and bitumen is connected with sands, but the sands are left up in Fort McMurray. What moves through a pipeline is like any other heavy crude, say from Mexico, Venezuela, the Bakersfield area of California. Those have been moved safely for decades.
MT: So, there are specific questions now relating to the chemicals the Keystone pipeline will carry, including the diluting agents that will sort of help the crude flow. From a standard practice perspective, is there anything out of the ordinary or different in the chemical makeup that TransCanada will be using or would be using in the Keystone XL pipeline? Or is it business as usual?
AB: Generally, the bitumen is mixed with a natural gas condensate. That’s a byproduct of natural gas production. It’s one of those items that is separated when the natural gas is processed. The National Academy of Sciences is going to look into this. Congress required a study of whether the oil sands crude is more corrosive than other crude oils. That study starts next week and if that study is done fairly, it’s going to show what the market knows, what refiners and shippers know, that it’s not any more corrosive than other crude oils.
MT: So on Keystone, as the process moves forward for the southern leg of the pipeline, do you have any reason to believe that there won’t be full-scale approval of Keystone XL?
AB: We’ve heard the larger Keystone XL is set for a decision by the State Department in the first quarter of 2013. I hope it’s approved. I would have lost money long ago thinking that it would have been approved awhile back. I think the benefits to consumers and workers are so strong and pipelines are the safest way to move fuel. So right now, from the Canadian oil sands and from the Bakken, if you don’t have sufficient pipeline capacity, it’s moving by rail, it’s moving by truck. Those are several times riskier than pipelines, which are the safest way to move these fuels.