On March 29, an oil pipeline running through Mayflower, Arkansas experienced a leak that resulted in the evacuation of 22 homes and immediate clean up efforts from the pipeline’s operator, ExxonMobil. According to reports, the Pegasus line was carrying Wabasca Heavy crude oil – a blend of crude produced in the Athabasca oil sands region in Alberta.
Of course, in the minds of oil sands opponents, all pipelines are made alike and are uniformly threatened by oil sands crudes. In fact, following the news of the incident, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) stated:
“This latest pipeline incident is a troubling reminder that oil companies still have not proven that they can safely transport Canadian tar sands oil across the United States without creating risks to our citizens and our environment.”
We have the top five reasons why that’s not the case.
1) Oil sands crudes have been transported safely in the U.S. for more than 40 years. Accident reports from the Pipeline & Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) from 2002 through mid-2012 show zero internal corrosion-related releases from pipelines carrying diluted bitumen.
2) Oil sands crudes are not more corrosive than other crude oils. In a 2011 report, Canadian research group Alberta Innovates found that acid and sulfur compounds found in oil sands crudes “are too stable to be corrosive and some may even decrease corrosion.” Recent testing and studies by ASTM International and Penspen support this conclusion.
3) Oil sands crudes are transported at comparable pipeline pressures as other heavy crude oils. All U.S. pipelines must operate under Maximum Operating Pressure limitations administered by PHMSA. In other words, pipelines are constructed to specifications that ensure they can handle the intended operating pressure and the type of liquid that flows through them.
4) Oil sands crudes are not heated for transportation in pipelines above the temperature of other crude oils. The range of temperatures for all crude oils from Canada is 40-135 degrees Fahrenheit. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Code for Pipeline Transportation Systems for Liquid Hydrocarbons and Other Liquids does not consider pipeline temperatures to be elevated unless they exceed 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
5) Keystone XL would “have a degree of safety over any other.” As mentioned in point #3, pipelines must meet certain specifications before transporting any type of crude, no matter if it’s heavy or light. Keystone XL, which will also carry heavy oil from Alberta, is going above and beyond those requirements by adopting 57 extra safety measures, leading the State Department to declare that the project would “have a degree of safety over any other.”