Extra Safety for Pipeline Expansion

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 @ 09:03 PM gHale

In light of all the news regarding pipeline safety over the past few months, TransCanada Corporation is adding in extra safety features to a proposed oil sands pipeline expansion that is causing concern among environmentalists and U.S. officials, a company executive said.

The pipeline expansion, called the Keystone XL project, would dramatically increase the amount of Canadian crude flowing into the U.S. and is pending federal approval.

In a deal with the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the company agreed to 57 safety measures above and beyond those required by law, said TransCanada Executive Vice President of Operations and Major Projects Donald Wishart.

“If we didn’t agree to these 57, we might not be allowed to operate,” Wishart said in a recent interview on the sidelines of the IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates conference in Houston.

The safety additions, which will bolster the scrutiny of the line’s building materials and increase the frequency of its inspection once in operation, come amid stiff resistance from environmentalists and some lawmakers worried about potential leaks into aquifers and other environmentally sensitive areas.

Wishart, however, said the agreement had little to do with pressure from environmental groups, however.

“It’s just the continuing evolution of pipeline safety,” Wishart said.

Upon completion, the 1,600-mile expansion would more than double the Keystone system’s capacity to 1.1 million barrels a day and extends its route to the Gulf Coast, the heart of the U.S. refining industry and the largest consumer of heavy crude oil in the world.

The pipeline’s proponents argue that increased oil exports from Canada — already the largest source of U.S. crude oil imports — will lessen the need for imports from less stable foreign countries.

PHMSA asked TransCanada last year to add more safety measures than required for other pipelines when the company had applied for a special permit to use more pressure than normal in moving the oil through certain sections of the pipe.

TransCanada withdrew the permit application in August 2010 after deciding to keep pressure levels normal, but decided to implement PHMSA’s extra safety requirements anyway to ensure the project receives U.S. regulators’ approval, TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said.

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