Old pipelines leak more than new ones

old-pipe-graphic1_0  The Pegasus PipeliA primer on TransCanada’s West-East pipeline ne was 65 years old when it ruptured. Older pipelines, which have undergone decades of wear and corrosion, can be more prone to leaks, and thus less safe, than new pipelines—especially pipelines carrying corrosive dilbit at higher temperatures.

According to the corrective action order issued by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the “age of the pipeline”, as well as the reversal of its flow and its location near water resources and populated areas, makes the Pegasus Pipeline “hazardous to life, property, and the environment” until “corrective measures” are taken. Even Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver blamed the spill on the pipeline’s age.

Reversing pipelines can be dangerous

When Exxon reversed the Pegasus Pipeline in 2006, it was the first time it had ever been done, a feat of engineering Exxon (ironically, in hindsight) called “historic”. According to federal rules, no permit application or safety review was required to reverse the flow of the Pegasus Pipeline.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) sees things differently now. After the spill, PHMSA issued a corrective action order that admits “a change in the direction of flow can affect the hydraulic and stress demands on the pipeline.”  (Woops. Should have thought of that before I guess.)

The Mayflower-Pegasus spill now brings into focus, perhaps for the first time, the increasingly popular industry practice of reversing and repurposing existing pipelines in order to transport booming supplies of heavy crude out of the tar sands region north of the border.

Think tar sands pipelines are safe? Think again.

All of these characteristics make transporting tar sands crude by pipeline much more dangerous than conventional crude, and is something decision makers must carefully consider when they review permits for the growing network of new and repurposed tar sands pipelines that will run through or near hundreds of communities and thousands of streams, rivers, wetlands, lakes and aquifers in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

‘Cause really, no one should have to live with the risks and consequences of tar sands oil spilling into their own backyard, local water supply or favourite fishing hole. I mean, really.

(Read more about dilbit in Inside Climate News’s Dilbit Primer, and about the enhanced risks dilbit poses to pipelines at NRDC’s website. There’s also a good article on National Geographic’s site.)

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