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Enviro group reacts to new tar sands oil spill

The National Resources Defense Council responds to the most recent spill of tar sands oil — from the very pipeline that the proposed Keystone XL line will connect to — and point out that this is just the latest in a long line of spills from a line that is less than a year old.

Over the last year we’ve had many recent indications of the risks of tar sands diluted bitumen pipelines – an 840,000 gallon spill in Michigan, a 250,000 gallon spill outside Chicago, a 1.3 million gallon spill in Alberta, as well as our recent report examining the safety of tar sands pipelines. On May 7, the Keystone tar sands pipeline provided yet another warning when it spilled approximately 21,000 gallons of crude in North Dakota. This is its eleventh and most significant spill. Considering that Keystone has been in operation for less than a year and it was predicted to spill no more than once every seven years, this is yet another troubling indicator that U.S. safety regulations intended for pipelines moving conventional oil may not be sufficient for pipelines moving diluted bitumen. And the Keystone pipeline is not going to get any stronger or safer than it is now, as many of the risks associated with hot, high pressure diluted bitumen pipelines – including internal corrosion, abrasion and stress corrosion cracking – only weaken pipelines over time. One has to wonder whether the leaks in the new Keystone pipeline are our canary in the coal mine, portending worse things to come…

Let’s put the latest Keystone spill in perspective. Between 2002 and 2010, the U.S. pipeline system, which includes approximately 55,000 miles of crude pipelines, had only two leaks of 21,000 gallons or more involving pump station valve failures. And the system is over forty years old on average. Meanwhile, the brand new 1,070 mile Keystone has had one such leak in less than a year of operation, as well as ten smaller ones.

Interestingly, TransCanada didn’t even consider pumping station leaks when it filed its safety plans with state regulators:

According to the company’s risk analysis on file with the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, a leak of 50 barrels or more on the Keystone system would be expected once every seven years. The pipeline began moving oil in June.

Cunha said this estimate doesn’t apply to pump stations, which weren’t included in the risk analysis. Including Saturday’s spill, this is the 10th release of oil on the Keystone line, all of them at pump stations, Cunha said.

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