The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Corrosive: Keystone XL Study Misses Mark

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted July 14, 2011

Let's see now. With a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline drawing closer, a new scare study attacking the pipeline's construction, safety and the oil it will bring from Canada, will appear in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

This week the University of Nebraska's John Stansbury released a personal analysis asserting that TransCanada, the Keystone XL's builder, is trying to win support for the project by underplaying its potential environmental hazards. Unfortunately, the analysis appears to be rife with misinformation, faulty comparisons and errors.

TransCanada cites a number of problems in the report. Key points involve the pipeline's potential susceptibility to corrosion (internally and externally), the nature of the oil sands oil it would deliver from Alberta to U.S. refiners and TransCanada's monitoring capabilities.

The fact is the pipeline's external coating makes corrosion highly unlikely, based on more than 20 years of use on other pipelines. The system will deliver a variety of crude oil products, none of which will destroy the pipeline from within and cause leaks. Makes sense: Why would a company invest $13 billion in a project and then ship things in it that cause it to fail? The company vigorously defends its ability to detect and react if a leak occurs.

Pipelines are the U.S. economy's lifeline. The Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration says that to move the volume of fuels our economy needs through even a moderately sized pipeline would require a string of tanker trucks, about 750 per day, loading up and moving out every two minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In an op-ed in the Lincoln Journal-Star, Association of Oil Pipe Lines (AOPL) President and CEO Andrew Black and Consumer Energy Alliance President David Holt note that more than 200,000 miles of pipelines safely move oil and other energy products every day in the U.S. More than 20,000 miles of pipelines cross Nebraska (Stansbury's primary interest area), including 3,000 miles of hazardous liquid pipelines, many of which co-exist with the state's main groundwater source.

These facts speak to pipelines' safety and reliability. According to AOPL, spills along the right-of-way have fallen from 2.0 incidents per thousand miles (1999-2001) to 0.8 incidents per thousand miles in 2007-2009, nearly a 60 percent improvement. When spills occur, 80 percent of them involve less than 50 barrels.

Black and Holt conclude with this:

"Keystone XL will ship a wide variety of crude oil types including conventional oil, shale oil, partially upgraded synthetic oil and oil sands derived bitumen blends. None of these crude types create a risk of destroying the pipeline from within and causing leaks. Furthermore these products have shipped and are currently being shipped across to the US via other cross‐border pipelines from Canada. It would be an uneconomic business proposition to spend $13 billion dollars constructing a pipeline system that would be destroyed by the product it transported."

That points to the larger picture. The Keystone XL would deliver upwards of 830,000 barrels of oil per day and create 20,000 U.S. jobs in the construction phase alone. A Canadian Energy Research Institute study estimates the number of U.S. jobs supported by Canadian oil sands could grow to 465,000 in 2035. All are incredibly important numbers for America's energy and economic future.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.