diluted bitumen

Thu, 2014-06-19 09:57Steve Horn
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Silent Coup: How Enbridge is Quietly Cloning the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

While the debate over the TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has raged on for over half a decade, pipeline giant Enbridge has quietly cloned its own Keystone XL in the U.S and Canada. 

It comes in the form of the combination of Enbridge's Alberta Clipper (Line 67), Flanagan South and Seaway Twin pipelines.

The pipeline system does what Keystone XL and the Keystone Pipeline System at large is designed to do: ship hundreds of thousands of barrels per day of Alberta's tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) to both Gulf Coast refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, and the global export market.

Alberta Clipper and Line 67 expansion

Alberta Clipper was approved by President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department (legally required because it is a border-crossing pipeline like Keystone XL) in August 2009 during congressional recess. Clipper runs from Alberta to Superior, Wis.

Map Credit: U.S. Department of State

Initially slated to carry 450,000 barrels per day of dilbit to market, Enbridge now seeks an expansion permit from the State Department to carry up to 570,000 barrels per day, with a designed capacity of 800,000 barrels per day. It has dubbed the expansion Line 67.

As reported on previously by DeSmogBlog, Line 67 is the key connecter pipeline to Line 6A, which feeds into the BP Whiting refinery located near Chicago, Ill., in Whiting, Ind. BP Whiting — the largest in-land refinery in the U.S. — was recently retooled to refine larger amounts of tar sands under the Whiting Refinery Modernization Project.

Thu, 2014-06-05 10:55Steve Horn
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Navy SEAL Commander Behind Bin Laden Killing: Keystone XL Vulnerable To Terrorism

Dave Cooper, Command Master Chief SEAL (Retired) for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), has authored a threat assessment concluding TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is potentially at-risk of a terrorism attack. 

In the report, Cooper concluded operational security vulnerabilities for the pipeline have been overlooked by the U.S. government. Cooper —  most famous for overseeing the Abbottabad, Pakistan Osama Bin Laden raid as the commander of Navy SEAL Team Six — wrote the report as a consultant for billionaire Tom Steyer's advocacy group NextGen Climate Action

“The very nature of Keystone XL’s newsworthiness, should it ever be built, increases its attractiveness as a target to terrorists: Keystone XL, aside from being a 'soft' target just like any other pipeline, has a built-in emotional impact that can’t be denied or wished away,” he wrote in the report's introduction.

“That simple fact, a newsworthy proposal that engenders strong passions, should clue in pipeline owners and government officials to the very real possibility of intentional attack.”

For the report, Cooper utilized a “red cell” methodology, parlance for U.S. special operations forces performing pre-mission reconnaissance, using open source data readily available to terrorists on the internet. In so doing, the special operations forces snuff out operational security (“OpSec” in military lingo) weaknesses, which they use as actionable intelligence in defense missions.

In the report, Cooper explained he “designed [the methodology this way] to showcase weaknesses in the current reality by exploiting the same information to which an outside terrorist group would have access.”

Cooper's probe included a due diligence trip out three redacted Great Plains locations*, where Phase I of the Keystone Pipeline System is currently operational (the northern leg of Keystone XL is Phase IV). Going out into the field, Cooper came away shocked by his discoveries.

His findings raise a troubling question: have real Keystone XL terrorism threats been ignored, while non-violent activists have been labeled potential eco-terrorists? Cooper offered his take on this question to DeSmogBlog.

Mon, 2014-05-05 10:33Steve Horn
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For First Time, TransCanada Says Tar Sands Flowing to Gulf in Keystone XL South

TransCanada admitted for the first time that tar sands oil is now flowing through Keystone XL's southern leg, now rebranded the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project. The company confirmed the pipeline activity in its 2014 quarter one earnings call.

Asked by Argus Media reporter Iris Kuo how much of the current 300,000 to 400,000 barrels per day* of oil flowing from the Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas pipeline is tar sands (“heavy crude,” in industry lingo), TransCanada CEO Russ Girling confirmed what many had already suspected.

“I don’t have that exact mix, but it does have the ability to take the domestic lights as well as any heavies that find a way down to the Cushing market, so it is a combination of the heavies and the lights,” said Girling. “I just don’t know what the percentage is.”

The Keystone Pipeline System — of which Keystone XL's northern leg is phase four of four phases — is and always has been slated to carry Alberta's tar sands to targeted markets. So the announcement is far from a shocker.


Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

More perplexing is why it took so long for the company to tell the public that tar sands oil now flows through the half of the pipeline approved via a March 2012 Executive Order by President Barack Obama

Wed, 2014-04-30 21:55Steve Horn
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Explosive Virginia Train Carried Fracked Bakken Oil, Headed to Potential Export Facility

Platts confirmed CSX Corporation's train that exploded in Lynchburg, Virginia was carrying sweet crude obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin. CSX CEO Michael Ward has also confirmed this to Bloomberg.

“Trade sources said the train was carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota and was headed to Plains All American's terminal in Yorktown,” Platts explained. “The Yorktown facility can unload 130,000 b/d of crude and is located on the site of Plains oil product terminal.”

In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a Safety Alert concluding Bakken crude is more flammable than heavier oils. Hence the term “bomb trains.”

At least 50,000 gallons of the oil headed to Yorktown is now missing, according to ABC 13 in Lynchburg. Some of it has spilled into the James River, as previously reported on DeSmogBlog.

A map available on CSX's website displaying the routes for its crude-by-rail trains offers a clear indication of where the train was headed.


Map Credit: CSX Corporation

Formerly a refinery owned by Standard Oil and then BP/Amoco, Plains All American has turned the Yorktown refinery into a mega holding facility. 

Yorktown may become a key future site for crude oil exports if the ban on exports of oil produced domestically in the U.S. is lifted. 

Mon, 2014-04-28 16:59Steve Horn
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Mayflower: Deadly Tornado Sweeps Through Arkansas Town That Endured ExxonMobil Tar Sands Pipeline Spill in 2013

On March 29, 2013, ExxonMobil's Pegasus tar sands pipeline ruptured in Mayflower, Arkansas, sending hundreds of thousands of gallons of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) pouring down the town's streets.

Now, just over a year after the massive spill, devastation has come to Mayflower and neighboring towns again, this time in the form of a lethal tornado. On the evening of April 27, the twister destroyed huge pockets of the town of just over 2,300 citizens in a wholesale manner, with 14 confirmed dead and likely many more still not counted.

“Sadly, we don't expect it to stay at 14,” tweeted Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe. At least 10 died in Faulkner County alone, which houses Mayflower, according to the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

The National Weather Service in Little Rock has given the tornado that hit Mayflower an EF-3 rating on a preliminary basis. EF3 (the highest rating is an EF5) equates to 136–165 mile per hour winds and KATV weatherman Todd Yakoubian tweeted that National Weather Service will have its final rating in by April 30.

Table Credit: Wikimedia Commons

On the whole, Arkansas Geographic Information Office has reported that 3,200 addresses in Faulkner County have had various levels of impact.

Fri, 2013-12-20 09:45Steve Horn
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Dollarocracy: U.S. Congressmen Refuse to Address Keystone XL Southern Half Spill Concerns

What's the U.S. congressional response to the safety issues with the 485-mile southern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline raised by Public Citizen's Texas office? Mostly what Simon & Garfunkel called “The Sound of Silence” in their famous song.

DeSmogBlog contacted more than three dozen members of the U.S. Congress representing both political parties to get their take on Public Citizen's alarming findings in its November investigation (including dents, metal that had to be patched up and pipeline segments labeled “junk”), but got little in the way of substantive responses.

Set to open for business on January 22approved via an Executive Order by President Barack Obama in March 2012 and rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline Project” by TransCanada, the southern half of the pipeline has garnered far less media coverage than its U.S.-Canada border-crossing brother to the north, Keystone XL's northern half.

Over two dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote a letter to President Obama on December 12 expressing concern over the conflicts-of-interest in the U.S. State Department's environmental review process for the northern half of the line.

But none of them would comment on concerns with the southern half of the line raised in the Public Citizen report after multiple queries via e-mail from DeSmogBlog.

Wed, 2013-12-18 12:00Steve Horn
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Keystone XL Fork in the Road: TransCanada's Houston Lateral Pipeline

Only Barack Obama knows the fate of the northern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  But in the meantime, TransCanada is preparing the southern half of the line to open for commercial operations on January 22.

And there's a fork in that half of the pipeline that's largely flown under the radar: TransCanada's Houston Lateral Pipeline, which serves as a literal fork in the road of the southern half of Keystone XL's route to Gulf Coast refineries.

Rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline” by TransCanada, the 485-mile southern half of Keystone XL brings a blend of Alberta's tar sands crude, along with oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin, to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas. This area has been coined a “sacrifice zone” by investigative journalist Ted Genoways, describing the impacts on local communities as the tar sands crude is refined mainly for export markets.

But not all tar sands and fracked oil roads lead to Port Arthur. That's where the Houston Lateral comes into play. A pipeline oriented westward from Liberty County, TX rather than eastward to Port Arthur, Houston Lateral ushers crude oil to Houston's refinery row

“The 48-mile (77-kilometre) Houston Lateral Project is an additional project under development to transport oil to refineries in the Houston, TX marketplace,” TransCanada's website explains. “Upon completion, the Gulf Coast Project and the Houston Lateral Project will become an integrated component of the Keystone Pipeline System.”

Thu, 2013-12-12 14:45Steve Horn
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Federal Pipeline Safety Agency Approves Startup of Keystone XL Southern Half

DeSmogBlog has learned that TransCanada cleared the final hurdle for the southern half of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, receiving a green light last week from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) following a review of several safety concerns.

TransCanada announced this week that it has begun injecting oil into the southern half of its Keystone XL pipeline in preparation for commercial operations.  

Leading up to PHMSA giving Keystone XL south the go-ahead to start up, Public Citizen raised several questions about the safety of the pipeline. 

Will TransCanada respond to greivances raised about dents, faulty welding, pipeline material designated “junk” and other issues raised in the consumer advocacy group's November investigation? And what about September 10 and September 26 warning letters obtained by Public Citizen raising similar concerns from PHMSA to TransCanada?

Both TransCanada and PHMSA have provided DeSmogBlog answers to these questions.

Rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline Project” by TransCanada, the 485-mile Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas Keystone XL southern half — approved via a March 2012 Executive Order from President Barack Obama — is set to open for business by mid- to late-January.

Tue, 2013-12-10 12:01Steve Horn
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TransCanada Begins Injecting Oil Into Keystone XL Southern Half; Exact Start Date A Mystery

Keystone XL's southern half is one step closer to opening for business. TransCanada announced that “on Saturday, December 7, 2013, the company began to inject oil into the Gulf Coast Project pipeline as it moves closer to the start of commercial service.”

The Sierra Club's legal challenge to stop the pipeline was recently denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, so the southern half, battled over for years between the industry and environmentalists, will soon become a reality.

According to a statement provided to DeSmog by TransCanada, “Over the coming weeks, TransCanada will inject about three million of [sic] barrels of oil into the system, beginning in Cushing, Oklahoma and moving down to the company’s facilities in the Houston refining area.”

In mid-January, up to 700,000 barrels per day of Alberta's tar sands diluted bitumen (dilbit) could begin flowing through the 485-mile southern half of TransCanada's pipeline, known as the Gulf Coast Project. Running from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas, the southern half of the pipeline was approved by both a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 12 and an Executive Order from President Barack Obama in March 2012.

BloombergThe Canadian Press and The Oklahoman each reported that the Gulf Coast Project pipeline is now being injected with oil. Line fill is the last key step before a pipeline can begin operations. 

“There are many moving parts to this process – completion of construction, testing, regulatory approvals, line fill and then the transition to operations,” TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard told DeSmog. “Line fill has to take place first, then once final testing and certifications are completed, the line can then go into commercial service.”

Residents living along the length of the southern half will have no clue about the rest of the start-up process, as TransCanada says it won't provide any more information until the line is already running. “For commercial and contractual reasons, the next update we will provide will be after the line has gone into commercial service,” the company announced.

When DeSmog asked whether the company is currently injecting conventional oil or diluted bitumen sourced from the Canadian tar sands, TransCanada's Howard replied: 

“Many people like to try and categorize the blend, etc., however we are injecting oil into the pipeline. As you’ve likely seen me quoted before, oil is oil and this pipeline is designed to handle both light and heavy blends of oil, in accordance with all U.S. regulatory standards.

I am not able to provide you the specific blend or breakdown as we are not permitted (by our customers) from disclosing that information to the media. There are very strict confidentiality clauses in the commercial contracts we enter into with our customers, and that precludes us from providing that. The reason is that if we are providing information about a specific blend, when it is in our system, etc. – that has the potential to identify who our customers may be or allow others to take financial positions in the market and profit from that information when others do not have access to the same information. This has much farther reaching impacts for the financial markets (and ultimately all of us).”

Tue, 2013-11-26 15:31Steve Horn
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Obama Approves Major Border-Crossing Fracked Gas Pipeline Used to Dilute Tar Sands

Although TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has received the lion's share of media attention, another key border-crossing pipeline benefitting tar sands producers was approved on November 19 by the U.S. State Department.

Enter Cochin, Kinder Morgan's 1,900-mile proposed pipeline to transport gas produced via the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of the Eagle Ford Shale basin in Texas north through Kankakee, Illinois, and eventually into Alberta, Canada, the home of the tar sands. 

Like Keystone XL, the pipeline proposal requires U.S. State Department approval because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border. Unlike Keystone XL - which would carry diluted tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) south to the Gulf Coast - Kinder Morgan's Cochin pipeline would carry the gas condensate (diluent) used to dilute the bitumen north to the tar sands.

“The decision allows Kinder Morgan Cochin LLC to proceed with a $260 million plan to reverse and expand an existing pipeline to carry an initial 95,000 barrels a day of condensate,” the Financial Post wrote

“The extra-thick oil is typically cut with 30% condensate so it can move in pipelines. By 2035, producers could require 893,000 barrels a day of the ultra-light oil, with imports making up 786,000 barrels of the total.”

Increased demand for diluent among Alberta's tar sands producers has created a growing market for U.S. producers of natural gas liquids, particularly for fracked gas producers.

“Total US natural gasoline exports reached a record volume of 179,000 barrels per day in February as Canada's thirst for oil sand diluent ramped up,” explained a May 2013 article appearing in Platts. ”US natural gasoline production is forecast to increase to roughly 450,000 b/d by 2020.”

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