Report: Oil planned for Keystone XL pipeline doesn't cause more leaks - Omaha.com
Published Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 11:03 am / Updated at 10:32 pm
Report: Oil planned for Keystone XL pipeline doesn't cause more leaks

LINCOLN — The heavy Canadian oil that would flow in the proposed Keystone XL pipeline doesn't cause more leaks than lighter crudes, the National Academy of Sciences has determined.

A committee of 12 experts assembled by the National Academy released a report Tuesday that found diluted bitumen, the category of oil shipped from Alberta's tar-sands region, has no greater likelihood of causing pipeline failure than other oils. The committee reviewed pipeline incident statistics, reports, investigations and data on the chemical and physical properties of diluted bitumen.

The heavy tar-sands oil has been imported from western Canada for more than 30 years and transported in numerous pipelines in the United States, the report stated.

“There's nothing extraordinary about pipeline shipments of diluted bitumen to make them more likely than other crude oils to cause releases,” said Mark Barteau, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Michigan who chaired the report committee.

The study's conclusion was welcomed by supporters of the controversial Keystone XL project. But those who say the pipeline represents an unacceptable environmental risk criticized the study as too narrow in scope.

The Keystone XL pipeline would transport 830,000 barrels of tar-sands oil daily from western Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. The 1,700-mile project, which would run through about 275 miles of Nebraska, is awaiting a decision by the State Department to determine whether it can be built.

Jane Kleeb, director of pipeline opponent Bold Nebraska, said the academy committee failed to assess whether the chemicals blended with the heavy oil to make it flow pose a greater threat to water supplies and human health if they leak.

She brought up pipeline ruptures that released thousands of barrels of diluted bitumen in Michigan and Arkansas since 2010.

“Moms in Michigan and Arkansas want this basic question answered: When a diluted bitumen pipeline spills, what are the health and economic risks to our families, land and water,” Kleeb said.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which sponsored the study, did not ask the committee to investigate whether diluted bitumen spills are more damaging or costly to clean up, Barteau said.

“The report was focused strictly on the likelihood of a release and not on the consequence of a release,” he said.

The heavy tar-sands oil has been imported from western Canada for more than 30 years and transported in numerous pipelines in the United States, the report says.

But most pipelines ship a variety of crudes and other petroleum products, which makes it hard to do a comparison between a pipeline that carries exclusively heavy oil with one that ships lighter crude, Barteau said.

Environmentalists had suggested that diluted bitumen oils contain higher concentrations of sediment and chemical agents that make them more corrosive to the interior steel walls of a pipeline. Pipelines that ship diluted bitumen also operate at higher temperatures than other pipelines, and some suspected that that could contribute to failures.

The study looked at acid levels, water content and amount of sediment in diluted bitumens and found no correlation with higher rates of internal or external corrosion. Nor are pipelines that carry diluted bitumen more vulnerable to external erosion, cracking or damage from mechanical forces, the study found.

Michael Whatley is executive vice president of the Consumer Energy Alliance, a strong proponent of the Keystone XL project. He said the report should put to rest any questions that diluted bitumen is inherently more dangerous to ship by pipeline than other oils.

“We are glad to have the backing of the National Academy of Science to knock down that argument,” he said Tuesday.

Those who criticize the study are trying to shift attention away from the fact that pipelines represent the safest way to transport oil, said John Stoody with the Association of Oil Pipelines.

“Now they're switching to the next argument,” he said.

Environmentalists, however, said federal pipeline regulators missed an opportunity to have the National Academy of Sciences measure the extent of damage to water, land and personal property from diluted bitumen spills. The examples in Arkansas and Michigan have been most troubling, said Anthony Swift, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Unfortunately, the National Academy of Sciences findings shed no light on that question,” he said.

Contact the writer: Joe Duggan

joe.duggan@owh.com    |  

Joe works in the Lincoln bureau, where he helps cover state government, the Legislature, state Supreme Court and southeast Nebraska.

Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Nikko Jenkins found guilty of 4 murders
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Attorney: Man accused of trying to open plane's door needs psychiatric evaluation
49-year-old sentenced to 40-50 years for attempted sex assault of child
Brothers looking for pot sentenced for violent home invasion
At Boys Town panel, experts stress it's never too early to educate children
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Gov. Heineman calls 2014 a 'very good year for Nebraska taxpayers'
Ex-Iowan behind landmark free speech case recounts story in Bellevue
Arrest made in teen's shooting death at Benson's Gallagher Park
Section of 50th Street to close for bridge demolition
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
Plans for new $16M YMCA in Council Bluffs at 'critical juncture'
Woodmen request would take nearly $40M in valuation from tax rolls
With fixed AC, Fort Calhoun's nuclear station ends brief shutdown
Windy day could make driving difficult on east-west roads
Richard Brown steps down as Charles Drew Health Center CEO
OPD safety expo set for April 26
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Crew working to disassemble International Nutrition plant
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
18-year-old arrested in stolen-car case
U.S. Senate candidate Bart McLeay trails his 3 GOP rivals in fundraising
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Breaking Brad: Pothole repair crew gets stuck in a pothole
In East Lansing, Mich., a pothole repair crew got stuck inside a pothole. How did this not happen in Omaha?
Breaking Brad: What do the moon, Colorado senators have in common?
How about that "blood red" moon Monday? It was as red as the eyes of a Colorado legislator.
Breaking Brad: Hey, Republicans, are you ready to be audited?
A quick list of audit red flags: 3) You fail to sign your return. 2) You fail to report income. 1) You are a registered Republican.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Dr. Welbes Natural Health Clinic
$129 for 2 LipoLaser Sessions with Additional Complimentary Services ($605 value)
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »