Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

June 29, 2013

Residents hear pros, cons on ‘tar sand’ and oil transport

By Bob Belcher
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — A new report about diluted bitumen — commonly referred to as “tar sand” crude — and plans to re-route a pipeline transporting the crude mix through Navarro County highlighted an informational meeting held Wednesday at the Corsicana Public Library.

About three dozen people showed up for the session, arranged by two local residents, to hear about pipelines in Navarro County — specifically the Seaway and Pegasus pipelines that run through the county and Richland Chambers Lake.

Phil Krejci and Barbara Lawrence organized the event. Krejci said the purpose of the meeting was to raise public awareness of the two pipelines transporting Canadian “tar sand” crude oil — how they are operated, what safety precautions are taken, and the potential impact on the public and property in the event of a pipeline accident.

Representatives from the Seaway pipeline operator Enterprise Products Partners; Navarro County Office of Emergency Management; Tarrant Regional Water District; the Texas Railroad Commission; the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration; and Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization, were on hand to offer information and field questions. Exxon, the operator of the Pegasus pipeline that was also on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, was not represented at the event.

Several groups have voiced opposition to the transport of “tar sand” — a dense and viscous form of petroleum — through a network of new and existing pipelines. Two such lines traverse Navarro County and through Richland Chambers Lake, which supplies drinking water for millions of Texans.

The report issued Tuesday by the National Academy of Sciences said diluted bitumen has no greater likelihood of accidental pipeline release than other crude oils.

That report was challenged by Rita Beving of the advocacy group Public Citizen, who said the research was “too narrow.” She presented information about two highly-publicized “tar sand” spills — one in Michigan in 2010, and another in Arkansas in March of this year.

Beving said the chemicals used to dilute the Canadian tar sand were highly acidic, sulfuric and ignitable, and that some were carcinogenic and contained neuro-toxins. She said a lack of disclosure of chemicals used by pipeline operators was also a concern.

Both the Seaway and Pegasus pipeline sections that run through Richland Chambers Lake were replaced in 1985 with reinforced pipe, said Chad Lorance of the Tarrant Regional Water District. Valves on either side of the lake allowed for cutoff in the event of a spill or leak, he said.

“We feel these two sections are probably stronger and far less likely to rupture,” he said.

The Seaway pipeline’s planned replacement pipeline in Navarro County will no longer run through the lake, said Leonard Mallet, an engineer with Enterprise, one of the two operators of the pipeline. Mallet said the existing pipeline in the lake will be capped on both ends, filled with nitrogen and monitored regularly.

The new pipeline will be re-routed to the north of the lake, head southwest through the county to the west of Richland, then in a southerly direction from there, completely bypassing the reservoir. Mallet said the new pipeline should be operational by early 2014.

Mallet also said the pipeline “does not transport tar or sand, but diluted crude,” a point he said he and Beving “disagree” on the question. He added that heavier crudes “typically include a dilutent.”

Eric Meyers Jr., emergency management coordinator for Navarro County, said first responders in the county are capable of dealing with a pipeline leak, should one occur.

“We have the capability to handle hazardous materials,” Meyers told the audience. “A spill response is no different.”

Meyers also mentioned the county’s “Reverse 9-1-1” phone alert system, capable of delivering emergency or informational messages county-wide or to a specific area that may be facing a hazardous materials emergency in the event of a spill.

Bill Lowry with the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said serious incidents have been on the decline in recent years. The biggest cause of pipeline incidents he cited was material failures, making up 44 percent of incidents reported. Corrosion was cited as the second leading cause in Lowry’s presentation.

Lowry said his agency lacks the manpower to do as many inspections as it would like to do. He said pipeline operators bear the responsibility of managing risks and developing response plans.

In Texas, most pipeline accidents are “dig related,” said Gaye McElwain of the Texas Railroad Commission — damage done to pipelines by others doing underground work. While her agency only has oversight over intra-state pipelines, they amount for about half of the 374,318 miles of pipeline in the state. McElwain said the agency offers a number of online tools enabling the public to obtain more information about pipelines, their uses and their operators.

Krejci, who moderated the presentations, said he felt the evening brought both “good news” and “bad news.”

He said news of the study on diluted bitumen, the Seaway pipeline replacement and re-routing, that currently the Pegasus pipeline is not operational due to the Arkansas spill, and the knowledge that county first responders are well trained were all positives. The “bad news” he said included whether or not current regulations are sufficient to police the pipeline industry, and whether or not those guidelines follow the latest engineering practices.

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Bob Belcher may be reached by email at bbelcher@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com