Northwest energy whack-a-mole: Another pipeline rears its head

As the Northern Gateway scheme to ship Alberta's tar-sand oil to Asia grows shaky, the battle shifts to another pipeline plan that would send it out past Washington's fragile waters.
Last month a ship knocked out a pier at the Westshore Terminals, North America's largest coal port, spilling coal into the Fraser delta. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Last month a ship knocked out a pier at the Westshore Terminals, North America's largest coal port, spilling coal into the Fraser delta. (Click on images to enlarge.) Fred Felleman

A tug guides a tanker through the international straits.

A tug guides a tanker through the international straits. Fred Felleman

Tanker routes from the Trans Mountain terminus.

Tanker routes from the Trans Mountain terminus. Caitlyn Vernon, Sierra Club BC

How the tar sand oil travels....

How the tar sand oil travels.... Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

....and where it goes.

....and where it goes. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

"TAN" means "total acid number" - percent acid by weight. Vinegar's would be 5. The lower the "API gravity" number, the heavier the oil.

"TAN" means "total acid number" - percent acid by weight. Vinegar's would be 5. The lower the "API gravity" number, the heavier the oil. Purvin & Gertz, "Non-Conventional Oil Market Outlook"

So this is how it felt when the oil started flowing on the Persian Gulf. This century’s successor to the 20th century’s great energy game is starting to unfold around us. On one side, the inland West is bursting with particularly filthy fossil fuels: Montana and Wyoming coal, North Dakota oil, the vast reserves (third-largest in the world) of Alberta’s tar sands (or, as they say there, “oilsands”). On the other side, China and Asia’s other new industrial powerhouses, thirsty for fuel and paying a hefty premium. And in between, the monkey in the middle, the rich, fragile inland seas of Washington and British Columbia, over which the stuff must travel to reach those premium markets.

Two projects have filled the headlines and drawn the protests: the campaign to run mile-long coal trains over the mountains, along Seattle’s waterfront and up the slippery shores of Puget Sound for shipment to Asia. And the Canadian firm Enbridge’s effort to build the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would pump tar-sand oil from Edmonton, across the northern-BC vastness, to Kitimat and, eventually, to fuel-thirsty Asia.

But under the cover of those two, a third transport project is taking shape, to little fanfare or alarm on this side of the border, that could affect Washington’s waters more than the others. Kinder Morgan, another pipeline giant that, unlike Calgary-based Enbridge, is based in Houston, Texas, wants to “twin” the 60-year-old Trans Mountain Pipeline that it operates between Edmonton and Burnaby, British Columbia, just across narrow Burrard Inlet from Vancouver.

The new $4-billion “twin” line will in fact be a partly new route: Trans Mountain engineering chief Jim Davies says the company will have to open up new right of way for about a tenth of the 1,150-kilometer line, where development has crowded too close to the current line to allow more construction. The new twin would also be the buster of the litter: Last year Kinder Morgan announced it would double its Trans Mountain capacity from the current 300,000 barrels a day to 600,000, then eventually settled on 750,000. It recently announced that demand was so strong it will triple capacity, to 890,000 barrels a day.

That translates to a figure of more acute concern to residents of the San Juan Islands, Olympic Peninsula, and other shores en route: Kinder Morgan projects that this will raise the number of oil tankers sailing to and from Burnaby via the Georgia, Haro and Juan de Fuca straits from five a month to 25. Other tankers carry crude and refined oil products from the refineries at Washington's Cherry Point and Anacortes and Cherry Point, which receive crude from a spur off the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Most of what they’ll carry won’t be ordinary crude. It will be a more complex, less understood concoction commonly known by what sounds like a cartoon character’s digital avatar: dilbit, short for “diluted bitumen.” Bitumen is the sticky, biologically degraded petroleum that gets steamed and pumped, at considerable expenditure of water, energy and boreal forest, out of the vast sand basins north and west of Edmonton. It’s too thick to pump whole, so it is diluted, about seven parts to three, with lighter oils. Or, more commonly now that natural gas is so cheap, with gas condensates. In a timely twist on the coals-to-Newcastle theme, Kinder Morgan will reverse the flow in a gas pipeline that now runs from Alberta to Texas to supply this diluting agent.

Just what impacts and risks this will entail is a subject of even more dispute than your usual high-stakes environmental debate. At times Trans Mountain’s industry and government promoters (including the Harper administration) and its critics (environmental and watchdog groups, First Nations and local governments in British Columbia) seem to be talking about substances as different as olive oil and Portland cement.

Pipeline opponents argue that even diluted, bitumen is too troublesome, both inside the pipes and out, to risk transporting it. Their case turns not just on dilbit’s density, but on its levels of sulfur, acidity, abrasive particles and friction-generated heat, all of which may speed corrosion in pipelines or tanker hulls.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 8:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Another important and informative story by Scigliano, but this paragraph seemed to get mangled in the editing process:

"Other tankers carry crude and refined oil products from the refineries at Washington's Cherry Point and Anacortes and Cherry Point, which are receive their crude from a spur off the Trans Mountain pipeline.)"

Yes it is true that Washington's 4 north Sound refineries are attached to the Alberta oil fields by pipeline. Several of them are also beginning to receive shale gas via rail. However, they typically refine the crude and export the refined product but receive far more crude via tanker than pipeline or rail. It's also important to know that now that tankers are double hulled they are no longer required to have 2 tug escorts.. The only reason they have escorts at all is due to a state law requiring a single tug on double hull tankers.

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 9:46 a.m. Inappropriate

This is the crux of the matter IMO:

"The pipeline and tanker issues are real, but to environmentalists they’re also surrogates for a much bigger threat: Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and the outsized contribution that Canada’s vast, dirty, inefficient oilsand resources can make to them. The outspoken NASA atmospheric scientist and climate campaigner James Hansen has famously predicted that if the tar sands get exploited, it’s “game over” for arresting global warming."

As long as profit is the only consideration instead of the health and survival of life on this planet these kinds of things will continue to be pushed. Those of us who care about life need to push back.

nwcitizen

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 9:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Hard to take this article seriously when it has more spelling, grammar and title errors than a 3rd grade book report. Otherwise, interesting stuff.

Kidder Morgan? Which are receive? Back in the day, those errors would get a reporter fired.

JJones

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 10:25 a.m. Inappropriate

And now they get corrected. Thanks for pointing out those two typos.

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 11:07 a.m. Inappropriate

Isn't Keystone XL a TransCanada project, not Kinder Morgan?

"Keystone XL Pipeline (another Kinder Morgan project)"

JJones

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 11:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Right. Thanks again.

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 11:46 a.m. Inappropriate

"As long as those exports remain landlocked, Canada remains a captive supplier to the United States. That’s what candidate Mitt Romney hinted at when he defined the “energy independence” he promised as relying on “North American” fuels...."

Today's WSJ: "Key to Oil: Location, Location, Location" (google in quotes if a non-subcriber) makes clear that the dynamics never hold still waiting for politics to catch up. Not sure if the following is true or not, but would explain the planned increased shipments to and from the Wa. refinery:
" Because refined products can be freely exported from the U.S., they command higher global prices relative to domestic crude oil, which can't." "Other winners are midcontinent refiners such as HollyFrontier HFC +1.52% . They can process cheaper, relatively local oil and then sell the refined products." {Sentence order reversed in original.)

afreeman

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 12:40 p.m. Inappropriate

"Like Russia seeking a warmwater port, the Canadian energy industry is looking in several directions."

If these folks are patient, in due time they can have a warm water port wherever they want. Also, since seas are just beginning an ice melt induced rise that could increase tidal levels 25 feet or so, waiting a few years might allow shorelines to stabilize at their new boundaries. This could avoid the additional costs of having to periodically re-engineer port facilities.

Also, simply providing a conduit between the producer (Canada) and the consumer (China) is often a poor bargain. Whether its a pipeline or oil tankers, the conduit is paid little for its services but takes on the full risk of a catastrophic environmental accident. If indeed the US is fated to become a Third World resource-dependent economy, it still might want to consider being selective about its partnerships.

woofer

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 6:36 p.m. Inappropriate

Imagining that SLR (sea level rise) is going to stop after some amount of ice melt allowing us to rebuild the same mess of industrial infrastructure up slope is a fantasy. Assuming GHG emissions at current rates, projections are for Greenland and WAIS (West Antarctica) to go first, but it takes a while. Decades. Centuries. And then, if we've really screwed up the system, EAIS goes as well, taking even longer.

If Earth gets so warm as to eliminate all or even most of the GIS and EAIS, we are really and truly unlikely to have much of a civilization anywhere on the planet. Because aside from SLR, the ocean could be pretty dead from acidification and we'll be lucky to be able to breath without phytoplankton producing half the global oxygen.

There's much reporting on the science underlying these delightful prospects if you look. Here's one recent article on the ice melt piece: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=14300

louploup

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 6:20 p.m. Inappropriate

There are several choices. The first is shut down all the seaports on Puget Sound in Washington State. This would be my choice. Just plain outlaw all shipping in our fragile waters. Who cares about imports or exports? Especially if they destroy our environment.

All the other choices are bad, terrible even. It's not like the jobs these options provide are long lasting. As soon as the gas, oil, and coal run out those jobs disappear and we are left with the mess. Not much of a bargain.

Djinn

Posted Tue, Jan 29, 3:01 a.m. Inappropriate

The United States should prohibit export of raw hydrocarbon, or refined hydrocarbon products.
I guess Canada could use its own ports to export, and that is what Canada needs to be made to do.
That means no export of anything from the Keystone xl pipeline.

There should be no lightering of hydrocarbons for export at Port Angeles, or anywhere else in the United States.

If corporations are going to use the BC ports, we need to know who every individual in the control groups of the corporations are. We cannot stop Canada from allowing the export from BC; but we can know who to go after individually if a disaster ever occurred. I do not mean fine the corporation; I mean go after each control group member individually, and make every day of the rest of their lives a living hell.

Also, Where is Washington State Government on this. We have a new Governor, who will not speak about the China Coal Ports, and there seems to be nothing happening with state government about the issue in this article. State Government needs to start protecting Washington State from Multi-national, and foreign corporations.

jhande

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