Old pipelines leak more than new ones
Canada’s oil pipelines have one major weakness – aging. The Pegasus Pipeline primer on TransCanada’s West-East pipeline was 65 years old when it ruptured. Older pipelines, which have undergone decades of wear and corrosion, can be more prone to leaks, and thus less safe, than new pipelines. Especially pipelines carrying corrosive dilbit at higher temperatures are susceptible to this.¹
According to the corrective action order issued by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the “age of the pipeline”, as well as the reversal of its flow and its location near water resources and populated areas, makes the Pegasus Pipeline “hazardous to life, property, and the environment” until “corrective measures” are taken.² Even Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver blamed the spill on the age of Canada’s oil pipelines.
Reversing pipelines can be dangerous
When Exxon reversed the Pegasus pipeline in 2006, it was the first time this had ever happened.³ It was a masterpiece of Exxon’s engineering. Under federal regulations, no permit application or safety assessment was required to reverse the flow of the Pegasus pipeline.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) sees things differently now. After the leak, the PHMSA issued an order for correction. It concedes that a change in the direction of flow can affect the hydraulic and load requirements of the pipeline”.
The Mayflower-Pegasus disaster is now, perhaps for the first time, bringing the increasingly popular practice of the industry to the fore. There are already several attempts to reverse and reuse existing pipelines.⁴ The aim is to transport the booming supplies of heavy crude oil from the tar sands region north of the border.
Think tar sands pipelines are safe? Think again.
All of these characteristics make transporting tar sands crude by pipeline much more dangerous than conventional crude. It is something decision-makers must carefully consider when they review permits for the growing network of new and repurposed tar sands pipelines that will run through or near hundreds of communities and thousands of streams, rivers, wetlands, lakes and aquifers in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
¹ Aging Pipeline Infrastructure: What You Need to Know, https://submar.com/aging-pipeline-infrastructure-what-you-need-to-know/
² Federal Rules Don’t Control Pipeline Reversals Like Exxon’s Burst Pegasus, https://insideclimatenews.org/news/20130403/federal-rules-dont-control-pipeline-reversals-exxons-burst-pegasus
³ The Pegasus pipeline, https://arktimes.com/news/cover-stories/2013/04/11/the-pegasus-pipeline
⁴ Big Oil’s new strategy: If you can’t build a new pipeline, just overload the old one, https://grist.org/climate-energy/big-oils-new-strategy-if-you-cant-build-a-new-pipeline-just-overload-the-old-one/