Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pipelines Are Safer

Then transporting oil by tanker. Three tanker spills in under a week, one in Ukraine, one in San Fransisco Bay and one in Hobart, Australia.

Long stretches of Russia's Black Sea coast face an ecological catastrophe, local authorities said on Monday, after a fierce storm broke up a tanker, disgorging hundreds of tons of oil on to the shore.

Emergency services crews are attending an accident in Hobart where a petrol tanker rolled late this morning. Fire fighters arrived at the scene just before midday to find the tanker leaking some of the 14,000 litres of diesel on board.

About 58,000 gallons of oil has spilled from a South Korea-bound container ship that ran into the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Wednesday in dense fog.

It's not a popular sentiment I know, but pipelines are safer. Safer than train or truck transport and certainly far safer than ocean tanker transportation.

Oil spill inevitable, islanders hear
Queen Charlotte Islands Observer, Canada - 24 Oct 2007
Both speakers said once a spill happens, it could take several days before response teams reach it. "There are only two tugs.to rescue a disabled tanker, ...

Compare the amount of tanker accidents that have occurred and the ecological damage to the ocean and shore line compared to the one recent pipeline accident.

Table 1: Number of spills over 7 tonnes


7-700 tonnes

>700 tonnes































































































While the BP pipeline break was irresponsible, it was a rare event.
Published: October 31, 1984

Workers set up portable dams today to stem flows from two broken pipelines that poured some 1,500 barrels of oil into a wildlife refuge and a lake.

One of the spills came from a line owned by the Mobil Pipeline Company and the other was from a pipeline belonging to Total Petroleum Corporation. A Mobil spokesman said the company believed the spills were under control. Other booms were placed to prevent the oil from spreading farther into Lake Texoma and the Tishomingo Wildlife Refuge near the Oklahoma- Texas border.

State officials said no dead fish or oil- coated birds had been reported.

Compared to the irresponsible use of old out dated sea going tankers that cross the globe. And we only hear about the spills that occur near shore lines.

US navy to stage oil spill exercise at Bahrain port

The BP pipeline accident could have been avoided if the "Green" oil company had actually bothered to maintain its pipeline properly. Which it didn't. But even then the amount of oil spilled pales in comparison to that of oil tankers. And the ecological damage was far easier to contain.

BP fined $20 million for Alaska oil spills

The Associated Press

ANCHORAGE - BP America will pay $20 million and plead guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the federal Clean Water Act for a crude spill on Alaska's oil-rich North Slope, Justice Department officials said Thursday
The company's long-standing pattern of cost-cutting and mismanagement at Prudhoe Bay, the nation's largest oil field, was a major cause of the 200,000-gallon spill in March 2006, U.S. Attorney Nelson Cohen said in a news conference.

"The company failed to invest enough money, in time and people, to maintain the integrity of the pipeline," Cohen said. The spill was the largest ever in the North Slope fields, which border the Arctic Ocean.

The agreement was one of several struck between the London-based oil and gas giant and federal investigators in the resolution of probes across the U.S.

"These agreements are an admission that, in these instances, our operations failed to meet our own standards and the requirements of the law. For that, we apologize," BP America Chairman and President Bob Malone said in statement.

In Alaska, federal attorneys said the company has admitted its failure to adequately monitor and clean its transit pipelines despite the challenging operating conditions in the Arctic oil fields it co-owns with Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips. BP operates the fields on behalf of all the owners.

When compared to the amount of oil tanker accidents that have occurred pipelines are far safer for transporting oil and natural gas. And San Fransisco home of the latest spill which has huge refining operations is a good example.

"Human error factors" probably were involved in a ship crash and oil spill that killed nearly 400 birds in San Francisco Bay and prompted a federal criminal probe, the U.S. Coast Guard said Monday.

A spill of this nature always seems to conjure up images of the Exxon Valdez, the big tanker that ran aground in Alaska in 1989. ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) is involved in litigation concerning that incident to this day.

Spills can occur in a variety of ways. For instance, last year a BP (NYSE: BP)resulting in a spill and a shutdown for repairs.
pipeline serving the Prudhoe Bay field crumbled,

More bizarre was the February 2002 spill 17 miles southwest of the Golden Gate Bridge. That spill was attributed to the SS Jacob Luckenbach, which had sunk 50 years earlier, only to have its fuel begin seeping to the surface after half a century.

Here is a look at major oil spills in or around the San Francisco Bay Area.

— 2007: About 58,000 gallons spill into San Francisco Bay after a ship strikes into a tower on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

— 2004: More than 120,000 gallons spilled in Suisun Marsh from Kinder Morgan pipeline.

— 1996: 40,000 gallons spilled from a military vessel near Pier 70.

— 1988: 400,000 gallons spilled when Shell refinery drain line breaks.

— 1984: 1.5 million gallons spilled just outside the Golden Gate Bridge when an explosion damages a tanker ship.

— 1971: 840,000 gallons spilled when two Standard Oil tankers collided.

— 1937: 2.7 million gallons spilled when an oil tanker collided with a passenger ship

And what are the legal results of these spills? Well not what you think. The laws around clean up are not clear and governments are playing both catch up and catch the culprit. Despite the long history of tanker spills.

A revised rule that forces shipping companies to shoulder the cost of cleaning up pollution from maritime accidents, such as oil spills, in China's waters, is likely to take effect next year, if not sooner, a senior official with China Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) said Wednesday.

If the revised regulation is approved by the State Council, companies such as Sinopec, PetroChina and the China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) will be required to contribute to a special compensation and clean-up fund, Liu Gongcheng, executive director of China MSA, said.

Figures showed more than 90 percent of China's oil imports - 145 million tons last year - is transported by sea. Some 163,000 tankers of all sizes sailed into and out of China's ports last year, an average of 446 every day.

"The size of oil tankers is also getting bigger, up to 300,000 tons, which has added to the risk," Liu said. "If only 1 percent of the oil is spilled, we will be confronted with a catastrophe."

Oil spills can wreak havoc on sea life, fishing and tourism. They cost millions of yuan to clean up and even more in compensation and damages, he said.

The oil spill from the tanker Prestige, which sank off Spain in November 2002, leaked 77,000 tons of oil that caused several billion dollars worth of damage.

In the past year, there have been several oil spills in domestic seawaters that involved 500 to 600 tons of oil, but didn't cause serious pollution due to emergency response, Liu said.

EU court annuls ship pollution law on technicality

The European Union's top court struck down an EU law holding captains and shipowners criminally responsible for polluting the sea on Tuesday, saying the legislation had not been properly drafted.

The law was agreed in 2005, shortly after oil tanker spills damaged coastlines in France and Spain.

The legislation will now have to rewritten after the Luxembourg-based court said in a statement that national governments had ignored the executive European Commission during the legislative process.

Under the law, captains, owners or companies chartering ships could be prosecuted and fined heavily for major sea pollution.

It was introduced after the tanker Prestige spilled over 60,000 tonnes of oil off northwestern Spain in 2002. In a similar environmental catastrophe, the tanker Erika discharged about 20,000 of oil in 1999 off the French coast.

Puerto Rico Investigators Search for Oil Spill Culprit As Coast Cleanup Ends

Crews have completed a cleanup of an extensive oil spill that fouled rocky shoreline and mangrove thickets along Puerto Rico's southwest coast, but pollution investigators are still searching for the spill's cause.

Roughly 19,000 gallons of contaminated water have been siphoned from the Caribbean Sea since the spill slicked miles of coastline in late August, and 1,000 cubic yards of oily debris have been gathered by cleanup crews clad in protective suits and boots, the U.S. Coast Guard said Monday.

"We will continue to thoroughly investigate this incident and monitor the affected area in case any new recoverable oil is identified that needs to be cleaned up," said Capt. James E. Tunstall, commander of Coast Guard operations in the eastern Caribbean.

Marshland and mangroves in the western section of the town of La Parguera are still surrounded by a floating absorbent boom, but the protective barrier is expected to be removed before the end of the week.

"We're definitely happy they did such a good job cleaning the area up," said Angel Rovira, owner of a dive shop that ferries tourists and locals to a pristine coral reef several miles off the southwest coast of the U.S. Caribbean territory.

The nearly two-month effort to clean more than 30 miles of coastline from Guayanilla Bay to La Parguera cost more than $6 million.

Coast Guard investigators have indicated that New York-based General Maritime Corp., which owns and operates a fleet of crude oil tankers, is the likely source of the spill. A tanker owned by the company, the Genmar Progress, was anchored in the area when drifting bands of oil were first reported.

In late September, U.S. pollution investigators boarded the 1991-built tanker while it was docked in Port Arthur, Texas.

In a Monday phone interview, General Maritime spokesman Darrel Wilson said the company is cooperating fully with authorities, but stressed it has yet to be determined that its ship is definitely to blame.

A whistle-blower's courage and federal prosecutors in Alaska have given Washington state some extra protection against oil spills in local waters

And their actions have resulted in something that didn't happen after a mysterious spill blackened Vashon Island beaches three years ago: criminal accountability for ConocoPhillips, the nation's third-largest oil company.

None of the new requirements is the direct result of the October 2004 spill in Dalco Passage in southern Puget Sound, which was discovered in the middle of the night by a tugboat captain.

But instead, ConocoPhillips got tagged for a much smaller spill, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in January 2004. After that spill, ship's officers conducted an elaborate cover-up that was caught on videotape.

Two and a half billion dollars isn't a lot of money if you're Exxon Mobil.

That's the amount the oil company may be ordered to pay as punishment for the Valdez oil spill in Alaska 18 years ago. The 11-million-gallon spill soiled 1,200 miles of pristine coastline and, according to some locals, permanently disrupted the fishing business in the area.

A case to make Exxon Mobil pay punitive damages has been snaking through the courts since 1994. Originally, the damages were set at $5 billion, and an appeals court later cut them to $2.5 billion.

Now, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether Exxon Mobil has to pay anything at all.

Regardless of how the court rules, the answer is the same: not really.

Even if the Supremes let stand the lower court decision and demand Exxon Mobil pay up immediately, the company would, in effect, pay nothing.

Exxon Mobil could pay most of the judgment from the interest it would have earned on the money during the time the case has been pending.

An Exxon Mobil spokesman said the company believes the punitive damages will be set aside, and therefore it hasn't set aside any money to pay the judgment.

At the end of last year, Exxon Mobil had a cash hoard of $28 billion. So it's not hurting for funds. But what if it had earmarked a $5 billion slice of those reserves to pay the Valdez damages when they were first awarded in 1994, just on the chance it might lose the case?

And then there is the idea of shipping Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) instead of using a natural gas pipeline.

Safety Concerns Tie Up LNG Development

Fall River, Massachusetts, has long drawn its identity from the water. First it came from the textile trade, and lately it's because of opposition to one of the nation's first land-based liquefied natural gas, or LNG, terminals slated to be built in the coastal enclave of nearly 100,000 people.

Longtime mayor Ed Lambert, who left office on Friday, has led the opposition to an LNG terminal in the city's backyard. Nine thousand people live within one mile of the 73-acre industrial site along the Taunton River where Weaver's Cove Energy, a subsidiary of energy giant Hess, hopes to build the terminal.

"To put them in the middle of an urban neighborhood, simply to enhance the profit margin of the energy industry, is significantly wrong," Lambert told us when we surveyed the proposed plant site earlier this year. Houses begin a block away, many lying on dead end streets with no outlet in the direction away from the site.

"It truly is like needlessly painting a bulls-eye on a working class community," Lambert says.

The fear, in a post-9/11 world, stems from what might happen if an LNG tanker were attacked or even it suffered an accident, such as a collision at sea. According to a Government Accountability Office report issued earlier this year, all but one of 19 experts surveyed believe an LNG spill could "present hazards to the public."

The debate over LNG safety is increasing as clean-burning natural gas now accounts for almost 25 percent of all energy consumed in this country. In the past year, 95% of all new electricity generated in the U.S. came from natural gas, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency which reviews all LNG proposals and green-lighted

So when folks oppose projects like the Mackenzie Valley pipeline and the Alaska Gas pipeline for 'ecological' reasons let's remember that pipeline breaks are far rarer and their ecological impact has been far less than the alternative; rusty outdated ocean going tankers.

At around 00:45 GMT on 01 December 2003, a rupture in the pipeline occurred at approximately 120 km south of Grande Prairie, Alberta. 14 hours later, another rupture and fire occurred 15 km downstream from the initial incident. According to TransCanada PipeLines, the breaks were immediately isolated, and any already escaped gas was allowed to burn off.

This is not to say that pipeline companies like TransCanada are any less jerks when it comes to the folks whose land they want to build on. They are after all Big Oil.

But for most Green activists the bottom line is that they would prefer the end of all reliance on gas and oil, period. Which of course is not going to happen any time soon since oil and gas fuels capitalism.

The victory of the Entente in the World War was in the last analysis a victory of the superior war technology of America. For the first time oil triumphed over coal for the heating of the submarines and ships, of the aircraft, motors, tanks, etc., was accomplished with oil and by a technology which had undergone especially high development in America and opposite which the German technology was backward. After the ending of the World War, the most pressing imperative for America, if it did not want to lose again the hegemony won over world economic domains, was to bring the oil production of the world into its hands in order to thus monopolise the guarantees of its ascendancy.

From the Bourgeois to the Proletarian Revolution by Otto Ruhle 1924

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V Smoothe said...

The Bay Area spill was not a tanker accident, so pipelines are irrelevant. It was a container ship fuel leakage. The ship was not transporting oil, simply using it to run.

Steve said...

Eugene's point nevertheless is well-taken. The more times oil must be on- and off-loaded, the greater chance of spillage. On the Caspian Sea, for instance, the locals are risking a catastrophic accident that could affect the already-depleted sturgeon population because they are transporting oil by barge rather than building a pipeline.

Steve LeVine, author
The Oil and the Glory (Random House)

eugene plawiuk said...

V Smoothie While you are correct that that particular accident was a container ship however it still spilled more oil than even the BP Proudhoe bay spill, let alone the TransCanada spill. I am assuming then it was fuel oil. Still problematic for the eco damage it caused. Let alone all the single hull rust buckets on the ocean carrying oil.

eugene plawiuk said...

Thanks Steve interesting blog and book. And thanks for the comment. Wow a WSJ reporter comments here.

I blogged about the Caspian pipeline earlier here and here