Plans to Get Tar Sands Crude to Texas Raise New Safety, Legal Issues
A new article in the Austin (TX) Statesman describes TransCanada and Enbridge/Enterprise’s maneuvering to provide additional pipeline capacity from the Cushing (OK) oil terminal to the Gulf Coast, without construction of the full Keystone XL pipeline, which would expand OK-TX capacity by 830,000 barrels per day. Because there is unlikely to be full capacity on Keystone XL for many years, the OK-TX portion of the new pipeline could relieve congestion at the Cushing terminal. Options include:
- Building only the Cushing to Texas portion of Keystone XL (quite possibly a NEPA lawsuit trigger, as discussed in a previous post);
- Get permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reverse the flow of the 36-year-old Seaway Crude Oil Pipeline, adding capacity of up to 400,000 barrels per day within a few years (as reported in greater detail in financial press); or
- Wait until the November elections to reapply for the full Keystone XL permit (which will probably happen in any event).
That second option, reversing an old pipeline that has only carried higher quality crude, raises serious safety concerns over the suitability of Seaway to carry diluted bitumen from the tar sands. The highly corrosive nature of the product has triggered significant additional review and calls for heightened pipeline quality and safety controls. It seems unlikely that Seaway is a safe option, but the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has been very hesitant thus far to intervene in ordinary pipeline operations. Calls for thorough PHMSA analysis of this proposal, before any action by FERC, are in order.