Sand Oil … and pipelines

Keystone XL Pipeline Environmental Impact

Pipeline under construction in Alberta, Canada


Leaks and the pipeline

Tar sands oil is thicker, more acidic, and more corrosive than lighter conventional crude, and this ups the likelihood that a pipeline carrying it will leak. Indeed, one study found that between 2007 and 2010, pipelines moving tar sands oil in Midwestern states spilled three times more per mile than the U.S. national average for pipelines carrying conventional crude. Since it first went into operation in 2010, TC Energy’s original Keystone Pipeline System has leaked more than a dozen times; one incident in North Dakota sent a 60-foot, 21,000-gallon geyser of tar sands oil spewing into the air. Most recently, on October 31, 2019, the Keystone tar sands pipeline was temporarily shut down after a spill in North Dakota of reportedly more than 378,000 gallons. And the risk that Keystone XL will spill has only been heightened: A study published in early 2020, co-authored by TC Energy’s own scientists, found that the anti-corrosion coating on pipes for the project is defective from being stored outside and exposed to the elements for the last decade.

.Complicating matters, leaks can be difficult to detect. And when tar sands oil does spill, it’s more difficult to clean up than conventional crude because it immediately sinks to the bottom of the waterway. People and wildlife coming into contact with tar sands oil are exposed to toxic chemicals, and rivers and wetland environments are at particular risk from a spill. (For evidence, recall the 2010 tar sands oil spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a disaster that cost Enbridge more than a billion dollars in cleanup fees and took six years to settle in court.) Keystone XL would cross agriculturally important and environmentally sensitive areas, including hundreds of rivers, streams, aquifers, and water bodies. One is Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer, which provides drinking water for millions as well as 30 percent of America’s irrigation water. A spill would be devastating to the farms, ranches, and communities that depend on these crucial ecosystems.

What is tar sands oil?

The tar sands industry is just as hard on the cradle of its business. Its mines are a blight on Canada’s boreal, where operations dig up and flatten forests to access the oil below, destroying wildlife habitat and one of the world’s largest carbon sinks. They deplete and pollute freshwater resources, create massive ponds of toxic waste, and threaten the health and livelihood of the First Nations people who live near them. Refining the sticky black gunk produces piles of petroleum coke, a hazardous, coal-like by-product. What’s more, the whole process of getting the oil out and making it usable creates three to four times the carbon pollution of conventional crude extraction and processing. “This isn’t your grandfather’s typical oil,” says Anthony Swift, director of NRDC’s Canada project. “It’s nasty stuff.”

Keystone XL and climate change

A fully realized Keystone XL would lead to more mining of that “nasty stuff” by accelerating the pace at which it’s produced and transported. (Indeed, Keystone XL was viewed as a necessary ingredient in the oil industry’s plans to triple tar sands production by 2030.) 

for the complete article go to