|Posted by Winnipeg Chapter on October 7, 2014 at 12:25 AM|
Energy East Pipeline Spill, Explosion and Toxic Smoke Plume
On July 6, 2013 the fireball from a spill of 5.7 million litres of Bakken crude oil from a train derailment destroyed the town centre, in Megantic Quebec killing 47 people (1,2). Could the same thing happen from a spill of dilbit along the Energy East pipeline? The simple answer is yes. A spill and fire could occur anywhere from Alberta to St. John New Brunswick including in heavily populated centres such as Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal.
DILBIT IS FLAMMABLE, HOT, CORROSIVE, ABRASIVE, CONTAINS DEADLY H2S AND HAS A THOUSAND TIMES THE ENERGY CONTENT OF NATURAL GAS
Dilbit has a lower concentration of volatile hydrocarbons than Bakken crude but contains thirty percent volatile diluent that is responsible for its low flash point of -35˚C (3). After about 24 hours of weathering dilbit is no longer flammable without an accelerant or other fuel source (4). The sulphur content of dilbit is 3.37% while conventional crude has only 0.34-0.57 % sulphur (5). Most of the sulphur in bitumen extracted by steam assisted gravity drainage is converted by thermal decomposition to the explosive and deadly gas H2S (6,7). Dilbit from cold Lake Alberta is reported to have 300 ppm H2S (8 ). The high temperature of dilbit in the line of 70˚C can lead to further thermal decomposition potentially increasing the H2S concentration to more than 1000 ppm. (5,8,24). Naturally occurring bacteria can also convert sulphur to H2S in the pipeline (25).
Based on worker safety, the Federal Energy Regulator Commission in the US has allowed pipeline companies to reject oil with more than 5 ppm H2S (23, 26). The H2S produced from microbial action and thermal decomposition can lead to the weakening, corrosion and embrittlement of pipelines (5, 8,33) as occurred in the TransAlaska pipeline and the Prudhoe Bay oil spill (31,32).
The pipeline pressure for dilbit is 1440 psi compared to 600 psi for conventional crude and about 1000 psi for natural gas (5,9). At 927 kg/m3 (3) dilbit is a little less dense than water and has an energy content similar to Bakken crude with one thousand times the energy content of natural gas per cubic meter (9,10,11). Dilbit contains fifteen to twenty times higher acid concentrations than conventional crudes and high concentrations of chloride salts which can lead to chloride stress corrosion particularly for the higher temperature of a dilbit pipeline (5). The 125 pounds of quartz sand and alumino-silicates per minute pumped in the dilbit line will erode the forty year old pipeline (5,12,13). This abrasive sand is not in conventional crude or natural gas lines (5). The sand and scale from corrosion could interfere with and render ineffective the line inspection by "smart pigs (14, 27, 28, 36)."The sixteen fold higher pipeline spill rate in Alberta compared to the US is likely due to the corrosive and abrasive properties of dilbit (5).
PIPELINE FAILURE WILL CAUSE A LARGE TOXIC DILBIT SPILL CONTAINING DEADLY H2S GAS
It would take up to 10 minutes to shut down the Energy East Pipeline after a leak. In this time, about one million litres of dilbit could spill (14). The pipeline is 1.067 metres in diameter, the distance between shut off valves is 30 kilometres (14) and the pipeline volume between shut off valves is 23 million litres. A substantial portion of this 23 million litre volume could drain out after valve closure likely spilling more than in Megantic. Large pipeline leaks of dilbit have already occurred such as the 3 million litre spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010 (15). A 5.2 million litre pipeline spill of crude oil occurred in Manitoba in 1967 (16). In 2012, ninety oil spills occurred in Manitoba with a total volume of 795 thousand litres (17). Dilbit is toxic. The heavy portion of the dilbit sinks in water and is very difficult to clean up (15). The toxins are known to enter the food chain (28 ).
PARALLEL NATURAL GAS PIPELINES MAGNIFY THE DILBIT EXPLOSION RISK
Between Alberta and Winnipeg five natural gas lines run parallel (18 ). One is slated to be converted to carry dilbit (19). Three lines parallel run from Winnipeg to North Bay and two from North Bay to Toronto (18 ). Four natural gas pipelines explosions have occurred in Manitoba since 1995, the most recent in Otterburne in the winter of 2014 (20). The explosion of one line in Rapid City of July 19, 1995 ignited a second line (20). The combination of a dilbit line and parallel natural gas lines magnifies the risk of dilbit fire and explosion.
A DILBIT FIRE WILL PRODUCE A TOXIC SMOKE PLUME REQUIRING THE EVACUATION OF A LARGE AREA
The smoke plume from a dilbit fire is likely to be extensive due to the large amounts of heavier hydrocarbons and would require the evacuation of a large area. For example, on July 4, 2002, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources set a controlled burn of 950 thousand litre crude oil spill from an Enbridge pipeline break near Cohasset Minnesota that created a smoke plume about 1.6 kilometres high and 8.0 kilometres long (21,22). Under certain conditions the evacuation of an entire city such as Winnipeg could be required (27).
SPILLS, TOXIC PLUMES, AND EXPLOSIONS WILL OCCUR
It is not a matter of if, but when and where spills, deadly explosions and massive toxic plumes will occur along the Energy East pipeline.
Contributor: Dennis LeNeveu - Council of Canadians Winnipeg Chapter
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