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Hazards of Transportation of Manitoba Crude Oil

Posted by Winnipeg Chapter on October 9, 2014 at 8:35 PM

Hazards of Transportation of Manitoba Crude Oil

by

D.M. LeNeveu


MANITOBA OIL IS FROM FRACKING


Almost all of the oil produced now in Manitoba is from horizontal wells using hydraulic fracturing (1,2).



TRANSPORT IS BY PIPELINE AND RAIL



 

Much of Manitoba crude oil is transported by pipeline and rail cars from the distribution centre at Cromer, Manitoba (28,38 ).  Three major pipelines pass through Cromer: the Enbridge main line, the Enbridge Bakken line and the TransCanada Keystone line (40,41,42). The Enbridge main line consists of seven parallel pipelines running in a single corridor entering Manitoba west of Virden and exiting near Gretna (43). In addition to crude oil from Manitoba, these pipelines carry oil from Saskatchewan, Alberta including diluted bitumen from the tar sands and from the Bakken in the US. The remainder of Manitoba crude is shipped primarily by rail car. The terminal at Cromer Manitoba is rated as having a rail capacity of 60 thousand barrels a day. The volume shipped by rail is predicted to increase from 200 thousand barrels a day in Western Canada in 2014 to almost 800 thousand by 2016 (28 ).


MANITOBA OIL CAUSES GLOBAL WARMING


The total oil production in Manitoba in 2012 was 18.5 million barrels (1). This is small by global standards but the burning of this fuel contributes to global warming.


MANITOBA OIL CONTAINS VOLATILE EXPLOSIVE GAS, SULPHUR, H2S AND TOXIC BTEX


Manitoba crude oil is normally transported as a light sour crude blend (LSB) containing typically one per cent sulphur by weight, four percent gas by volume (mostly butane), two percent benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene (BTEX),  and an undisclosed amount of H2S (3). BTEX is one of the most dangerous, persistent and mobile environmental contaminants (4).  The maximum acceptable concentration of benzene in Canadian drinking water is five micrograms per litre (5).  H2S is a deadly toxic gas (66). There is no prescribed limit for H2S in crude oil (67).


INTER-PROVINCIAL OIL SPILLS


The National Energy Board (NEB) is responsible for regulation of interprovincial and international pipelines in Canada. A spill from a pipeline under NEB jurisdiction must be reported immediately and an emergency response plan filed, an environmental site assessment and a remedial action plan must be submitted. The NEB must approve a closure report demonstrating all standards have been met (6). Between 2006 and 2012 there were five pipeline accidents under NEB jurisdiction within Manitoba (7). Last winter an explosion of a TransCanada gas pipeline occurred in Otterburne Manitoba (8 ).  Enbridge was found to be negligent in a pipeline spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan of nearly three million litres of diluted bitumen (dilbit) from Alberta that took more than four years to cleanup at a cost of more than one billion dollars (9).  The Enbridge pipeline that carries the dilbit crosses Manitoba.


INTRA-PROVINCIAL OIL SPILLS


Intra-provincial pipe lines are under the jurisdiction of the Manitoba government (6).


In 2012 there were ninety recorded oil spills under Manitoba jurisdiction comprising 795 thousand litres (10). Wellhead leaks accounted for 40% of the spilled volume, pipeline and flowline breaks, 14% , oil batteries failure, 11%,  tank leakage, 18%, and trucking, 14%.  Rail oil spill data for Manitoba is unavailable. Rail has a thirty three times higher spill rate than pipelines according to US statistics but, based on spill volume, the rate is only 2.7 times higher (14). The oil companies at fault are responsible for the cost of spill cleanup in Manitoba. In a typical spill, a vacuum truck collects the freestanding fluid and washes the soil. The fluids are transported to an approved disposal facility. Gypsum and calcium nitrate are used for remediation of brines from oil spills.  Where remediation is not feasible, the contaminated soil is recovered and disposed of at an approved facility (1).  The effectiveness of these measures can be questioned. Removal of surface contaminated soil will not necessarily remove all of mobile BTEX contamination (15). In 2013, an oil spill from an underground flow line near the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border of more than 100 thousand litres was not detected for more than 10 days, more than enough time for soluble BTEX contaminants to seep deep into the ground (11). Under aerobic conditions benzene will be degraded after about one year, however under anaerobic conditions BTEX contamination can persist much longer (16).


LACK OF REGULATION, ENFORCEMENT


There are guidelines from Manitoba Environment requiring soil testing of petroleum contaminated soil from storage tanks however no regulations could be found pertaining to soil testing to ensure effectiveness of the remediation and cleanup of oil spills (17). There is criticism that many oil spills in Manitoba go unreported, inspection and enforcement of regulations is inadequate, enforcement should be independent of the Petroleum Branch that promotes the oil industry, and the petroleum industry in Manitoba is largely self regulated (12, 13).  


BTEX CONTAMINATION FROM LAND SPRAYING


In addition to surface spills there is evidence that drill mud sprayed onto agricultural land can contain BTEX contaminants (18 ). The contaminants can come from fracking fluids, drilling fluids and from oil and gas released into formations during fracking operations. Fugitive releases of oil and gas can be expected to be particularly large in shut-in periods in open-hole completion commonly used with horizontal wells where rock is exposed and hydraulic fracturing has opened fractures penetrating deep into the formations (19). At least 10% of wells can be shut-in in Manitoba for periods up to three years or more. (20,68 ). Oil and gas fluids that are less dense than the surrounding brine will leak into the horizontal wells during shut-in. Buoyancy pressure will act on the fugitive oil and gas driving it upwards through induced and natural fractures and permeable pathways and into aquifers (20). Upward movement of these less dense fluids will lower the pressure in the horizontal wells causing further and ongoing release essentially creating a gas and oil siphon. Also vertical well sections are known to leak gas and oil into the formations through cement defects around steel casings (70,71,72). Subsequent drilling operations will encounter such fugitive gas and oil that will contaminate the drill mud that is eventually sprayed onto the land (74).  In Manitoba there are regulations pertaining to hydrocarbon (<0.1% dry weight), salts, heavy metal and concentrations in land spray (73). There is no requirement to measure or restrict BTEX contamination. No independent testing and recording of soil concentrations and spray area is done and violations are investigated only upon a complaint basis.  


EXPLOSION, FIRE AND TOXIC PLUMES


The explosive content of Manitoba crude oil is similar to the Bakken crude that exploded and destroyed Megantic (3,22), killing 47 people on July 6, 2013. (23,24). The estimated 400 million clean up reconstruction cost for Lac Megantic is being born by government (27). An explosion and fire of crude oil is accompanied by a large toxic black smoke plume such as occurred in the train derailment and crude oil fire near Casselton, North Dakota in 2013 (25). Such a plume could necessitate the evacuation of an entire city such as Winnipeg (26). After the Lac Megantic incident several emergency rulings were issued in the US and Canada regarding rail safety and rail car specifications (28 ). Older railcars with less stringent safety features are to be phased out in Canada over a period of three years (29). Concerns remain that these measures are insufficient to prevent further disasters especially considering the forecasted increase in oil shipments by rail (30). Rail lines carrying LSB run right through the heart of Winnipeg and oil pipelines run near many southwest Manitoba towns. The planned Energy East pipeline for carrying dilbit will follow the Trans-Canada highway in Manitoba and pass through the southern boundary of Winnipeg (79).


FUGITIVE TOXIC EMISSIONS FROM PIPELINES


Fugitive emissions from pipelines are known to occur through leaking seals and through pressure relief valves that occur at intervals along the line. Pressure relief valves are required to relieve pressure from line pressure surges that could breach the pipe (31). The NEB has recently issued warning regarding the danger of pipeline breaks from inadequate pressure relief measures in pipelines (32). Enbridge and other pipeline companies have been cited in improper pipeline design to account for pressure relief (33,34). Fugitive pipeline releases such from pressure relief valves and leaking seals are known to contribute to greenhouse gas burden and can be toxic especially in lines carrying hydrogen sulphide gas (35, 36, 37).


SULPHUR AND DEADLY HYDROGEN SULPHIDE GAS (H2S) IN PIPELINES AND RAIL CARS


For every litre of oil produced in Manitoba there is from 5 to 65 litres of sour gas. The hydrogen sulphide content of the gas ranges from less than 0.01% to 13.5% (44). The oil in Manitoba is sent through heat treaters to remove residual water content. In this process much of the sour solution gas is driven off and flared. Some is captured to use as fuel in the heat treater (44). The organic sulphur in oil can decompose upon heating in the heat treater to form H2S (49,50). The gas remaining in the oil after heat treatment (primarily butane (3)) will contain hydrogen sulphide. There is no available measurement of hydrogen sulphide content of oil transported in Manitoba. However, based on gas content of LSB from Manitoba and Saskatchewan (4%) and the range of H2S in sour gas content in Manitoba (0.01 to 13.5% (44)), the content H2S content of oil can be estimated to be between 4 and 5400 ppm. It could be argued most of the H2S would be driven off in the heat treater. However given that H2S has a higher boiling point (-60˚ C)  than methane (-258.7˚ C), and ethane (-127.5˚ C) the major constituents of Manitoba sour gas (47, 48 ) and thermal decomposition of organic sulphur to H2S is likely to occur in the heat treater, the H2S percentage in the reaming gas is likely to be greater after heat treatment. The H2S content of one heat treater oil sample near Virden from 1974 archived on a Manitoba government website was 100 ppm by volume (80) which is consistent with the predicted range. Further production of H2S from the sulphur in oil (1% in LSB) is likely to occur in tanks, railcars and pipelines from sulphate reducing bacteria (51,52). Thus the final H2S concentration in transported oil would likely be higher than the estimated range of 4 to 5400 ppm.

The bacterial production of hydrogen sulphide in pipelines can lead to corrosion and failure as has occurred in the Prudhoe Bay oil spill and the Trans Alaska pipeline (57,58,59, 60). In Lac Megantic it is suspected that exposure to H2S from the crude oil in the rail cars contributed to the death toll (61).


RESTRICTIONS ON H2S IN PIPELINES


In the US, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved requests from oil pipeline companies to restrict H2S content in oil to 5 ppm to protect workers (53).  There is no restriction or reporting of hydrogen sulphide content in oil from Manitoba. Transport of sour oil and gas in Manitoba exposes both the public and workers to risk from deadly hydrogen sulphide gas (66).


SULPHUR DISPOSAL LIABILITY


To ensure that H2S in pipelines and rail cars is less than 5 ppm, sulphur would have to be removed at source requiring expensive desulphurization plants (54, 75). In the tar sands and elsewhere in Alberta and B.C. huge stockpiles of elemental sulphur are accumulating at an unacceptable and alarming rate from such plants (55). These stockpiles present an unfunded environmentally toxic liability.  In Alberta and B.C., injection of hydrogen sulphide gas into depleted or operational oil and gas fields is being used as the preferred method of sulphur disposal (56). These oil and gas fields contain numerous wells that will eventually leak with potentially severe environmental consequences (76, 77). As sweet oil and gas reserves are depleted the extraction of sour oil and gas will increase as will the environmental sulphur liability. Sulphur and H2S in oil and gas is an insoluble problem for the petroleum industry (55,78 ).  In Canada for instance the sulphur liability of the tar sands alone is a massive 14 billion metric tonnes (62,63).     


H2S AND SULPHUR DISPOSAL IN MANITOBA


In Manitoba all hydrogen sulphide from sour gas is flared. Flaring of H2S from desulphurization plants used to remove sulphur from the oil to allow safer transportation would exacerbate environmentally damaging and toxic emissions of H2S and sulphur dioxide. Measurements of exceedences of guidelines for hydrogen sulphide exposure have occurred in the Tilston area in Manitoba (48 ). It has been reported that in a ranch in the Tilston area where exceedences were measured, over forty head of cattle died. The owner of the ranch found his one-year old grandson overcome by flaring fumes inside his own home. Fortunately he managed to revive the boy. The rancher is now in a long term care facility and four of his neighbours have abandoned their homes (65).

Why are we continuing on this destructive pathway of fossil fuel extraction? Manitoba has plenty of hydro, wind and solar potential. How close is your family to a pipeline, railway or flare stack? Is it not time we stood up and put an end to this madness?


Contributor: Dennis LeNeveu - Council of Canadians Winnipeg Chapter


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