Technological advances make the Keystone XL pipeline safer than alternatives

My Dad loves to read Fox News, and he sent me this article about the technology behind the Keystone XL pipeline. We got into a good discussion on this article, too. My Dad used to be a big believer in big government, but now he only cares about what problems the private sector can solve.

The article says:

The Obama administration continues to block the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would transport nearly 35 million gallons of oil a day from Canada to the U.S., citing environmental concerns as the reason. But according to pipeline advocates, it would use the latest technology and best safety features to prevent spills.

Advanced steel is part of it. The current part of the Keystone pipeline that already exists uses 2,638 miles of hardened steel built to “withstand  impact from a 65-ton excavator with 3.5-inch teeth,” according to TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone pipeline.

The steel is also coated with alloys to prevent it from wearing out.

“They use all kinds of methodologies to reduce friction. Corrosion inhibition is pretty sexy stuff in this business,” Eric Smith, associate director of Tulane University’s Energy Institute, told FoxNews.com

Pumping stations are another critical part. All along the pipeline, pumps move the oil using centrifugal force: a motor spins and forces oil to the edges of the pump, which causes more oil to rush forward to take the place of the oil pulled to the edges.

Each pump has 6,500 horsepower – meaning that the pump exerts an amount of power roughly equivalent to that of 6,500 horses. Total pumping power on the existing pipeline is nearly half a million horsepower, according to TransCanada.

Another critical technology is leak detection systems. The existing Keystone pipeline, for instance, has sensors that collect data from 20,000 different points along the pipeline.

If a leak occurs anywhere along the pipeline, the pressure in the pipeline changes, and TransCanada notes that such changes travel through the pipeline at the speed of sound and so can be detected nearly instantly.

The company adds that the pipeline has “fail-safe” mechanisms that automatically reduce oil pressure in the pipeline to safe levels.

TransCanada also has airplanes monitor the pipeline from the sky, using both the eyes of human pilots and a “Laser Spectroscopy Unit” that shoots a laser near the pipeline and then analyzes the reaction of whatever material is hit by the laser beam. TransCanada says this is “capable of identifying tiny methane leaks at patrol altitudes.”

The human pilots also catch things. TransCanada reports that one of its pilots once noticed that a circus in Kansas had tethered an elephant to a pipeline stake, which posed a potential threat.

All the layers of security help, say experts.

“It’s a belt-and-suspenders kind of approach. You just don’t want even minute leaks,” Smith said, adding that pipelines are the safest way of moving oil across land.

Pipelines are actually much safer than transporting the oil by train, which is the method favored by environmentalist opponents to Keystone XL:

According to a 2006 study by Environmental Research Consulting using Department of Transportation data, pipelines have spilled far less than trucks or railroads per ton of oil transported.

Critics of President Obama’s delay of the Keystone XL construction say the holdup actually makes everyone less safe, as oil producers instead rely on comparatively dangerous railroads for transportation. From 2008 to 2013, the amount of oil transported by rail skyrocketed from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 41 times that – 407,642 – in 2013.

My big point to my Dad about this is how the private sector responds to the desires of customers on their own, developing solutions for the people who they expect to buy their products. The government spends 2 billion on the Obamacare web site, and forces people to use it. They can never develop anything people actually want to buy. Government just taxes, regulates and restricts the businesses who seek to solve problems for customers.

It’s the private sector businesses who are the real heroes to customers – making the things that we want and need and competing with other businesses to sell the most quality at the lowest price. They even find solutions to our concerns about the environment, if we let them, because that is part of pleasing the customer, too. If we had to wait on public school teachers, politicians, Hollywood clowns and academics to innovate, we would be waiting a long time indeed. I stand with private sector business, and the free-market system in general.

UPDATE: Holy snouts. For the first time in 6 years I am actually proud of Obama for doing something:

The Obama administration has opened a new front in the global battle for oil market share, effectively clearing the way for the shipment of as much as a million barrels per day of ultra-light U.S. crude to the rest of the world.

The Department of Commerce on Tuesday ended a year-long silence on a contentious, four-decade ban on oil exports, saying it had begun approving a backlog of requests to sell processed light oil abroad. It also issued a long-awaited document outlining exactly what kinds of oil other would-be exporters can ship.

The administration’s first serious effort to clarify an issue that has caused confusion and consternation in energy markets for more than a year will likely please domestic oil drillers, foreign trade partners and some Republicans who have urged Obama to loosen the export ban, which they see as an outdated holdover from the 1970s Arab oil embargo.

The latest measures were wrapped in regulatory jargon and couched by some as a basic clarification of existing rules, but analysts said the message was unambiguous: a green light for any company willing and able to process their light condensate crude through a distillation tower, a simple piece of oilfield kit.

“In practice this long-awaited move can open up the floodgates to substantial increases in exports by end 2015,” Ed Morse, global head of commodities research at Citigroup in New York said in a research note.

[…]By opening the door to U.S. crude exports, the administration is offering a bit of relief to some domestic drillers that have said that they are forced to sell their shale oil at a discount of as much as $15 a barrel versus global markets as fast-rising domestic supplies overwhelm local demand.

Let’s hope Obama signs the Keystone XL pipeline in the new year, too. That will help people so much and hurt our enemies, Russia, Venezuela and Iran. There are ways to fight wars without firing a shot, and this is how you do it – he looks like Ronald Reagan, now. Well done, Barack Obama! Finally!

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