An existing pipeline just east of Dallas could be carrying tar sands oil through Texas as early as June.
While President Barack Obama has stopped Canadian energy companies from building a new tar sands pipeline across the international border, his permission is not needed to ship the heavy crude through existing pipelines.
Enter the Seaway pipeline. It crosses 16 Texas counties, including Grayson, Collin, Rockwall and Kaufman just North and East of Dallas.
During its 36 years Seaway has transported natural gas and crude from the Texas Gulf north to Cushing, Oklahoma.
Now new pipeline owners expect to receive federal permission to ship oil in the opposite direction. And when they do they want to add tar sands oil from Canada, which is a combination of clay, sand, water and heavy, sticky black oil.
Smith: These are pipelines of poison that are carrying products that are twenty times more acidic.
Tom Smith of Public Citizen says the chemicals and pressure typically used to move tar sands oil make this pipeline conversion dangerous, especially to major aquifers like the Trinity which supplies water to the Dallas-Fort Worth region.
Smith: This isn’t your granddaddy’s crude oil but it is your granddaddy’s old oil pipeline. And as a result it was never designed to be able to handle these kinds of tar sands crudes at the pressures and with the acidity that are going to be pushed through this. This is literally going to eat the pipeline right out. And leaks are more likely.
Rainey: We feel comfortable that the safety measures in place are going to be adequate
That’s Rick Rainey of Enterprise Products Partners in Houston. Enterprise and Canadian energy company Enbridge jointly own the Seaway pipeline. Rainey expects light crude to be the primary product transported, but says the amount of pressure in the line won’t change if it’s used to ship tar sands oil.
Rainey: When you move crude oil it’s a matter of how fast it can move. That determines how many barrels per day you’re able to move through the line. When the heavier grades come through the line they won’t be able to move as fast. It will just be less delivered per day.
Rainey says the partners may build a parallel pipeline that could accommodate greater pressure and increased shipping of tar sands oil.
It appears they won’t need state approval to do that or to ship the heavier crude through Seaway.
Tom Smith and his group met last week with federal EPA officials in Dallas to raise their concerns.