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Mon July 23, 2012
Pipeline Opponents Cite Michigan Spill
The group Public Citizen wants the Texas Railroad Commission to further regulate oil pipelines. They’re concerned about the Seaway pipeline, which is owned by a company responsible for the biggest on-shore oil spill in U.S. history.
The National Transportation Safety Board just blasted Enbridge Energy, a Canadian company, for not following its own safety procedures in the Michigan pipeline spill.
Two years ago, more than 840,000 gallons of heavier tar sands oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River when the pipeline burst. More than 300 people got sick from inhaling toxic benzene.
Enbridge is half owner of Seaway, a 36-year old oil pipeline in Texas that has been converted from carrying light crude oil to transporting heavier tar sands oil. Canadian tar sands oil is diluted with condensate, a natural gas liquid, which allows it to flow through pipelines.
Public Citizen member Rita Beving is concerned because the Michigan oil spill happened when another older repurposed pipeline ripped.
"The spill up in Michigan happened through a 43-year old repurposed pipeline," Beving said. "The Seaway pipeline in our backyard is a 36-year-old pipeline. We need the railroad commission to be given the authority by our legislators to look after repurposed pipelines coming to Texas."
Seaway pipeline crosses 16 Texas counties including Grayson, Collin, Rockwall and Kaufman just north and east of Dallas.
Public Citizen recently brought Michigan oil spill victim Michelle Barlond Smith to Austin to testify before the state Energy Resources committee.
"I have lived through a tar sands oil spill and I want to challenge you, the great state of Texas, to step up and protect its citizens," Smith said.
Barlond Smith saw her neighbors become ill from the oil spill’s fumes.
"My neighbor’s children were throwing up in the street, projectile black, brown stuff. I watched as these people got sick and started screaming for help from my government," she said. "I was naive way back then in thinking that when something happens like this your government’s going to step in and save you. No."
Barlond Smith and Beving want additional government oversight and safeguards on converted pipelines and pumping stations that handle tar sands oil.
Houston-based Enterprise Products co-owns the Seaway pipeline with Enbridge, the Canadian company facing a record $3.7 million fine for the big spill. Enterprise Products’ Rick Rainey insists tar sands oil moving south through the Seaway pipeline is as safe as the Mexican and Venezuelan heavy crude previously shipped through the pipeline.
"The misconception is that it’s a tar like, gritty form of crude oil that’s going to be transported through Seaway, which is not the case at all," Rainey said. "The specifications are designed to limit solids like dirt and sand to protect the pipeline and those safeguards aren’t going away and they will also apply to what’s coming down from Canada."
Rainey says Enterprise Products will take a hard look at the government report on the Michigan oil spill and its recommendations for safer pipeline management and operator training. In the meantime, it plans to triple the amount of oil flowing through Seaway by early next year and build a second, parallel pipeline in 2014 that will also carry tar sands oil.
As a result of the Oil Pipeline Safety Act of 2011, the U.S. government is conducting a year-long study to find out if tar sands oil has any adverse effect on pipelines.