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Transcanada restarts Keystone oil sands pipeline operations

TransCanada Corporation said that its 590,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) capacity Keystone Pipeline system resumed transporting oil sands crude on Sunday, 5 June, after a shutdown 29 May following an above-ground spill at a pump station in Kansas involving less than 10 barrels of oil. On Friday, 3 June, the US Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), part of the US Department of Transportation, had issued a Corrective Order requiring the company to take specified corrective actions with respect to the pipeline prior to resumption of operations.

On May 7, 2011, a reportable failure incident occurred on pump station piping on the Keystone crude oil pipeline resulting in the release of approximately 400 barrels of crude oil. On May 29, 2011, a second reportable failure incident occurred on piping at another pump station. The Keystone pipeline is approximately 1,316 miles in length and transports crude oil from the US-Canadian Border in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois and includes an extension running from Jefferson County, Nebraska to Cushing, Oklahoma. Pursuant to 49 USC § 60117, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), initiated an investigation of the incidents.

—PHMSA Corrective Action Order

TransCanada said in its statement announcing resumption of operations that PHMSA had approved the restart plan on Saturday, 4 June.

TransCanada says it will monitor Keystone closely in the coming days to ensure it is functioning appropriately. Flows will be gradually ramped up; TransCanada says it will be able to move all volumes nominated by its customers for the month of June.

The existing Keystone pipeline project and the Keystone XL expansion project. Click to enlarge.

The Keystone Pipeline is a 3,460-kilometer (2,150-mile) pipeline that transports crude oil from the oil sands in Alberta to markets in the American Midwest at Wood River and Patoka in Illinois, and at Cushing, Oklahoma. The Canadian portion of the pipeline runs from Hardisty, Alberta east into Manitoba where it turns south and crosses the border into North Dakota. From North Dakota, the pipeline runs south through South Dakota and Nebraska. At Steele City, Nebraska, one arm of the pipeline runs east through Missouri for deliveries into Wood River and Patoka, Illinois; another arm runs south through Oklahoma for deliveries into Cushing, Oklahoma.

Deliveries to Wood River and Patoka began in the summer of 2010, and deliveries to Cushing began in February of 2011.

TransCanada is proposing a 2,673-kilometer (1,661-mile) Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion Project (Keystone XL) with an initial nominal transport capacity of 700,000 bpd. (Earlier post.) Because this proposed project will cross into the United States from Canada, a Presidential Permit issued by the US Department of State is required for the project to proceed.

The Department of State expects to make a decision on whether to grant or deny the permit before the end of 2011. Political pressure has increased both for and against the project as the time for a decision draws closer, with state and federal legislators urging either fast tracking or delay. The Keystone XL Project is vigorously opposed by environmental organizations—both for the greenhouse gas implications of increased oil sands production as well as basic environmental concerns over the long pipeline. Some have used the recent spills from Keystone as an argument against the US fast tracking the Keystone XL project.

Dr. James Hansen is urging the scientific community to get involved in the fray now, saying that “If this project gains approval, it will become exceedingly difficult to control the tar sands monster.”

Although there are multiple objections to tar sands development and the pipeline, including destruction of the environment in Canada and the likelihood of spills along the pipeline’s pathway, such objections, by themselves, are very unlikely to stop the project.

An overwhelming objection is that exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts. The tar sands are estimated (e.g., see IPCC AR4 WG3 report) to contain at least 400 GtC (equivalent to about 200 ppm CO2). Easily available reserves of conventional oil and gas are enough to take atmospheric CO2 well above 400 ppm. However, if emissions from coal are phased out over the next few decades and if unconventional fossil fuels are left in the ground, it is conceivable to stabilize climate.

Phase out of emissions from coal is itself an enormous challenge. However, if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over. There is no practical way to capture the CO2 emitted while burning oil, which is used principally in vehicles.

—James Hansen



I guess that we can forget about stabilizing North American GHG emissions with the huge increase in tar sands oil production in the next 15+ years.

Will the arrival of more electrified vehicles be enough to offset the increase in GHG from tar sands?


I doubt it, at present and projected sales of EVs in the U.S. we will not even have 1 million EVs out of more than 200 million by 2020.


@ HarveyD

"Will the arrival of more electrified vehicles be enough to offset the increase in GHG from tar sands?"

It all depends on the Price/Performance ratio of EVs relative to ICEVs. This is not rocket science.


It might be better to ask if we have EVs/HEVs/PHEVs and fuel plants, can we eliminate tar sand and their emissions? If we are using CO2 from ethanol fermentation and hydrogen from methane can we do without tar sands and actually be more carbon neutral? If we use the natural gas to make fuels rather than using it to cook tar sands, are we better off?

If we are using CO2 from ethanol fermentation and hydrogen from methane can we do without tar sands and actually be more carbon neutral?
No. There's not nearly enough carbon from biomass in total, let alone the fraction lost as CO2 while making ethanol.

Oh good, God has spoken, that settles that.


Carbon in the 1.3 billion t/a of biomass projected by the "Billion-Ton Vision" paper: approx. 520 million tpy.

Carbon in the 140 billion gallons of gasoline used in the USA: approx. 330 million tpy.

That's assuming you can capture all the carbon as product. Unless you have a massive external source of hydrogen, that's not going to happen.

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