January 10, 2015

Dilbit is NOT Dilbert

With all the discussion now taking place about Keystone XL, you might hear the term "dilbit" or diluted bituminous and wonder what the heck it is.

The TransCanada folks offer a great answer at http://blog.transcanada.com/dilbit-what-is-it if you want to learn more. And you just might want to. It is not as harmless as it sounds and you might not want it in your backyard or near your drinking water.

TransCanada history is not without blemish

Keystone pipeline advocates frequently argue that pipelines are safer ways to transport crude oil than railroad cars. But look at these facts.

TransCanada pipelines were in the headlines three times in 2014 for rather extensive failures. In September of 2014, a natural gas pipeline owned by TransCanada ruptured in Michigan causing the evacuation of 500 people. An earlier rupture in Alberta last February and another in Manitoba in January.

Some folks might argue that three leaks in one year is not that onerous. If one occurs in YOUR backyard or near your drinking water, you might not share that opinion.

In Keystone I's first year (2010), it leaked 14 times, with the largest spill more than 21,000 gallons. Pipeline regulators shut it down temporarily. Shortly thereafter, Keystone opened up their "state of the art" natural gas Bison pipeline that they claimed would not need repairs for 20 to 30 years. Oops. It exploded two months later. Guess those whistleblowers who claimed construction flaws were onto something.
Preventing leaks and detecting leaks may get easier as new technologies are developed. But leaks will occur. The Wall Street Journal reviewed 1400 pipeline accidents and discovered that out of 251 spill reports, energy companies' monitoring systems only discovered 19.5 percent of them. Most of them were discovered after the fact.
Pipelines spilled an average of 112,569 barrels a year in the U.S. from 2007 to 2012, a 3.5 percent increase from the previous five-year period, according to U.S. Transportation Department figures compiled by Bloomberg.
TransCanada explains: "The fact is, industry-leading design, construction, maintenance, operating and technological features are being incorporated into Keystone XL and the Gulf Coast Pipelines. Our primary focus is always to prevent leaks in the first place. . . While there are many emerging leak detection technologies that are being developed for the oil and gas pipeline industry most are still in the developmental stages. TransCanada is working with industry and the vendor community on evaluating a number of these technologies, including acoustic detection systems, internal pressure wave based tools and external cable and fiber optic based systems as well. . .
The pipeline monitoring and leak detection systems deployed on our Keystone oil pipeline system are based on proven technologies and represent the current state of the art for long distance, large diameter liquid pipeline operations. Our leak detection systems use the most advanced and proven technology available, and our highly-trained operators have consistently shown that they are able to notice very small changes that could be related to a leak and shut the pipeline down within minutes. This was demonstrated twice in 2011. Our monitoring system identified leaks of 10 and 500 barrels at above-ground pumping stations from very small fittings during two incidents in the U.S. On both occasions the pipeline was shut down within minutes and the oil was cleaned up with no environmental impact. The system worked as it was designed to do. Ten and 500-barrel leaks are extremely less than the 12,000 barrels our opponents claim would be the minimum amount our leak detection systems would be able to detect. We will continue to assess technologies that can further complement our current leak detection capabilities if and when the reliability and feasibility of those systems can be proven."

January 9, 2015

Addressing marine debris in Virginia waters

Marine debris was in the headlines a few months ago as searchers vainly looked for the missing Malaysian airline plane. Many had not heard of the floating masses called "garbage gyres" in the middle of our oceans. The one in the Pacific was in the news years ago, but memory is short when so many things plague our waters. And besides, this "sea of plastic" was not visible on our shorelines. It came from there, but few folks can actually see it now. But I pick up an assortment of flotsam on my nearby James River shoreline.

So it is good news that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and many other agencies and individuals are addressing balloon releases, derelict crab pots and other marine debris. Their plan is supposedly the first of its kind on the East Coast. The Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program includes a lot of education and awareness programs as well as clean up. I hope to see more about in local and state news.

January 7, 2015

Chesapeake Bay receives a very lenient grade AGAIN

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation folks are the best hope for restoring the health of this huge estuary. But since when is an index score of 32 out of 100 deemed a D+? No teacher worth their weight could curve scores that much. Nor would parents accept that much leniency.

CBF looks at 13 separate indicators, some of which show improvement (oysters, water clarity, underwater grasses). But the blue crab and rockfish populations decreased and the amount of phosphorus leaching in from our lawns increased. Let's hope we can get our act together and get some newly funded programs going by 2017. Or face lost federal funding.

James River power lines are again in the headlines

Fear of the dark a lobbying force? Really?

Dominion Power must believe that if they repeat it enought, the public will believe them. So they keep saying that without the proposed 500 volt power lines across the James River, power outages in Hampton Roads will occur in the near future, all the way from northern Virginia to North Carolina.

Thus, yesterday, the Virginia Supreme Court heard Dominion's oral arguments and those of opposing groups such as the James River Association, James City County and the Save the James Alliance who want to preserve the rather pristine look of the James River in that area. Also up for decision is whether a switching station is part of a power transmission line. They are integral to each other, but did the State Corporation Commission (SCC) err in late 2013 when they signed off on the project without input from James City County?

Marred views from our shorelines or impending darkness? 295 foot towers higher than the Statue of Liberty or no lights or TV? Dominion is not enthusiastic about burying the power lines, claiming that would add additional millions of dollars to the project cost.

The Supreme Court decision is not expected to make their decision until later this year. But stay tuned.  Then too, the Army Corps of Engineers still need to add their two cents before all can proceed.