Friday, November 28, 2014

Follow-up on Trans-Mountain

As a follow-up to my previous post I would like to address some comments about the Trans-Mountain pipeline, oil tankers and oil exports from BC. Most of the following numbers are from Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and Washington State documents. If you want references send a request my way.

Let’s start with some numbers. The current Trans-Mountain has a capacity of about 300,000 barrels a day (b/d). Of the total capacity, 221,000 b/d goes to refineries in British Columbia and Washington State and 79,000 b/d is allocated for marine exports. The Chevron refinery in Burnaby gets about 55,000 b/d and the Puget Sound spur line of the Trans-Mountain has a capacity of 170,000 b/d. The Trans-Mountain expansion has two proposed lines: Line 1 would consist of existing pipeline segments and could transport 350,000 b/d of refined petroleum products, light crude or heavy crude oil. The proposed Line 2 would have a capacity of 540,000 b/d and is allocated to the transportation of heavy crude oil. This new pipeline and configuration set-up would, add 590,000 b/d to the existing system for a total capacity of 890,000 b/d. This includes an upgrade of the Puget Sound line to 225,000 b/d.

One fact not well understood in this debate is that there are 5 major refineries in the Puget Sound with a combined capacity of 643,000 b/d. So why is that important? Well a lot of my Victoria friends have said “we don’t want tankers off our coast”. My response to that is you are really late getting into this game since for the last 20 years up to 600,000 b/d of Alaskan crude has been cruising past your proud city. These tankers have traveled down the entire coast of BC and along the west of Vancouver Island before turning west into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and into the Puget Sound with nary a major problem.

A big complaint is that much of the increased pipeline capacity is for “export” but “export” can mean a lot of things. Thanks to the loss of refining capacity in the Vancouver region we actually “export” crude oil and almost immediately need to re-import it as aviation and jet fuel from the Cherry Point refinery in Washington. Another not well known fact is that the Alaskan oil fields are drying up and new sources are needed to keep the Pacific Northwest in fuel. As I write this, new railway capacity is being built to supply up to 725,000 b/d of Bakken crude to the west coast and the Puget Sound refineries. The route will travel over any number of rivers including the headwaters of the Kootenay River and alongside the Columbia Rivers to the Puget Sound. The route risks both our Canadian and American ecological heritage. Every barrel of oil that can reach the Puget Sound via pipeline or in a double-hulled tanker is a barrel not sent overland adjacent to some of the most pristine and biologically diverse freshwater aquatic ecosystems in the world. Put another way, each Aframax tanker (700,000 bbl at 80% full) leaving the Port of Vancouver for the short haul to the Puget Sound could replace over 11 unit trains traveling almost halfway across the continent.

So I’ve thrown a lot of numbers around but what does this mean? The upgrade of the Puget Sound line of the Trans-Mountain could potentially result in a reduction of the amount of crude oil moving down the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Puget Sound and will certainly reduce the amount of oil transported to the Puget Sound by rail from the Bakken oil fields. With the decrease in Alaskan crude an increase of the Trans-Mountain may not significantly change the volume of oil that currently runs down the Strait of Juan de Fuca every day and given transportation costs, it is likely that the major “export” location for Trans-Mountain oil could actually be to the Puget Sound.

As I’ve written before, we need to move towards a society where oil products are not used for power or fuel. But until that time comes we need these products and the safest, most environmentally responsible way to get them to us is via pipelines. The least environmentally responsible ways are via rail and/or truck. While we transition away from fossil fuels lets ensure that we use the safest modes of transport in order to protect our joint ecological heritage.

Addendum: A comment from Dr. Andrew Leach at U of A reminds me of a pertinent fact. Not all the refineries in the Puget Sound have coking capacity. This would limit the amount of bitumen that could be shipped there as a refinery without a coker would be limited to processing crude and not dilbit. While the documentation for Line 2 indicates that it would transport heavy crude, it is assumed that much of that capacity will be in dilbit form.

Thoughts on Trans-Mountain

There is a tremendous misconception in the media and on the streets of Vancouver about the role of pipelines and hydrocarbons in our daily lives. We live in a society that is absolutely dependent on petroleum hydrocarbons derived from oil. Petroleum hydrocarbons aren’t just refined into fuel to run our vehicles, they also serve as the feedstock of the petrochemical industry. Petrochemicals form the basis of all the things that make our modern world work. They are the building blocks of our plastics, our computers, the tools we need to keep us healthy and the drugs we take when we are sick.
The proud defender of the land, Dr. Lynn Quarmby, has built her entire career using petrochemicals to advance her science. Get rid of the petrochemicals in her lab and she would be out of business. Just for interest, how do you think Whole Foods gets their organic kale to market? It is done using big diesel-powered trucks that need fuel.

Edmonton refineries provide up to 60% of the refined petroleum products used in the Lower Mainland, with the remainder supplied by the Chevron refinery in Burnaby and the Cherry Point refinery in Washington. The refined fuel is transported via the Trans-Mountain pipeline and both mentioned refineries are supplied with much/most of their raw products via the Trans-Mountain pipeline. When Gregor Robertson and Derek Corrigan decry the prospect of tankers in Vancouver Harbour, what they don’t tell you is that if the Trans-Mountain pipeline was shut down tomorrow, the result would be hundreds of tankers a year coming into Vancouver to supply our domestic market.

The Trans-Mountain pipeline is over 50 years old and while it is currently safe it is time to consider if a route through Burnaby Mountain might be safer than the current route which runs through Burnaby neighbourhoods. Wouldn’t Kinder Morgan be derelict to not investigate that option? Like it or not, our West Coast society is dependent on oil products to keeps sick babies alive at Sick Kids Hospital and keep Gregor Robertson and Derek Corrigan’s cities running smoothly. These products get to us via the Trans-Mountain pipeline and the protestors better watch out because if they shut the pipeline down, what they will see is hundred of oil tankers in their ports and thousands of rail cars of oil running along their most ecologically vulnerable rivers. Certainly we should move towards a society where oil products are not used for power or fuel. But until that time comes we need these products and the safest, most environmentally responsible way to get them to us is via pipelines.

About Me

If you have reached this website you were probably directed here because you were interested in what I have to say about pipelines. While many of these posts will be on that topic, my background is not specifically in pipeline technology and so most posts will not dwell on the topic. Like any new blog I will have to earn your trust and one of the ways of doing that it to tell you a bit about myself.

As my blog names suggests, I am a resident of the Township of Langley, living in the community of Walnut Grove. I have a very selfish reason for being interested in the Trans-Mountain pipeline in that my home is less than 50 m from the current Trans-Mountain right-of-way/pipeline. When I moved into my current neighbourhood, I was fully aware of the proximity of the Trans-Mountain pipeline and was comfortable with its presence. This is of particular note because in my professional life I am a Registered Professional Chemist and a Registered Professional Biologist and have been appointed to the Roster of Approved Professionals by the BC Ministry of Environment’s Director of Waste Management as a Standards Assessment Specialist (Contaminated Sites Approved Professional).

My area of expertise is the investigation and remediation of petroleum hydrocarbon contamination and the assessment of hydrocarbon contamination on human and ecological health. In my work, I have developed expertise in addressing the requirements of the British Columbia Environmental Management Act and its associated Contaminated Sites and Hazardous Waste Regulations for industrial and municipal clients. In my 15 years of practice I have coordinated multi‑stage environmental investigations; developed and implemented remediation plans; coordinated human health and ecological risk assessments and sediment quality/toxicity evaluations; and prepared reports for submission to the Ministry of Environment (remediation completion reports; human health and ecological risk assessments; remedial action plans; preliminary and detailed site investigations; and permit compliance reporting). In addition to provincial regulations, I have developed remediation plans to address the requirements of federal and local legislation and regulations from the Fisheries Act to local and municipal bylaws and have prepared reports for federal, provincial and municipal regulators. 

In my professional capacity I serve as a technical specialist in areas including: industrial chemistry; sources, fate and transport, and bidegradation of chemical contaminants; effects of contaminants on natural systems; and ecosystem restoration. My graduate research was in the fields of Chemistry and Environmental Science and involved improving the availability of high-quality multidisciplinary scientific data for use in environmental decision-making. This included developing standardised protocols to evaluate multidisciplinary data including specialised protocols for organic trace data, toxicological experiments and biological responses to organic contaminants. Coincidentally, one of my original research cases used to develop our methodology was an examination of the field of climate change. As such I have been reading the literature on climate change since the early 1990s and I have some pretty strong opinions on that topic as well.

I’m sorry if the above sounds a bit like bragging, but what I am trying to establish is that in the field of hydrocarbon spills and clean-up I am not a novice. My aim is to inform readers and supply useful information to assist in conducting a reasonable discussion on the transportation and use of petroleum hydrocarbons. I acknowledge that I will not always be the expert (or even right) but will endeavour to make corrections when my errors are pointed out and provide links to those who know more than I do on a topic.