Alberta's ERCB responds to oil sands pipeline risk report

Christopher E. Smith
OGJ Pipeline Editor

HOUSTON, Feb. 22 -- Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) responded to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Pipeline Safety Trust, National Wildlife Federation, and Sierra Club report “Tar Sands Pipeline Safety Risks,” describing it as misleading regarding pipeline safety in Alberta and on the characteristics of diluted bitumen.

NRDC’s report described tar sands crude as having 5-10 times as much sulfur as conventional crude and more chloride salts. The report also characterized the crude pipeline system in Alberta as newer but carrying more tar sands oil than the US system, before stating the Alberta system had experienced 16 times more safety incidences due to internal corrosion than the US system, which it saw as a strong indicator of the corrosive nature of raw tar sands oil (OGJ Online, Feb. 17, 2011).

ERCB described these statements as factually inaccurate. “The NRDC’s comparison of ERCB data with that collected in the US is flawed, as it selected data from a much broader array of ERCB pipelines than those included in US data as hazardous liquid pipelines,” according to ERCB. “Additionally, the NRDC did not recognize that the ERCB requires all incidents to be reported, regardless of whether or not any product is spilled, and also regardless of spill volume, whereas in the US only spills of 5 bbl of liquids or more are required to be reported.”

According to ERCB, in the category identified by NRDC—pipelines shipping bitumen and blends of bitumen—ERCB identified only three spills resulting from internal corrosion between 1990 and 2005. ERCB places the resulting average failure frequency at 0.03/1,000 km/year, lower than the US rate it cites from the NRDC study of 0.08/1,000 km/year.

ERCB also noted that “analysis of pipeline failure statistics in Alberta has not identified any significant differences in failure frequency between pipelines handling conventional crude versus pipelines carrying crude bitumen, crude oil, or synthetic crude oil.”

ERCB noted the tariff specification for the Keystone XL project as being virtually the same in regards to water content and solids contents as that specified for other heavy oil pipelines, concluding that there is no reason to expect this product to behave in any substantially different way than other oil pipelines.

Contact Christopher E. Smith at

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