Groups express concerns as crude-oil pipeline protests escalate

Three groups that support the Dakota Access crude-oil pipeline and similar oil and gas transportation projects separately expressed concerns on Oct. 11 after protesters broke into facilities near the Canadian border and elsewhere and tried to close pipeline valves manually.

The activists’ actions were a danger to themselves, workers, and the surrounding communities while also potentially disrupting fuel supplies to refiners and, ultimately, consumers, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers Pres. Chet Thompson maintained.

Thompson cited reports that activists in Clearbrook, Minn., were caught trespassing and forcing the shutdown of several pipelines. TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone pipeline in Walhalla, ND, also saw protestors and closed a line near that location. Spectra Energy’s Express pipeline in Coal Banks Landing, Mont., also closed in the face of protests.

Together, these pipelines supply more than 2.5 million b/d of crude oil to American refineries, Thompson said. “Criminal trespassing, destruction of property, and the creation of potentially unsafe conditions, are not proper forms of protests,” he said. “The belief and politics of a few eco-terrorists do not supersede the rights of millions of consumers who could face increased costs because of reduced supplies of energy.”

Association of Oil Pipe Lines Pres. Andrew J. Black also condemned protesters break-ins and attempts to close pipeline valves manually. “These are industrial facilities that operate under high pressure, and we don’t want anyone to get hurt or cause a release into the environment,” he said.

Black explained that pipeline operators place shutoff valves periodically along the line’s length to help control the flow of product and isolate certain segments of pipe if needed. When operated correctly by trained engineers, pipelines are the safest way to transport the large volumes crude oil and petroleum products US consumers need, he said.

Possibly serious consequences

However, pipelines operate under as much as 1,000 psi of pressure, Black said. Incorrectly closing a valve in the middle of a pipeline without simultaneous control of pumps before and after the valves could cause a pressure surge, rupture the pipeline, and cause a spill that could have a public and environmental impact, he warned.

An industry review of pipeline valve incidents found nine different examples of pressure surge releases, with one resulting in nearly 4,000 bbl of crude oil being spilled, the AOPL president said. For these reasons, pipeline facilities behind lock-and-key are protected for the safety of the public. Vandalizing, attempting to operate or otherwise tampering with pipeline equipment is dangerous and risks hurting those involved, the public, or the environment, he said.

In Houston, Consumer Energy Alliance Pres. David Holt said protesters’ extreme and illegal actions place US consumers at risk. “Intentionally breaking the law to trespass and shut down critical infrastructure like this can cause serious repercussions and harm. These lines move large volumes of much-needed energy to families and businesses across the nation. Extremists are also putting themselves and the very environment they intend to protect at risk,” he said.

“The steps taken by these individuals to sabotage pipelines—in addition to the threats, intimidation, and cyberbullying tactics they are using—clearly show that their agenda has nothing to do with protecting the environment and everything to do with shutting down the American economy and hurting everyday Americans, families, small business, and our economic way of life,” Holt said.

“Pipelines have proven to be the most effective and environmentally sound method of transporting fuels, which are critical to our modern way of life,” AFPM’s Thompson said. “Eco-terrorists will not win support from consumers or policymakers by disrupting fuel supplies and driving up the costs of products that Americans depend on every day.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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