TransCanada committed to pipeline safety

2009-07-07T00:00:00Z TransCanada committed to pipeline safetyROBERT JONES The Billings Gazette
July 07, 2009 12:00 am  • 

TransCanada is one of the largest and most successful pipeline developers and operators because we are committed to protection of the environment, the public and our employees. TransCanada designs, constructs and operates its pipelines for the long term and to the highest standards of safety. This focus on safety is not just words - it is a fundamental business principle.

TransCanada's Keystone XL Pipeline is being designed and built to meet or exceed all federal and state regulatory requirements. The design and construction of Keystone XL uses an approach to safety that is recognized worldwide.

A June 27 guest opinion in The Gazette raised questions about the safety of the proposed pipeline, the pressure and hydraulic design of the Keystone XL system, and it included inaccurate and misleading information. I'd like to correct the record and provide additional information about our proposed pipeline.

The column suggested that the pipeline would experience pressure transients of 1,800 pounds per square inch, which would in turn cause failure. Neither point is true. First, the pipeline will be pressure-tested with water to at least 1,800 pounds per square inch prior to operation, demonstrating its ability to withstand this pressure. Second, the pressure profile in an oil pipeline declines with distance from pump stations, spaced 50 miles apart. As an added measure to ensure safety in the event of a pressure transient, Keystone XL will use higher-strength pipe at the discharge of pump stations and at nearby lower elevations. Third, all pipeline components such as pumps and valves are designed that, even during the most extreme transient event, the system pressure will not exceed the maximum allowable operating pressure, which is 25 percent lower than the pressure at which the pipe will be tested prior to operation.

Safety requirements

The column inaccurately represented regulatory requirements that apply to ensure safety. There is no standard wall thickness required. Rather, in the early 1970s, federal standards were enacted that required a safety margin of at least 28 percent between the maximum stress generated by the pressure inside the pipe and the minimum yield strength of the steel walls. Even then, several pipelines were grandfathered to operate at higher pressures.

Standards have always recognized that the safety of a pipeline system depends on a number of factors other than thickness of the steel, such as strength of the steel, quality of the fabrication process, integrity of the welds, measures taken to prevent corrosion, measures taken to limit the risk of another party digging into or damaging the pipeline, measures taken to establish the integrity of the pipeline, and ongoing assessments to evaluate integrity over the life of the pipeline.

Regulators have allowed pipelines to operate with a 20 percent safety margin where additional measures above and beyond those required by existing regulations are in place to better ensure the safety of the pipeline system. In fact, the 20 percent safety margin has recently been adopted in the U.S. as the new standard for natural-gas pipelines. In Canada and Australia, both gas and liquid pipelines have used the 20 percent safety margin for decades. Keystone XL will incorporate significant measures that exceed current regulatory requirements and better ensure the safety of this pipeline system.

Pipeline protections

TransCanada has eliminated external corrosion as a source of pipeline failures over the past 30 years using high-performance fusion-bonded epoxy coating in conjunction with a cathodic protection system. Keystone XL will be buried 48 inches deep rather than the 30 inches required by regulation, because this additional depth greatly reduces risk of third-party contact possibly damaging the pipe or the coating. While standard regulations require a spot check, Keystone XL will inspect and validate the integrity of 100 percent of the field welds that join the pipe. Once in operation, the pipeline will be periodically inspected from the inside with sophisticated electronic devices - called "smart pigs" - that map the integrity of pipe walls.

Pipelines are the safest, most reliable and efficient method of transporting crude oil. Each year, hundreds of millions of gallons are transported thousands of miles quietly from production fields to refineries and on to airports, factories and distribution centers in communities throughout the continent.

TransCanada owns and operates 36,500 miles of pipeline in the United States, Mexico and in Canada. In Montana, TransCanada owns and operates the Northern Border Pipeline System, what has been safely delivering natural gas into the region for more than 25 years.

Robert Jones is vice president of TransCanada Keystone Pipelines, which is planning to build a pipeline that will carry oil from Canada through Eastern Montana.

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