The Marion County Board of Commissioners asked representatives of TransCanada Keystone Pipeline for emergency plan updates at their Feb. 14 meeting following questions by a county landowner.
Prompted by recent oil spills on the Gulf Coast and in Kalamazoo, Mich., by other oil companies, the commissioners also said they hoped to get answers on how Marion County can prepared in the event of a major pipeline incident.
“We are looking for assurances (from you), said Commissioner Dan Holub. “We are not making accusations,” based on the problems of other oil companies.
Holub specifically cited the incident in Kalamazoo and Enbridge Oil Co., a Canadian company and one of the world’s longest crude oil and liquids transportation systems.
Commissioner Randy Dallke said he too wanted TransCanada Keystone Pipeline representatives Jim Prescott and Rob Latimer to let them know the county is depending on their expertise in the event of major spills.
“I want our public to be aware of new dangers out here and I want your company making us aware of this,” Dallke said.
“I also hope everyone in the county knows we have a bunch of pipelines going through Marion County, not only natural gas, but also oil pipelines and crude oil pipelines and although not the size and pressure of (Keystone’s Pipeline), your pipeline is the granddaddy of it all.”
Dallke said he hopes that Keystone will prove to the county that it is the leader and does “just” to the citizens of Marion County and with the emergency responders.
Holub said his concerns involved the types of additives and percentages of certain chemicals in the crude oil batches being transported through the lines. He also asked about response time in the event of an emergency, how fast personnel could arrive, where equipment could be located and paying clean-up costs.
Referring to the Enbridge Oil Co. incident, Holub said that company has yet to pay for crop loss, animal deaths, tearing up ground to get the crude oil out and BP mirrors the same issues in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Is anyone in Marion County accusing us of (these things),” Prescott asked.
“No,” Holub said, “these are concerns. If it can happen elsewhere, it is a concern.”
Prescott also asked Holub, “What is not satisfactory to you? What is it we are not doing?”
Holub reiterated he was not accusing TransCanada Keystone of any wrongdoing, but rather wanted “assurances” they would be there in the event of a major spill or incident.
Holub also cited from information he had about the Kalamazoo incident that Enbridge officials said they could not be held liable because the company had followed all relevant laws to industry standards.
Latimer, who serves as the communication relations specialist with Keystone Pipeline, said that in the lead up to this commission meeting, it was his understanding that Marion County needed a personal visit.
“We thought it would be beneficial and that is why we are here across the table, getting your questions and hearing other things,” Latimer said.
Holub specifically wanted to know how much diluted bitumen is flowing through the pipelines.
According to information about crude bitumen, it is a sticky, tar-like form of petroleum that is so thick it needs to be heated or diluted before it will flow.
Holub’s concern is that it is a toxic product and didn’t show up on the “typical” Material Safety Data Sheet or MSDS.
“We are a transport company for people to ship a product on our system,” Latimer said. “We have 17 different batches of heavy oil and what is in the pipeline at any given time will change in these large batches.”
However, if a spill occurs, the county involved would receive the MSDS for whatever is on the ground, he said.
According to Prescott, there is no sand in the oil being transported and nothing corrosive that will damage in the interior of the pipeline.
“There is some information out there that is misinformation,” Prescott said.
In addition, Latimer also wanted to make sure the commissioners understood that of the reportable releases of product when there is no operation person onsite, the majority involved valves, fittings and seals, not the pipeline itself.
If someone sees a large, black spill, Latimer said, the landowner can call the toll-free number.
“When they call, they are asked if this is a pipeline emergency,” he said. “From that point, the person assesses location, address, county, state, nature of circumstances and collects the information for a voice file.”
If it is a bona fide emergency, the next step is a call to the oil control center and, according to Latimer, the center makes quick decision to isolate the system or not.
In a recent situation, Latimer spoke about an older gentleman in a remote location in Missouri.
The call came in on a Friday afternoon during the summer and they had rain earlier.
In collecting data about a black area he described, the next questions were: Was it oil and did it smell?
Latimer said the man didn’t know the answer to either question, but the control center shut down the line anyway.
“We take this very seriously,” he said.
Other issues concerning the commissioners involved pressure in the pipelines and what percentage of hydrogen sulfide, which is a colorless, poisonous, flammable gas that can occur in natural gas and some well waters.
Again, the Keystone representatives said in the event of a spill, local emergency response personnel are not responsible for working at the scene and should remain “upwind” should that occur.
“I have worked with enough emergency responders in response to an incident and we have talked about expectations,” Latimer said.
“We don’t expect emergency responders to be in harm’s way,” he said.
Following the hour-long discussion, the commissioners asked Latimer and Prescott to respond to their concerns in the near future.
TransCanada is a company that operates more than 40,000 miles of pipeline, is a natural gas storage business and is involved in power production via wind, nuclear, hydro and natural gas power production.
The Keystone Pipeline System’s operation center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, monitoring its system for pressures, volumes and alarms at pump stations.
“The control center can respond and isolate our pipeline system within about 12 minutes and we can shut down short segments of the pipeline, which is a unique feature to Keystone’s system,” Latimer said.