Seaway Pipeline


The Seaway Pipeline was completed in 1976, and originally carried imported crude from Freeport, Texas, north to refineries in the midwest. In 2011, this pipeline was bought out by Enbridge and Enterprise to form Seaway Crude Partners, Inc.

This pipeline became part of the Keystone XL’s debate.  Mired in resistance to TransCanada’s inflated economic and environmental claims, other partnerships such as Seaway saw an opportunity to skirt the scrutiny of the public and to forego environmental review, to a way to move more dilbit product to the Gulf Coast. TransCanada’s main competitor, Enbridge, jumped at the chance with this new partnership. In November of 2011, Enbridge bought 50% interest in the Seaway pipeline, while Enterprise Products retained ownership of the other 50%. Re-purposed now for dilbit, and despite Enbridge’s horrific experience with another old, re-purposed line near Kalamazoo, in Michigan, the Seaway’s flow was reversed. By the summer of 2012, diluted (tar sands) bitumen had a new route to the Gulf Coast.

Initially, Seaway had the capacity to pump 180,000 barrels each day from Cushing to Freeport. By the spring of 2013, additional pump stations had been installed, increasing the daily throughput potential to 400,000 barrels per day.

Meanwhile, mid-summer of 2013 saw eminent domain threats being carried out on landowners with the route of a new Seaway “twin” line.  Enbridge and Enterprise are moving forward with their plans to more than double their capacity by constructing the new Seaway twin line near the existing Seaway easement. The two lines together will carry 850,000 barrels per day (bpd), more than the Keystone XL pipeline.

While the Seaway already passes through, or very close to, numerous communities and their water supplies, there seems to be no concern on the part of any state or federal agency about forcing this new pipeline on families there or conducting an environmental review of the potential harm to waterways and other natural resources. The new twin Seaway will be a 30-inch diameter pipeline, and have a capacity of 450,000 barrels per day. Company officials forecast a service date during early 2014.

disaster in the making?

Important to bear in mind is the fact that this pipeline, like all of the other pipelines that carry diluted bitumen, will be transporting various types of “crude oil.” The different operating pressures, in combination with the varying viscosity and inherent corrosivity of the substances flowing through a pipeline, oftentimes has a detrimental effect on the integrity of a pipeline. This may lead to anything from small leaks to major ruptures. Also note that the testing for the integrity of the lines is often conducted by the pipeline companies and self-reported to regulatory agencies.

Compounding the problem is the fact that those who are called upon to deal with a spill will not likely have been notified when a change in pipeline content has occurred. Those first responders, the volunteer fire departments, emergency medical service personnel, and hospital staff, will not know for certain what they might be dealing with, and so, specifically how to respond.

Of even greater pertinence is the likelihood of a spill could occur in the vicinity of a home, or within reach of a water supply for that home, or many homes; or even of the water supply of a major metropolitan area. As  areas have grown up around these aging pipelines, greater pipeline safety scrutiny is more than in order.

A Texas pipeline from the 20th century that may have passed by a neighborhood, stream, or lake, carried a type of crude oil that would have easily been contained and cleaned up because of the nature of the crude. It floated on water and did not need to have been diluted with quantities of cancer-causing chemicals in order to flow. Furthermore, when transporting conventional crude, the company must pay into a cleanup fund; not so when it’s diluted tar sands bitumen.  Taxpayers would pick up the cleanup tab as the IRS has declared diluted bitumen as “not crude” and therefore not required to pay the 8-cents per barrel into the US SPILL LIABILITY FUND.

Today we are looking at diluted tar sands bitumen being pushed across Texas through the same, and similar pipelines; pipelines designed and regulated for conventional oil and other products. Bitumen does not flow readily of its own accord. It must be diluted with chemicals that turn out to be carcinogenic and deadly upon exposure. When it leaks, or spills, those same chemicals (such as benzene and hydrogen sulfide) separate from the bitumen, forming deadly, ground-level and heavier-than-air clouds. The heavier component bitumen, upon separating from its solvents, sinks into streams, lakes, and aquifers, poisoning the water.

[Special thanks to Safe Community Alliance for permission to adapt their research. The original article can be found here.]