April 2, 2013

Arkansas spill highlights pipeline risks

It raises the central question of whether tar-sands oil is more corrosive than conventional crude.

By JIM SNYDER and BRADLEY OLSON / Bloomberg News

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A worker from an oil cleanup crew siphons oil from a drainage channel for Lake Conway in Conway, Ark., on Sunday. There were 364 pipeline spills last year.

The Associated Press

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Each year, about 11.9 billion barrels of oil, gasoline and other refined products are pumped across the network of pipelines, said John Stoody, director of government and public relations for the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, a Washington-based group whose members own about 85 percent of the liquid pipelines in the U.S.

"Incidents do happen, but they're rare," Stoody said in an interview. There are 119,000 miles of pipelines carrying crude oil and refined products in the U.S., Stoody said.

"The properties of Canadian oil sands crude are similar to other heavy crudes from California, Venezuela and other places and transported safely across the U.S. for decades," Stoody said in an email.

Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada, said the company has agreed to higher safety standards with U.S. regulators for the Keystone XL, such as increasing the number of shutoff valves, boosting inspections and burying the pipe deeper in the ground.

The Arkansas spill "is an unfortunate circumstance and demonstrates the pipeline industry must continue to focus on the safe, reliable operation of its energy infrastructure," Howard said in an email. "Americans consume 15 million barrels of oil every day to heat their homes, cook their food and start their cars. Oil and petroleum products are part of our daily lives."

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