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Con: Oil should be shipped by barge, truck or rail

By Sara Sneath , SARA PRIEST
Aug. 31, 2014 at 6:21 p.m.


The prospect of the Keystone XL pipeline has raised concerns over the most common method of oil transit.

In the context of the 175,000 miles of oil pipeline and more than 2 million miles of natural gas pipelines, spills are uncommon.

But they're not unheard of.

From 2009 to 2013, 601 significant pipeline spills were reported in the U.S. These incidents resulted in 14 deaths, 67 injuries, about $510 million worth of damage and 81,982 barrels of oil spilled, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

In late January, a pipeline carrying condensate ruptured on Patsy Warzecha's property, about about 6 miles southwest of Westhoff. The spill affected about 5 acres of her land and a small pond.

"A 2-foot square would be too much, frankly," Warzecha said.

Warzecha was on vacation when the rupture happened and was shocked to hear a break was possible on a pipeline that was only about a 11/2 years old, she said.

Two other pipeline ruptures in DeWitt County happened in about a four-month period, according to Railroad Commission of Texas records. The spills were the result of corrosion issues in portions of BHP Billiton Petroleum's underground gathering pipeline system in rural DeWitt County, Maripat Sexton, the company's spokeswoman, wrote in an email.

The effected sections of the pipelines were immediately shut down, government authorities notified and cleanup efforts initiated, she wrote.

"We have engaged with regulatory authorities and landowners since we first became aware of this issue. BHP Billiton is conducting a full investigation and has mobilized a dedicated team to assess this pipeline system and implement a remediation plan," Sexton wrote.

Tank vessels and barges spill less per ton of oil moved 1 mile than pipelines, railroad cars or trucks, according to data compiled by the Congressional Research Service. Railroad cars also spill less than pipelines, which spill less than trucks.

The Eagle Ford's proximity to ports makes transit by barge a viable option.

Three years ago, the Port of Victoria had no history of shipping oil, port spokesman Mike Sizemore said. But after the first year of Eagle Ford production, the Port of Victoria shipped about a million barrels per month to refineries in Louisiana and Houston.

Last year alone, the port shipped about 18 million barrels, and at a rate of more than 2 million barrels per month, the port expects to surpass that number this year.

Barging oil and natural gas is cheaper than rail and truck transit and emits less, Sizemore said. Railroad transit requires building and maintaining tracks, but the ocean is free.

"It just takes longer. It's a slow process," Sizemore said of shipping oil by barge.

Pipelines are still being built to move oil from production sites to the port, which currently receives cargo by truck.

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