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Pro: Pipelines are safer and cut down on traffic

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

Calhoun County Port Authority shipped less fuel this year than last year because of a movement to use pipelines to transport fuel.

The loss in traffic came when BHP Billiton ended its contract for shipping in favor of pipeline transport, the authority's director, Charles Hausmann said.

"BHP Billiton believes pipelines offer the safest means of transporting crude oil from our Eagle Ford well sites to market, and we are seeking to increase the volume we transport via pipeline as more capacity becomes available," BHP spokeswoman Jaryl Strong wrote in an email.

From 2000 to 2009, pipelines transported about 70 percent of crude oil and petroleum products in the U.S., according to the Association of Oil Pipe Lines. Pipelines are still considered the best option for the energy industry to transport its product.

Though ships transporting oil are historically less likely to spill than pipelines, when they do spill, they spill a lot. A March collision in the Houston Ship Channel released more barrels of liquid than all reported oil and natural gas spills in the Crossroads during the past five years. Oil spills in water are also typically more expensive to clean up and damaging to sensitive ecosystems.

But the mode of transport with the worst track record is trucks. Small truck spills at four-way stops are a common occurrence in Karnes County, said Karnes County Sheriff Dwayne Villanueva.

In March, a truck carrying crude oil lost its load, leaving a 9-mile trail of oil along Farm-to-Market Road 81 and Farm-to-Market Road 1144. The company that owned the truck did not own up to the spill, leaving the Texas Department of Transportation to pick up the bill.

The Victoria Advocate submitted a Freedom of Information Act request Aug. 26 for the cost of the cleanup. The request has not been filled.

A game camera caught a glimpse of the truck that spilled the liquid, identifying On Point Services LLC as the responsible party, Villanueva said. The Texas Railroad Commission is pursuing legal action against the company, commission spokeswoman Michelle Banks said.

Finding substantial evidence to identify the responsible company took some leg work, Karnes County Judge Richard Butler said.

"If a pipeline sprung a leak and spilled its contents on to somebody's land, it would be pretty easy to track down who is responsible for it. This took some detective work before they were able to track these folks down," he said.

Once pipeline infrastructure is in place, they become the cheapest mode of transportation, said Omar Garcia, South Texas Energy and Economic Roundtable president and CEO.

Pipelines can also help alleviate heavy traffic and damage to roads because a single truck can only carry about 200 barrels of liquid or about one-third that of a railcar.

With counties having to pick up the cost of maintaining road wear and tear from oil-field traffic, pipeline infrastructures could be a means to eliminate a portion of that cost.

"We're hoping, eventually, that all wells in Karnes County producing liquid hydrocarbons will be piped out. There won't be any need for trucks, and we won't see the presence of any big, heavy tank trucks carrying hydrocarbons to the refinery," Butler said. "That would certainly be a big plus."



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