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Pair of Pipeline Breaches Vex OK, PA

Thursday, October 27, 2016

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Two pipeline breaches in different areas of the United States within three days’ time have left environmental concerns and fueled debate over the safety and reliability of the pipeline system.

Pennsylvania Gasoline Breach

On Friday (Oct. 21), an 8-inch pipeline in Lycoming County, PA, broke and released about 55,000 gallons of gasoline into a creek, according to reports. Sunoco Logistics, which owns the pipeline, said in a release Tuesday (Oct. 25) that the breach was caused by an impact from a bridge that gave out during flooding on Wallis Run and Loyalsock Creek.

Heavy rains dropped several inches of rain on areas of Pennsylvania Thursday and Friday, leading to widespread flooding and storm damage. A bridge over Wallis Run, just north of its confluence with Loyalsock Creek, gave out during the flooding and traveled downstream into Loyalsock. The pipeline that ruptured was situated at least five feet beneath the surface of Loyalsock Creek, according to reports.

Gasoline from the pipeline, reportedly built in 1994, was released into Loyalsock Creek, which drains into the West Branch Susquehanna River at Montoursville.

‘The Bridge Was Responsible’

In a release issued to local media, Sunoco Logistics said that “an object of extreme destructive force” caused the rupture. “Given the position of the pipe and the location of the bridge before and after the event, it’s clear that the bridge was responsible for the damage to the pipe,” said David R. Chalson, Sunoco Logistics senior vice-president for operations, according to reports.

The Environmental Protection Agency is reportedly investigating the incident. According to local reports, no effect has been observed on drinking water in the area.

Sunoco Logistics reportedly plans to use horizontal drilling to replace a 500-foot stretch of the pipeline at a depth of about 25 feet, much deeper than the pipeline that was damaged.

Sunoco Track Record

According to Reuters, Sunoco Logistics has a poor track record in terms of spills; the news agency reports that, per an analysis of government data, the company has had more than 200 leaks in its pipelines since 2010, the greatest number among its competitors. Those numbers have led some critics to question the pipeline’s management.

Seaway Pipeline route
Seaway Crude Pipeline Co.

The Seaway Pipeline, site of a breach in Cushing, OK, carries crude from the storage hub in Cushing to the Gulf Coast via Texas City, TX.

Sunoco Logistics is one of four corporate partners in Energy Transfer, currently building the Dakota Access Pipeline in the Midwest, which got the go-ahead to move forward after legal challenges earlier this year, but has faced significant backlash from some environmental and Native American groups.

Oklahoma Crude Spill

Less than three days after the Pennsylvania spill, in Oklahoma, a crude pipeline near a storage hub in Cushing ruptured, releasing a yet unknown quantity of crude.

The breach in the Seaway Crude Pipeline System occurred late Sunday, according to reports, and its cause was not immediately clear. The Seaway Pipeline is owned by a joint venture, split equally between Enterprise Products and Canadian firm Enbridge.

The line in question is a 30-inch S-1, or legacy line, according to pipeline owners. The Seaway Pipeline carries crude from the storage hub in Cushing to the Gulf Coast via Texas City, TX.

Enbridge tank farm, Cushing OK
By roy.luck, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr

The Seaway Pipeline is owned by a joint venture, split equally between Enterprise Products and Canadian firm Enbridge. (Pictured: Enbridge tank farm, Cushing, OK)

Authorities have said the most that the affected stretch of pipeline could hold is 50,000 barrels of oil, but the release is thought to have been much less than that. An adjacent twin pipeline was restarted Monday, according to Reuters.

Reports say the spill was largely contained to a retaining pond owned by Enbridge. Cushing Emergency Management Director Bob Noltsenmeyer told KOCO-TV, “No threat to the environment or anything, they’re taking care of that and they’re cleaning up very well."

Enbridge, too, has associations with the hot-button Dakota Access Pipeline: The company announced in August that it plans to join with Marathon Oil in buying a minority stake in the pipeline. Enbridge is planning to merge with Spectra Energy in a $28 billion deal announced in September.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Environmental Protection; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Health & Safety; Infrastructure; Latin America; North America; Oil and Gas; Pipeline

Comment from M. Halliwell, (10/27/2016, 10:53 AM) folks are concerned that a pipeline failed after a hit from a bridge that washed out and travelled downstream, hitting the pipeline? Pipelines are pretty safe and all, but that's like expecting a sub-compact car to be able to be run over by a CAT 797 truck (the type you see in all the oilsands pictures....the ones with the 159" / 3.8 m diameter tires) and come out without a scratch. Pipelines are good, but being hit by a bridge is a pretty exceptional event and I think the operator should get some slack on that one. :)

Comment from Catherine Brooks of Eco-Strip, (10/27/2016, 11:34 AM)

More smaller companies are bought up by large ones. The connection to the local residents and the environment often gets less strong. Yet advocates for new pipelines being laid across the country aren't swayed to adjust their top priority away from money?

Comment from B Brown, (10/27/2016, 9:02 PM)

OK!!! THE PIPELINE WAS BURIED 5 FEET DEEP UNDER THE CREEK. I doubt this is the first time that creek has been subjected to a gully washer rain fall. So when was the last time the cover depth was checked at that water crossing. I suspect there is good reason the owner has elected to bore a new hole 25 feet below the creek this time around. The incident leaves me wondering how many pipelines cross that creek and are covered with water???? Jus thinkin --- Bubba:!)

Comment from M. Halliwell, (10/28/2016, 11:13 AM)

Catherine, while I agree that the larger the scope, the harder it is to have local emphasis, it doesn't negate the effectiveness of pipelines overall. You need the appropriate bodies involved at the local level providing input to the planning and operations. Considering the alternatives (rail and truck), I'll still go with pipelines. Bubba, I don't know what the cover was like when the bridge hit the pipeline, but even if it was all there, I think that a leak would have been pretty inevitable...the sheer force that can be applied by a carried away bridge and the water carrying it is massive. 25' deep sounds like they want the new pipeline to avoid being hit with a bridge again in the future ;)

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