Even if oil and gas disappear, pipelines are here to stay
There are 2.6 million kilometers of pipelines crisscrossing the United States that will one day be retiring. Even in their later lives, these zombie pipelines will be able to dump toxic materials. It happened in the past. There is also the risk that a pipe will one day come out of its grave, exposed by flood water or erosion. Or, devoid of the oil and gas that once passed through them, they could accidentally drain bodies of water or do the opposite – pollute them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the fossil fuel industry, which has seen Oil price become negative for the first time. The industry will also have to deal with the looming climate crisis and the environmental campaigns that have won recent and publicized victories against the Dakota Access, Atlantic Coast and Keystone XL pipelines.
All of this is causing more people to think about what will come next for the oil and gas companies and the pipelines that they will eventually abandon. The potential risks are causing some communities to worry about what the plight of the pipelines under their feet means to their homes and the environment. They have started to fight for a say in what will happen to these lines once they are abandoned. Without protections, they fear ending up with a big mess and a big check.
The question of who is responsible for zombie pipelines is starting to arise in Minnesota, where Enbridge’s Line 3 could become the first major pipeline to be abandoned across a vast swath of North America. “Companies want to install new lines rather than manage their old lines, and this is a national infrastructure crisis,” says Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor The Earth, a leading indigenous environmental group. LaDuke’s organization has opposed both the abandonment of Enbridge’s aging Line 3 and the construction of a new line to replace it. “Everyone should be looking at line 3, that’s a precedent,” says LaDuke.
Line 3 is a “vital linkEnbridge says on its website, transporting crude oil over 1,000 miles from its production site in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Built in the 1960s, the pipeline was carrying up to 760,000 barrels per day at its peak, about as many as 24,000 tankers carried in a day. But after more than half a century, the capacity of the pipeline has been reduced by almost half due to its age. Enbridge says it can continue to operate the aging pipeline at current capacity with maintenance and repairs, but instead wants to replace it with another pipeline along a modified route that can again carry 760,000 barrels per day. The company did not respond to a request for comment from The edge.
LaDuke’s organization opposes the proposed route for the new pipeline, fearing that construction and potential spills along the new route could threaten the health of Minnesota’s Ojibwa watersheds and lands. “You can’t leave a mess in place for the state of Minnesota and the tribes, who are very affected by this because it goes through three reserves, to clean up,” LaDuke says.
In Canada, the new Line 3 has already been built. The old line will be cleaned up and abandoned in place Next year. The country’s National Energy Board oversees pipelines that cross borders and requires companies to submit a plan before abandoning a pipeline which explains how they will set aside funds to monitor the disused pipeline and address any issues that arise. This is a provision that is lacking in the United States, although the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration requires that abandoned pipelines left in place be disconnected, purged of hazardous materials and sealed.
There are established methods of safely laying a pipeline at rest. This typically requires companies to submit a plan of action that includes disconnecting the hose, cleaning and refilling or plugging it to prevent it from becoming a conduit for water or other materials, and removing the hose. any unnecessary equipment connected to the pipeline above ground. It also requires an environmental review which could involve consulting local communities and developing measures to mitigate risks to the environment.
“It’s not rocket science to do this,” says Alan Pentney, who has written on procedures for properly abandoning a pipeline in Oil and Gas Pipelines: Integrity and Safety Manual. It just has to be done. A properly maintained pipeline might not collapse for hundreds of years, according to Pentney. In some cases, leaving the pipeline in place can cause less damage than pulling it out.
Yet some advocates and landowners fear that protections in the United States are not strong enough to protect people from the financial burden of a decaying pipeline in their backyards. “There is almost nothing across the country that protects landowners from pipeline abandonment. All costs of cleaning are borne by the landowners, ”says Paul Blackburn, lawyer at Honor the Earth.
In an effort to appease Minnesota residents in 2018, Enbridge adopted a plan to either remove the pipe where landowners ask or offer them compensation for leaving it in the ground. For those who take the money, “[Enbridge] better pay them big, really big, ”says Rick Lundquist, who owns a property in northern Minnesota that has a section of Line 3 through it. Abandonment of the existing pipeline is much cheaper for Enbridge, at $ 85 million, compared to the cost of $ 1.28 billion of its release. But the risks increase the longer Line 3 remains in the ground, according to a environmental impact statement prepared by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
It is important to keep an eye on it because, left in place, the line may contaminate the soil and water nearby with leftover oil or the chemicals used to clean it once it is out of service. Over time, when the pipe fails, the earth around it can sink. Or if it is no longer weighed down by oil, it may begin to rise to the surface – a more concerning issue with Line 3 than newer pipelines, as it was built before the minimum depth requirements were met. adopted.
Unlike the LaDuke and Blackburn organization, Lundquist is backing Enbridge for the construction of the new Line 3. He just doesn’t want the old one to rot on his land, and he welcomes the jobs that could result from the removal of the old line and the construction of a new one.
Mark Borchardt is another landowner who fears he will end up with the costs of four Enbridge pipelines – but not Line 3 – cutting off his property in central Wisconsin. “I have 2.2 million barrels of oil passing under my driveway every day,” Borchardt says. When he bought the property in 1994, there was only one pipeline running through it. A 1968 easement gave Enbridge the right to use part of Borchardt’s land to construct further pipelines.
“There is nothing in my 1968 easement that says, ‘Enbridge, you have to remove the pipe when you’re done,’” Borchardt says. “All I get are headaches and the Enbridge people are tearing up my yard to fix their pipes. Borchardt has since started a nonprofit called the Wisconsin Easement Action Team to push for stronger protections in new pipeline easements, with new provisions that oblige companies to assume their responsibilities for what happens to pipelines at the end of their life.
This is all the more important as the future of oil and gas companies is more uncertain than ever, which also makes the future of their pipelines more uncertain. The time will come when the United States will have to consider the fate of all its pipelines – and when the time comes, the companies that operated them will no longer be able to be there to manage them. The COVID-19 pandemic alone has stumbled oil and gas companies bankruptcy. Even after the economy recovers from the pandemic, there will be other challenges ahead. Global efforts to tackle climate change, adopted in the landmark 2015 Paris climate agreement, have set nations on a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels to zero. net by 2050. This means a future with more renewable energy and little or no oil and gas.
After the $ 85 million it would initially cost Enbridge to safely decommission Line 3, it is estimated that an additional $ 100,000 per year will be required to monitor the abandoned line. This is an overview of the costs that could be passed on to landowners if Enbridge does not pay.
“In the future, as the demand for crude oil decreases, we would expect to see more and more abandoned pipelines,” says Blackburn. “With the oil industry having less and less money in the future, the risk becomes greater and greater of moving away from their pipelines and letting the landowners hold the sack.”