New safety requirements set for Keystone pipeline
Posted: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 8:00 am
The new conditions were added four months after the pipeline safety agency sent TransCanada two warning letters last year about defects and other construction problems on the Keystone Gulf Coast Pipeline, which extends from Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast.
“From the start of welding, TransCanada experienced a high weld rejection rate,” said one letter dated Sept. 26. Over 72 percent of welds required repairs during one week. In another week, TransCanada stopped welding work after 205 of 425 welds required repair.
Inspections by the safety agency found TransCanada wasn’t using approved welding procedures to connect pipes, the letter said. The company had hired welders who weren’t qualified to work on the project because TransCanada used improper procedures to test them, the letter said. In order to qualify to work on a pipeline, welders must have recent experience using approved welding procedures and pass a test of their work.
The weld failure rates are “horrible,” said Robert Bea, professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. “The level of defects is indeed cause for alarm and indicative of something that is going on in the Keystone organization that isn’t satisfactory.”
In high-risk projects such as nuclear submarines or nuclear power plants, even one-tenth of a percent rate of bad welds would be cause for deep concern, Bea said.
Another letter, dated Sept. 10, said a government inspector witnessed TransCanada officials investigating dents in pipeline that had been laid without first sufficiently clearing rock from trenches or from soil used as backfill. The same letter said coating that protects pipeline from corrosion was damaged by weld splatter because a contractor hadn’t followed the company’s welding procedures. Eventually, pipeline was excavated in 98 places to make coating repairs.
Dents and damaged coatings are serious defects because they can weaken pipes and lead to failures, Bea said.
After Safety Concerns Over Its Southern Leg, Keystone XL Is Getting New Regulations
By Katie Valentine, Think Progress
May 27, 2014 at 10:20 am
PHMSA slipped in the two conditions towards the end of the appendices of the State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement, released this January. They dictate that TransCanada hires a third-party contractor chosen by PHMSA to monitor Keystone XL’s construction and report any faulty construction techniques back to the agency. In addition, TransCanada will be required to adopt a quality management program to make sure that Keystone XL is “built to the highest standards by both Keystone personnel and its many contractors.”
The letters aren’t the only evidence of faults along Keysone XL’s southern leg, however. A November report found that TransCanada had dug up the pipeline 125 times to fix dents and sags, defects that can weaken pipelines and eventually lead to spills. And as Bloomberg reported last year, TransCanada won’t be using the most advanced spill detection technology, which employs infrared sensors or fiber-optic cables to find even tiny spills, on Keystone XL. That failure to include high-tech spill detection is concerning, especially when paired with news that PHMSA could be shrinking its staff by nine percent by mid-June, due to agency-offered employee buyouts.