Over the last five years, the anti-energy movement has co-opted the conversation on pipelines, creating a bevy of negative front-page news about energy infrastructure. By instilling fear around the conversation about pipelines through a tactic these groups call “choking supplies,” the goal is to get people, policymakers, regulators and judges to say no to pipelines. If they do, then what is being produced domestically can’t get to market – and voilà – the use of fuels will stop, right?
Energy will always find a way to get to market. It’s called supply and demand. A market void by the United States would just be filled by other countries, or in this case, other modes of transportation, and the other ways just might not be as environmentally friendly. Yes, we’ll repeat that again – pipelines ARE environmentally friendly. Why? Because pipelines use less energy to operate, reduce truck traffic and federal data confirms they are the safest way to move the fuels we need. In fact, they provide safe transport over 99.999% of the time. That 0.001% anti-energy groups advocate on is extremely rare. The rarity comes from the roughly 2.6 million miles of pipelines, which last year alone safely and reliably transported 1,484,132,000 barrels of oil (that’s right BILLIONS) and TRILLIONS of cubic feet of natural gas.
Since understanding what a million, billion, or trillion even looks like is tricky, BuzzFeed breaks it down here. Or maybe a mesmerizing video about counting rice will help you understand the amount of oil and natural gas our country uses.
Back to pipelines.
When Environmental Impact Statements are done, agencies comprehensively evaluate a host of regulatory and market factors as well as make an assessment if the same amount of energy were shipped via train, barge, or truck. As stated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, “They (pipelines) are essential: the volumes of energy products they move are well beyond the capacity of other forms of transportation.” So knowing what we know now about the volume of energy being moved above, if a modest volume pipeline carrying 250,000 barrels of oil a day were taken out of service and a new form of transportation had to carry that energy, it would require the following:
“…a constant line of tanker trucks, about 750 per day, loading up and moving out every two minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week… and the railroad-equivalent of this single pipeline would be a 225-car tanker train with each tanker carrying 28,000 gallons.”
MARINE SAFETY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
People are used to hearing about onshore pipelines, but you rarely hear about offshore pipelines. The first commercial offshore pipeline was constructed in the Gulf of Mexico in 1954, leading the world in marine pipelines. These offshore pipelines safely carry almost one-fourth of our nation’s natural gas and one-ninth of our nation’s oil. In the Gulf of Mexico alone there are over 17,500 miles of marine pipelines, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. This infrastructure is rigorously regulated by a suite of federal environmental standards and oversight.
The Bluewater Terminal project starts onshore as an underground pipeline, running several miles before reaching the shore of Redfish Bay. From the bay, it will be directionally drilled (see image to the left) roughly three feet deep across to Harbor Island where Phillips 66 operations are located. Then it will be directionally drilled again through a designated energy channel to San Jose Island and then out to the ocean for 24 miles before reaching the offshore platform. All of this will be built in an existing right-of-way or ROW.
ROW is a way of saying there is a permitted corridor where existing pipeline, transmission, or distribution lines already run. Many of these pipelines coexist with busy ports and fisheries. A good example of a known inland right-of-way we all know? A highway. That’s why you typically see electric lines, water lines, trains, fiber optic cables, and pipelines all installed in these areas. It creates a map for engineers when they are planning, and a safe place for all of it to go. Because this pipeline will run through an existing right-of-way, fishermen and boats are aware of its location and have already adapted to moving around this infrastructure. Buoys and signs already exist and the marine animals in the area have moved amongst them for decades.
Marine pipelines are subject to rigorous regulatory and safety measures because of the challenging environment in which they are built and then must exist for decades. Since their inception, marine pipelines have always been treated with exceptional scrutiny as it pertains to its planning, structure, technology, environmental monitoring and eventual build-out. This includes using specific safety systems and devices like “pigs” to monitor and maintain them, data collection systems, coatings for environmental protection and integrity, and much more.
Did you find this helpful or have other questions? Send us a note and we’ll dig in and get some answers – just tell us where to send them!