Tuesday, October 11, 2016

PST's (and my own) statement about today's Tar Sands Pipelines Direct Action

(Update: OCT 11 -- 9:45PM -- added list of historical accidents CAUSED by incorrectly closed valves. -- BH /////// Related: Statment concerning Deia Schlosberg here )

This morning, a group called "Climate Direct Action" shut down all 5 pipelines delivering Diluted Bitumen (Dilbit), sometimes incorrectly called "tar sands oil"(**) into the United States.


(** to better understand the correct usage of these terms, see: TinyURL.com/TarSandsLexicon )

I don't know how far this post will reach, so in case you do not know me--

My name is William Huston. I am a climate activist, pipeline safety researcher, and videographer based in Binghamton, NY.

I believe that fighting human-caused climate catastrophe should be the #1 priority of all citizens on planet earth. There are dozens of other reasons why I fight new natural-gas, crude oil, and Diluted Bitumen pipelines

I absolutely support Nonviolent Direct Actions (NVDA), which I have helped organize.

I have been to the front lines dozens of times, usually in my videographer role, but I also have been personally arrested for NVDA, which I made with intent, related to stopping new fossil fuel infrastructure ...

Below is a statement by Carl Weimer of the Pipeline Safety Trust about this action, which I agree with. Here first is my own:

I support NVDA -- UNLESS IT PUTS LIVES IN JEOPARDY, human or otherwise.

Closing down valves on active pipeline, by people who probably don't have diagrams, or specialized knowledge of valves and cross-connects, against active pumping stations, is really a BLOODY STUPID THING TO DO, b/c it could actually CAUSE a rupture.

Presumably this is something all of us want to PREVENT.

I hope this note reaches others who might be planning similar actions. PLEASE DO NOT do things which put lives at risk.

NOT ONLY for actual risk to life, but also because it can poison our movement in the eyes of the masses.

Remember, this was a SYMBOLIC action. I don't believe any of these people thought this would be a permanent fix. These pipelines were down for a few hours, tops. This will have no real impact on anything, apart from publicity.

So when you are doing a symbolic action, you have to carefully consider how people will receive this, and whether it will move people to join your cause.

This action was, IMO, incredibly stupid both in the grave risk to life it CREATED, but also in terms of negative publicity.

Be smart, friends.

From Carl Weimer, Pipeline Safety Trust

QUOTE: While we certainly understand the activists concerns with the lack of speed to address climate change we think that illegally closing valves is a dangerous stunt that really does little to address these people's concerns. The Pipeline Safety Trust was founded in part because a valve closed unexpectedly causing a pressure surge that ruptured a pipeline killing three young men. Closing valves on major pipelines can have unexpected consequences endangering people and the environment. We do not support this type of action, and think it is dangerous.



This just in from Mike Holmstrom, pipeline safety historian:
From: Mike Holmstrom
Date: Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Subject: [safepipelines] Activists Reportedly Shut Down Five Pipelines Carrying Tar Sands Oil Into U.S.

OK, for the record, here's some pipelines ruptured by shutting a valve while pumps were on:

1959 A worker on gas transmission pipeline was closing a valve, when it exploded near Newton, Pennsylvania on September 25. The worker was killed, and another worker was injured.

1973 On December 6, a pump station on an ammonia pipeline near Conway, Kansas, was started against a closed valve, and the pipeline failed in a previously damaged section. Two persons who drove through the ammonia vapors were hospitalized; several rural residents were evacuated from the area; and 89,796 US gallons (339,910 L) of anhydrous ammonia were lost.

1974 On August 13, an ammonia pipeline failed near Hutchinson, Kansas after a pump station was started against a closed valve. 3 police officers were treated for ammonia inhalation; approximately 200 persons were evacuated from the area of the vapors; trees, lawns, shrubbery, and crops were chemically burned; and an estimated 11,000 fish were killed.

1975 A Mid-Valley Pipeline crude oil pipeline at Lima, Ohio ruptured after a valve was accidentally closed against a pumping pipeline on January 17. The spraying crude oil ignited, killing a Terminal Operator.

1975 An LPG pipeline ruptured near Romulus, Michigan, due to previous mechanical damage to the pipeline, and over pressurization from operator error, caused by closing a valve against a pumping pipeline, at a storage facility. Nine people were injured in the following vapor cloud fire. Flames 500 feet (150 m) high engulfed a 600-foot (180 m)-diameter area, destroyed four houses and damaged three others, burned 12 vehicles, and consumed 2,389 barrels (379.8 m3) of propane.

1978 An Amoco crude oil pipeline leaked into the Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area west of Farmington, Utah on November 7. About 105,000 gallons of crude were spilled. The rupture was caused by pumping against a valve that had been closed for earlier pipeline maintenance.

1980 A pipeline carrying naphtha ruptured under a street in Long Beach, California, causing a fire that destroyed one home and damaged several others. Two people were injured. Lack of communication of pipeline valve setups, and pressure relief valves set to open at too high a pressure were identified by the NTSB as causes of the accident.

1993 On September 15, an 8-inch NORCO Pipeline Co. line ruptured in east Indiana, just west of Edgerton, Ohio, spilling about 30,000 gallons of diesel fuel. There was a 4 foot long rupture in the pipeline, and some of the diesel entered Fish Creek, killing wildlife. The rupture was caused by pumping against a closed valve. Later, NORCO and ARCO agreed to pay $2.8 million for the spill in US District Court.

1994 On October 8, a lightning strike shut a valve on a Koch Industries crude oil pipeline crossing Gum Hollow Creek, while oil was flowing, triggering a pressure buildup that ripped a 50-square-inch hole in a section of the pipe that was already weakened by corrosion. Pipeline employees — unaware of the rupture in the pipe — turned the pipeline pumps back on after the pipeline shut down automatically, sending oil pouring into the creek for about an hour. The spill created a 12-mile (19 km)-long slick on Nueces and Corpus Christi bays along the Texas Gulf Coast.

1996 A Colonial Pipeline stubline in Murfreesboro, Tennessee was undergoing maintenance on November 5. The pipeline was returned to service, but a valve on that pipeline was accidentally left closed from the maintenance, causing pressure from restarting to rupture the pipeline.

There's other such incidents, I'm sure.

Intentional closing of valves can be destructive! And, don't expect Homeland Security to ignore such incidents, resulting in heavy penalties for this.

-Mike Holmstrom

----- end ------

COMMENTS from Pipeline Experts on the Pipeline Safety Trust Listserv:


Hi all,
People have asked us what we think of this activist effort, so here goes.
While we certainly understand the activists concerns with the lack of speed to address climate change we think that illegally closing valves is a dangerous stunt that really does little to address these people’s concerns. The Pipeline Safety Trust was founded in part because a valve closed unexpectedly causing a pressure surge that ruptured a pipeline killing three young men. Closing valves on major pipelines can have unexpected consequences endangering people and the environment. We do not support this type of action, and think it is dangerous.


Carl Weimer, Executive Director
Pipeline Safety Trust
300 N. Commercial St, Suite B
Bellingham, WA 98225

Tue, Oct 11, 2016 at 3:36 PM

On Earth day in 1970,( first earth day) I worked on the Island of Oahu, mining rock for construction and the military.The war in Vietnam was raging on and I was very concerned about the war and all the smoke and exhaust where I worked and all the jets and ships heading off to into the beautiful blue Pacific sky and ocean. I listened to my friends, some of them burned the ROTC building on campus and engaged in demonstrations and other activities, like vandalizing equipment. I was very divided about who was right and wrong.My buddies in the marines convinced me to go to school and get educated, I moved to Oregon and went to a very tech / engineering school.

An early class, how hydraulics, pneumatics, steam systems, and other pressured devices and systems worked. Beyond complicated. Nothing worked like one might think at first glance.Of course they added new concepts in lab and class, gas laws! and how gases compress and liquids, totally different. We learned very out there theory, but also how an air compressor and liquid pumps worked. Great education that serves me well today.

When I look at gas and liquid pipeline systems, Yes, I stop and actually try to work out what the system is and what it does, I often come to a point that I would need help to complete my understanding, like someone from the pipeline operators crew.

Considering turning a valve on any kind of pipeline, including domestic water, irrigation, septic lines and of course any kind of pipeline for gas and oil is very hard to imagine. There are few people with the ability to understand a system, by just looking at it or reading abut it.

Something I do have a clear understanding of, is turning a valve on a oil or gas system, in secrecy, could cause events that few could imagine. A real unfair possibility of tinkering with a pipeline valve is if anyone was hurt or killed, it would likely be some totally innocent people. Who likely wouldn't even know a pipeline was nearby.

All of you going to New Orleans, to the PST conference, put this subject on your list, we need to cover the possibility of people engaging in dangerous activities around pipelines for the purpose of making a point, about anything.

Glenn R Archambault


Tue, Oct 11, 2016 at 1:40 PM

As an engineer, count me as highly dubious of Afrin Sopariwala’s claims that "They did the research to make sure this wouldn't cause any environmental harm.”. Unless they have inside information about all of those pipelines, and are highly skilled in these matters, there is no way that they could determine that what they did was not going to cause any environmental harm. Nor personal harm to them, to pipeline employees, members of the public, or emergency responders. What they did is akin to a person who, with no notice to the driver, manages to slam on the brakes of a car going highway speeds. Maybe it won’t cause an accident, but it sure isn’t a good idea. It is a stupid, and dangerous, publicity stunt.


William R Byrd


Tue, Oct 11, 2016 at 3:55 PM

While trying to get other pipeline work done, I have been getting calls from reporters about this brain dead stunt that can have very serious and unpredictable outcomes, not in the best public interest.
There is no way that non operator experienced individuals have all the information on a certain pipeline to verify that unintended closure of a specific valve on a specific pipeline can be safe. Whoever is making such a statement is most likely uninformed and is very dangerous no matter how noble the cause. And forget the "well we called the control center ahead of closure" defense if a tragedy occurs.

Now pipeline operators should know which valves on their pipelines create the greatest risk of problems on a specific pipeline (if any), and incorporate special equipment or designs to protect from inadvertent valve closure and resulting serious over pressure. Some pipeline operators get this “over pressure risk,” and stay well away form this possible threat in their design/operation, some don’t.
I can appreciate the frustrations by certain protesters on climate change or lack of progress in this area, but just messing with pipeline linear structure this way invites all kinds of recognition that may not support your cause. In the U.S., criminal prosecution will be warranted if something really “bad” happens as a result of these improper protest.

Remember, these pipelines are moving hazardous materials, so trying to foolishly protest or get attention in this manner is like playing Russian roulette with a six shooter – with 5 bullets in the chambers.

This is not the way to garner support for your cause on climate change!



Questions: If a tar sands / dilbit pipeline is shut down,

Do the heavier bitumens settle to the bottom of the pipeline in the absence of turbulent flow? If so, then restarting the pipeline might cause damage to pipeline equipment or the pipeline itself, e.g. increased/higher concentrations of abrasive material moving along the bottom of the pipeline in the boundary layer.

Is heat introduced into the pipeline at pumping stations to reduce flow viscosity? If so, local temperature rises might pose a hazard.

Not knowing the details of the pipelines and their specific control algorithms/mechanisms, it would seem to me that any uncontrolled or unknown shutdowns of a pipeline would potentially introduce more hazards than those that the "activists" are attempting to prevent.
Arnold Liu


I may be alone in my theory about Mayflower, but I think there is a chance this was caused by an incorrectly closed valve.

One reading of the timeline posted by Inside Climate News is that Empco had "fixed" the problem one hour before it occurred.

Huh? How could this be?

I thought about this for months and came up with:

What if a remote pressure sensor failed, in the vicinity of the Arkansas River crossing, giving a false indication of a pressure drop?

Play along with this...

So Empco follows their procedures and dispatches personnel to shut valves. At some point they shut the downstream block valves by Lake Maumelle. Only instead of being against no pressure as they expected, they shut it on a fully pressurized pipeline (due to the faulty sensor reading).

This creates a shock wave heading backwards, against the flow NE towards the Conway pump station.

Then they shut the valves at Conway to isolate the segment, but the kinetic energy of that heavy dilbit keeps moving towards SW towards Mayflower over some hills. (1/2 m * v^2, IIRC, where v is analogous to pressure).

I think of the mass of a column of dilbit moving at 900 psig hitting a closed block valve like a freight train slamming into a mountain.

The site of the rupture is a low point between two hills. So when the shock wave from SW meets the stored kinetic energy in the momentum of the heavy dilbit from the NE, and ruptures at a weak spot.

Recall we are talking about closing valves in 5 pipelines transporting heavy dilbit.

Really a stupid thing to do.

Bill Huston

All this makes sense for people that really do care and don't want the consequences. But now that this news is breaking, we've got to worry even more about intentional sabotage from terrorists.

Steve Copsne


For those who did not read the NTSB report on the Enbridge Marshall, MI Line 6B rupture and spill, note that the crack was exacerbated by a likely hydraulic hammer reflected back through the line from closure of a valve at Stockbridge downstream from Marshall. The valve closure rate had had recently been increased due to probably unjustified concern over column separation by some operators in the control room in Alberta. In closing the valve more rapidly against pressure, the hammer shocked the line. Subsequently the operators attempted to overcome what was judged to be column separation by pumping more oil into the line and pumping harder to compress the "vapor" to get to the pump inlets at the next pump station. This works where there is actually column separation, but didn't work because they were just pumping into atmospheric pressure through the rupture.
Yesterday I attended a regular briefing by Michigan DEQ staff on the status of the cleanup. The "No Further Action" (NFA) report for the short reach right at the point of release is under final review after some additional cleanup and analysis to substantiate no remaining excedances of vanadium, and molybdenum, and placement of a potable water deed restriction on a 300' X 600' area due to slight remaining indications of benzene in 3 of over 50 test wells.

The next major contention between DEQ and Enbridge is over identity of some PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) in "overbank" soil that was contacted by the spill at the height of oil spill when the river was in flood. Similar contention over in stream sediments has been resolved, but Enbridge continues to insist that the PAHs are most likely from coal sources such as manufactured gas plants upstream of Marshall. Resolution of this problem is likely to be the last major hurdle to moving through the 20 plus NFAs fairly quickly.

Summer "poling", in which sediment is disturbed with a pole and the result observed, found only one location out of about 1500 that had any heavy remaining oil. This procedure is subjective, but has been conducted by the same personnel, including DEQ supervisors, over the life of the project. No reports of petrogenic sheen have been received from recreational users of the river. There is a lot of biologically generated sheen from plant decay in the wetlands.

Best Regards,
Robert Whitesides



May you, and all beings
be happy and free from suffering :)
-- ancient Buddhist Prayer (Metta)

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