Obama approves border-crossing fracked gas pipeline used to dilute tar sands

Graphic from Kinder Morgan website

While the fate of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline hangs in balance, the U.S. quietly approved another major border-crossing pipeline proposal by Kinder Morgan last week.  

Kinder Morgan Cochin LLC is now allowed to reverse and expand to build a 1,900-mile proposed pipeline to transport gas produced by hydraulic fracturing of the Eagle Ford Shale basin in Texas north into Alberta. It would carry gas condensate that is used to dilute the bitumen in the tar sands. The extra-thick oil produced in the tar sands needs to be cut with 30 per cent condensate so it can be carried, according to the Financial Post

The Cochin pipeline has had some safety issues in the past, however. Last year, the National Energy Board sent Kinder Morgan a letter regarding Stress Corrosion Cracking (SCC) failure in the U.S. back in 2003. At the time, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued an order imposing a 20 per cent pressure restriction on the pipeline. Kinder Morgan later voluntarily imposed a further restriction on the operating pressure and received approval to increase  the operating pressure of the pipeline in US to 6895 kPa (1000 psi) in March 2012.

But the NEB wrote that Kinder Morgan could not increase pressure of the Cochin pipeline in Canada, after it found the company's crack detection methodology to be lacking. From the letter: 

While Kinder Morgan has claimed there are no similar integrity issues on the Cochin Pipeline in Western Canada, the presence of significant SCC on the Cochin Pipeline has been previously reported to the Board by BP. 

Although Kinder Morgan has conducted inspections for SCC on the Cochin Pipeline in Western Canada through in-line inspection employing a Transverse Field Magnetic Flux Leakage Inspection tool and applying the Kinder Morgan Assessment Protocol, the Board has previously deemed the crack detection methodology employed by Kinder Morgan to be inappropriate.


High demand for diluent among Alberta's tar sands companies has created a growing market for U.S. producers of natural gas liquids. 

Environmentalists fear that the Cochin expansion will boost bitumen production and increase greenhouse gas emissions. But soon, they may not find their opposition to such projects severely limited by law. On the day before the Cochin project approval, the U.S. House also approved a bill that, if made law, would charge $5,000 to individuals or groups to file an official protest. 

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