From Cushing, Oklahoma to Freeport, Texas, the Seaway Pipeline cuts through East Texas, just missing Dallas and Houston along the way. The pipeline is 500 miles long and 30 inches in diameter, according to the Seaway Crude Pipeline Company and claims to serve all Houston-area refineries by way of the Jones Creek Terminal.
The pipeline itself is not new, but the twin of the existing line is. A second pipeline is being built parallel to the existing Seaway line, with projections to double the capacity of the pipeline system once complete. The pipeline will transport tar sand or diluted bitumen (dilbit) from point to point.
This new pipeline has already gained government approval. It failed to stir the debates and protests that surround the Keystone pipeline.
Diluted bitumen is a dense substance that requires additives to allow it to flow properly through a pipeline system. It is not the same crude that pumped from wells in West Texas. According to an opinion piece published in the New York Times in 2012, bitumen has the consistency of peanut butter.
Critics of diluted bitumen argue that the chemical additives promote corrosion of the pipelines, making a pipeline leak more likely over time. The exact makeup of chemical additives that are used to improve the flow of dilbit is unknown; oil and gas companies have asserted that this is proprietary information and shielded from disclosure. This makes the threat of a pipeline leak all the more dangerous as it may be unknown what is actually coming from a broken system, and filtering into the groundwater, lakes and rivers nearby.
The chemicals also pose an airborne threat – evaporation after a leak can lead to air contamination that reaches as far as the wind may carry it – leading to headaches, nausea and other health consequences.
Source: CBS DFW, “Little Known Pipeline Draws Debate in North Texas,” March 4, 2014