Everything about lransCanada's Keystone XL Pipeline can be described in superlatives.
But words like "huge," "mammoth" or "gargantuan" seem paltry descriptions of a 1,980-mile-long, $7.2 billion project with a capacity to carry 900,000 barrels a day of crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta, to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Along its 283-mile path through Eastern Montana, the pipeline will drop $57.6 million a year in property tax revenues from Phillips to Fallon counties, Gov. Brian Schweitzer said last July when announcing the pipeline. In a joint project rollout with officials from TransCanada, the governor said just the Montana portion of the pipeline would cost $1 billion.
"This is a big dog," Schweitzer said. "It will haul a lot of oil."
The Montana portion is part of the Steele City Segment, one of three segments that will take the pipeline to the Gulf Coast. The Steele City Segment begins in Hardisty, crossing the border north of Malta at the Port of Morgan and exiting southeast of Baker into South Dakota. It will pass through Philips, Valley, McCone, Dawson, Prairie and Fallon counties.
Keystone XL slices through South Dakota and Nebraska to connect at Steele City, Neb., with the Keystone Cushing Segment, a separate project now being built between Steele City and Cushing, Okla. From Cushing, Keystone XL picks up again with the Gulf Coast Segment, which extends to Nederland, Texas. The final segment, the Houston Lateral, stretches to a point near the Houston Ship Channel.
The Gulf Coast and Houston Lateral are expected to be finished in 2011. Construction on the Steele City Segment should begin in the fall of 2010 or the spring of 2011, depending on the speed of the permitting, and be completed in 2012.
Local officials along the route generally are pleased at the prospect of a big boost in tax revenues that the pipeline would bring. But landowners have voiced reservations about their compensation and about impacts to their land and agriculture operations.
"It's not much that the property owners will get out of it," said Jim Skillestad, a farmer-rancher who also is a Dawson County commissioner.
And landowners and environmentalists have challenged the company's plan to use a thinner-walled pipe than has been the accepted standard.
"Thicker pipe provides a little extra insurance," said Paul Blackburn, a South Dakota environmental lawyer.
According to specifications provided in Keystone XL's Montana Major Facilities Siting Act application, TransCanada will use 36- inch diameter steel pipe treated inside and out with a corrosion- resistant coating.
Typically, trenches will be 7 to 8 feet deep and 4 to 5 feet wide. Topsoil will be excavated and preserved so it can be used in reclamation. The pipeline will be buried at a minimum depth of 4 feet, except in areas of consolidated rock, where it will be at least 3 feet deep.
Pipes will be welded together above ground. The application said every weld will be inspected using radiographic, ultrasound or other leak detection methods approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The line will be pressure-tested with water before crude starts flowing.
TransCanada plans 30 pumping stations along the entire route, including seven in Montana. Each will be constructed on a 5-acre fenced and locked site.
Safety valves will be installed at intervals and can be shut off automatically to isolate leaks. Valves will be placed on both sides of rivers it crosses. The pipeline will be bored under 10 Montana rivers and streams, including the Milk, Missouri and Yellowstone rivers.
To service pump stations and safety valves, local electric co- ops will build about 180 miles of new power lines, the application said.
Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems--a satellite- based system managed from Operations Control Center in Calgary-- will operate the pipeline and provide remote emergency shutdown of valves when leaks are detected. Shutdown takes about nine minutes, plus three minutes to close valves to isolate and drain the leak site.
Major leaks are rare, the application said.
"For any one mile segment, this probability is equivalent to one spill every 8,400 years," it said.
TransCanada plans aerial patrols of the line 26 times a year, none more than three weeks apart, in accordance with federal regulations.
The Montana segment of the pipeline will be constructed in four "spreads" ranging from 80 to 120 miles each, the application said. Between 450 and 500 people will be working on each spread, with another 50 performing inspections. TransCanada spokesman Bud Anderson said contractors will probably be hiring some local people to work on the project.
The application said that as a rule of thumb, clearing, grading and trenching takes about three weeks. Although the permanent right of way will be 50 feet, the temporary construction easement includes an additional 60 feet.
Welders should he able to average 1.25 miles per day, or about 7.5 miles in a six-day work week. After the welding is complete, another seven weeks of work begins--including inspection of welds, coating of joints, lowering the pipe into the trench, backfilling, right-of-way cleanup, hydrostatic testing, reseeding and other reclamation.
The project will disturb a total of about 4,300 acres along the long ribbon of its route.
TransCanada plans to use existing roads where possible but anticipates that 3.5 miles of new permanent road will be needed for access to valves and pump stations. These roads will be 15 feet wide and will be used about once a month, the application said.
The estimated life of the pipeline is about 50 years. TransCanada said that it has not yet written a plan of abandonment.
(C) 2009 Billings Gazette. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved