Agriculture + Environment

Worn oil pipeline gets replaced

By January 25, 2011

A Houston oil company with a history of multimillion-dollar spills is mending a corroded fuel pipeline east of Davis.

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners owns a petroleum pipeline stretching from Concord to Sacramento. The 20-inch-diameter pipe cuts through farmland between Davis and the Yolo Bypass and snakes under Interstate 80, transporting diesel, gasoline and jet fuel to various customers.

The underground line does not run below the city of Davis, according to maps from the National Pipeline Mapping System.

“We saw a section of line we noticed that had some issues,” said company spokeswoman Emily Thompson, although she declined to get into the “nitty-gritty” details by providing a reason for the replacement. However, an official with the county’s Planning and Public Works Department, David Morrison, said in an e-mail the pipeline was corroded after he consulted with an inspector in the department.

The project started last week, Thompson said, and will continue through the end of the month, she added.

Kinder Morgan owns or operates some 37,000 miles of pipelines in North America, according to the company’s website. The $30 billion company employs about 8,000 people.

Nearly half a million miles of oil and gas transmission pipeline crisscross the United States, according to a 2008 report from the Congressional Research Service.

Replacing a 400-foot stretch of pipe is “part of our normal, everyday work,” Thompson said, calling the project “routine maintenance.”

Earth-movers uprooting dirt are visible to motorists zipping along I-80. Crews are working on segments both north and south of the freeway. Angelo Tsakopoulos, a Sacramento developer, said he owns the land, but isn’t familiar with the details of the project. Kinder Morgan, however, owns the right of way where the pipeline is located.

Maintaining pipelines is cheaper and safer than waiting for something big to happen, said Mark Kissel, president of Kinder Morgan’s western region, in the November issue of North American Pipeline magazine.

“Any time you have to take a pipeline down for service, you’re losing capacity,” Kissel said. “What you have to do is use preventive maintenance to avoid catastrophic failure, which translates to extended down time. We try to schedule and coordinate as much preventive maintenance as we can at one time to avoid multiple outages over long periods.”

Spokeswoman Thompson bristled at a comparison to Pacific Gas & Electric, whose natural gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno on Sept. 9, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes.

“Before the PG&E incident, we had a rigorous maintenance program,” Thompson said, “Precisely to identify and make sure our pipelines are operating as safely as possible.”

Back in 2004, a Kinder Morgan pipeline spilled 103,000 gallons of diesel into the Suisun Marsh near Fairfield. The company also was responsible for a February 2005 spill in Oakland’s inner harbor and an April 2005 spill at Summit Creek near Donner Lake in the Sierra Nevada.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered the company to pay $5.3 million in fines and damages for the three spills.

The company was responsible for 11 “significant incidents,” which spilled 1,818 barrels of oil and resulted in $9.2 million in property damage between 2006 and 2011, according to the federal office of pipeline safety. No one was injured or killed.

The government report covered 2,730 miles of Kinder Morgan pipeline, 7.4 percent of the company’s total system.


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