CA: Oil pipeline may cross aquifer window

CA: Oil pipeline may cross aquifer window

At a time when similar projects are eliciting protests in several states, a $900 million oil pipeline being built from Oklahoma to Memphis has generated relatively little opposition, even though it crosses a part of Presidents Island that’s apparently devoid of any protective clay layer covering the vital Memphis Sand aquifer.

When it’s finished next year, the 20-inch-diameter Diamond Pipeline will deliver up to 200,000 barrels of domestic sweet crude oil a day from Cushing, Oklahoma, to the Valero Memphis Refinery. The project is a joint venture between two Texas-based firms — Plains All American Pipeline of Houston and Valero of San Antonio.

The 440-mile route courses through northeastern Oklahoma and north-central Arkansas before crossing under the Mississippi River at West Memphis. The pipeline will emerge on the northwestern edge of Presidents Island, cutting across the island to McKellar Lake, then under the lake to Treasure Island. After crossing that island, which is located west of Martin Luther King Jr. Riverside Park, the pipeline will again plunge under the lake bed to the refinery, located on the eastern shore of McKellar.

Work has begun along the Diamond route on Presidents Island, which already is crossed by two other petroleum pipelines, and completion for the entire project is slated for the fourth quarter of 2017.

The purpose of the pipeline is to provide a “more direct, safe, and reliable route” to transport sweet crude to Valero’s 195,000-barrel-a-day refinery, Karen M. Rugaard, stakeholder relations manager for Plains All American Pipeline, said in an emailed statement.

The corps, which regulates projects covered by the Rivers and Harbors Act and the Clean Water Act, granted similar approval to the Diamond Pipeline. In May, the corps’ Little Rock district authorized the project to be built across much of Arkansas under what’s known as a nationwide permit. The agency’s Memphis and Tulsa districts followed suit.

In contrast to individual permits that must be drafted for each specific project, nationwide permits are already written and set predetermined terms and conditions for projects that cause only “minimal” environmental damage. They allow for a simplified, streamlined regulatory approval process, sparing developers and builders from paperwork and procedural delays.

Still, many environmentalists contend pipelines warrant stricter scrutiny than what’s allowed under nationwide permits. They point to incidents such as the 2013 rupture of the Pegasus Pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas, that spewed an estimated 134,000 gallons of oil into a neighborhood and creek.

The spill was among the more than 930 “significant” pipeline incidents that occurred nationwide between 2013 and 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Those incidents caused a total of 37 deaths, 185 injuries and some $980 million in damage.

The Diamond Pipeline route crosses an area of Presidents Island identified in a 1990 U.S. Geological Survey report as a possible window in the protective clay layer over the Memphis Sand, the high-quality aquifer that’s the source of public drinking water in the Memphis area. The absence of clay would allow surface contamination to seep directly into the aquifer.

That threat alone suggests that the nationwide permit was inappropriate for the pipeline project, said Scott Banbury, conservation programs coordinator for the Sierra Club’s Tennessee chapter.

The project also will employ directional horizontal drilling so the pipeline can be safely installed under rivers and other water bodies. The partners will employ features such as thicker pipe walls to ensure the pipeline is built and operated in a “safe, reliable and responsible manner,” Rugaard said.

In Arkansas, the Diamond Pipeline has met with some opposition, with critics setting up a Facebook page and voicing concern about the threat of leaks and possible impacts to drinking-water supplies. In response, the Diamond Pipeline partners agreed to relocate the water intake for the city of Clarksville, Arkansas, on Spadra Creek to a point upstream from the route.

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CA: Oil pipeline may cross aquifer window

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