UPDATE 2-In Keystone boost, U.S. study sees no added risk from Canada oil

Tue Jun 25, 2013 4:50pm EDT
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By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON, June 25 (Reuters) - The Keystone XL pipeline got a boost on Tuesday as a landmark U.S.-mandated report said heavy Canadian oil is no more likely to cause pipeline leaks than other crudes, knocking back one of the biggest objections to the project.

Following a series of high-profile pipeline leaks over the past three years, environmental groups raised the alarm over the prospect that Canada's growing stream of heavy bitumen crude, which is diluted with light fuel to flow through pipelines, could corrode the lines due to its acid and mineral content.

But the National Research Council report, an eagerly awaited study that U.S. regulators were ordered to conduct by a 2011 pipeline safety law, said the oil mix flowing through U.S. pipelines for 30 years was no different in wear and tear on pipelines than other crude oils.

"There's nothing extraordinary about pipeline shipments of diluted bitumen to make them more likely than other crude oils to cause releases," said Mark Barteau, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Michigan. Barteau is the chairman of the committee that wrote the report, which confirmed earlier reports sponsored by industry.

The report reviewed pipeline leak statistics and consulted experts on pipeline failure mechanisms, and solicited comments from the public. The NRS is part of the National Academies, a group of private non-profit institutions that advise government on science, technology and health policy.

While the report might not put to rest debate over the safety and impact of importing more Canadian crude, it added to growing signs President Barack Obama is likely to finally approve construction of the line after a more than four year wait that has frustrated Canadian politicians and operator TransCanada Corp.

"I think it's harder to come up with reasons not to approve it than to approve it," said Sarah Emerson, director at Energy Security Analysis Inc in Boston. "Most people in the industry expect it to be a foregone conclusion."   Continued...