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Sections of Keystone XL Installed with Over 50% Bad Welds

U.C. Berkeley professor emeritus and welder (!) Robert Bea says a bad-weld rate of 0.1% on high-risk projects is cause for concern.

What's TransCanada's bad-weld rate on the Oklahoma-Texas leg of Keystone XL? Over 50%, according to warning letters the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration sent to TransCanada last year:

"From the start of welding, TransCanada experienced a high weld rejection rate," said one letter dated Sept. 26. Over 72 per cent of welds required repairs during one week. In another week, TransCanada stopped welding work after 205 of 425 welds required repair.

Inspections by the safety agency found TransCanada wasn't using approved welding procedures to connect pipes, the letter said. The company had hired welders who weren't qualified to work on the project because TransCanada used improper procedures to test them, the letter said ["U.S. Imposes New Conditions on Keystone XL Pipeline Construction," AP via Times-Colonist, 2014.05.26].

The PHMSA found TransCanada doing generally careless work:

Another letter, dated Sept. 10, said a government inspector witnessed TransCanada officials investigating dents in pipeline that had been laid without first sufficiently clearing rock from trenches or from soil used as backfill. The same letter said coating that protects pipeline from corrosion was damaged by weld splatter because a contractor hadn't followed the company's welding procedures. Eventually, pipeline was excavated in 98 places to make coating repairs [AP, 2014.05.26].

But hey, why be careful? It's not TransCanada's land. A few thousand barrels of oil spilled on some poor farmer's land or into an American aquifer isn't their problem. They've got millions more barrels to tap from their tar sands, Chinese who will happily pay them for it, and those crazy Americans who think government doesn't need to regulate business.


  1. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.05.27

    Probably cheaper pipe from India, like what they snuck in at the last minute (and the PUC approved) for the first Keystone pipeline here in SD.

  2. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.05.27

    You did it again, Blindman. Three homeruns in three days.

  3. Douglas Wiken 2014.05.27

    And guess what happens to the pipeline welding company within one hour after they get their last pay check. Trans-Canada will blame them when the pipe leaks and those companies will be long gone or in Mexico.

  4. lesliengland 2014.05.27

    wow-good info cory.

    who needs stinkin regulations anyway??? defund regulators!!! I can hear it now.

  5. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.05.27

    I don't know why when I list all of the failed economic development issues in the Rounds/Daugaard era, I always forget the first Keystone Pipeline, with its promise for property taxes to the school districts as the main reason to allow it to go through farmer's fields and across aquifers and past lakes and streams, a promise that was kept at 10 cents on the dollar.

  6. mike from iowa 2014.05.27

    No one bothered to explain the problem with having the fox guard the henhouse. It doesn't work any better if you hire a mink or weasel to guard it,either.

  7. Danno 2014.05.27

    Here's a post I made in the Journal some time ago. Depending on the source, you will see 1,400 PSI - 1,900 PSI. Note, my math skills are not up to the task of calculating the effect of miles of this pressure built up in the pipe between pumping stations - so this is likely way understated but here we go....

    **** Snip from Journal post ****

    Our pipe is supposed to be 30" OD. Using this to simplify math, (and slightly overstating things), let's see how much pressure this is.

    Area of a circle.. 3.14*(15)squared = Roughly 706.5 square inches, call it 700.

    700 square inches * 1,400 pounds per square inch = 980,000 pounds of pressure.

    980,000 / 2000 pounds per ton = about 490 tons of pressure going through this pipe, (Overstated by the thickness of the wall of the pipe).

    hmmmmm correct me if I've screwed the math up

    Then I realize my mistake and post...

    The above was pretty crude and understates matters I believe.

    Imagine that you have, say, five miles of the pipe, all filled with material at the pressure stated above and you have a rupture. I don't have the math skills to determine how much gets shot out of the pipe at what velocity, (remember this is a semi-solid material), and you have pumps behind it that need to get shut down if a breach occurs, they will try to keep the pressure up until shutdown gets triggered.

    This is a problem better suited to a School of mines Math Instructor.

    I'm just curious.

    ****** End cut and pastes *****

    Let's just say I would not want to be standing in front of any breaches.

  8. Roger Cornelius 2014.05.27


    I recall that post and our subsequent conversation, the revelations are even more significant when welded or repaired pipe is used.
    The information you provide also questions the strength of any kind of pipe used.

  9. Danno 2014.05.27

    That little exercise opened my eyes, it's at least 490 tons of pressure per one-inch cross section. Many train engines run in the 200-ton area according to Wikipedia, just as a point of perspective. That's a lot of pressure. I'd be a nervous land-owner if that crossed my land. Just saying.

  10. Jerry 2014.05.27

    I think that you have nailed it Danno. Most farmers and ranchers probably think that the pressure of this pipe line is about like it is in a water line or garden hose. This black snake would send crud crude and lots of it for quite a distance. We could ask the head of Mines to show the solution but we must remember that she is Heather Wilson, known right wing extremist.

  11. Douglas Wiken 2014.05.27

    Pressure is same in all directions without considering effect of moving liquid fluids and all that. Every square inch of pipe has the equivalent of a jack pushing on it with 1400 pounds of force--perhaps confusing dimensional unity a bit. The equal pressure in all directions should keep the pipe round.

    The scary calculations involve that kind of pressure forcing crude out through even a 1 inch diameter hole. The gallons add up quickly and likely also the diameter of the hole enlarges or spreads the crack.

    Even if they have auto sensors on the pipeline measuring changed pressures, and they shut off the flow, and if the hole is at a low point (such as a river at bottom of eroded draw, thousands of gallons can leak out with the flow shut off. Every foot of the pipe probably has about 40 gallons or a barrel of crude. If there is a half mile from shutoff to valley bottom, about 100,000 gallons could leak out after the shutoff.

    Even if the crude stays mostly in place, the solvents used to thin it might move miles downstream. Towns and cities down river from South Dakota might want to think about what happens if leaks occur on the several river crossings the XL Pipeline makes.

    My math and hydraulic knowledge may not be all that great, so checking this might make sense before using it elsewhere.

    I don't think the calculations in the previous post are relevant unless there is a piston in the pipe making it something like a jack that could lift 490 tons. I may be completely wrong, but I don't think the total cross-sectional area and related force has much to do with hazard unless there is a leak allowing all of oil to flow out.

    I went through several interesting calculations a few years ago right after Trans Canada and SD PUC did their dog and pony show in Winner.

    You can look at that for a couple more perspectives.

  12. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.05.27

    Mr Wiken, Has the land which the Keystone XL been eminent domained yet? I know that a lot of the landowners on the original Keystone Pipleline were pretty unhappy with that and it is hard to believe that a foreign entity could get eminent domain over US property.

  13. Danno 2014.05.27


    Thanks for the info. I don't think 90% plus of the population realize even a fraction of the pressures involved and how fast leaks would accumulate at such pressures. Just wanted to raise a flag. I know just enough to suspect that I should be really worried.

    I'm no fluid dynamics engineer, but would greatly appreciate being lectured by one (not employed by the pipeline company) on this matter.

  14. Stan Gibilisco 2014.05.27

    Saturn's moon Titan has cheap fuel in abundance. Housing is cheap too.

    And leaks don't matter there.

    So what if we wreck this planet?

  15. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.05.28

    I am confused Old Guy. I thought that they were already doing that. I thought that is why Warren Buffet bought the 1000 rail tanker cars and that they are hauling it to the southern Keystone XL railhead in Oklahoma, the pipeline that this blog post is about.

  16. WR Old Guy 2014.05.28

    Lanny the big oil haul by train is from the North Dakota and Montana Bakken field. The Keystone XL would transport about 100,000 barrels per day from there but the production is projected to be 2,000,000 barrels per day. There are only a few refineries that can handle the tar sands oil but refineries around the country can handle the Bakken crude. BNSF and Canidian Pacific are both building transload facilities in the Bakken field. Some refineries have already committed to the oil trains as the existing pipeline structure favors north/south transport plus there is no capacity available to hande the additional oil production.

    Oil trains have had a lot of negative press lately due to accidents but you would seldom see and entire trail derail and spill or burn. Normally you would see up to 20 cars of a 100 car train derail with an exposure of around 33,000 gallons of oil per car. I think you will see a lot more on oil trains in the near future.

    The new owners of the DM&E have a track record of developing new business. I doubt that you will see oil trains but I would not be surprised to see a transload facility in Belle fourche for bringing in oil field supplies and then trucking the supplies north.

  17. Douglas Wiken 2014.05.28

    Lanny, I believe Trans-Canada has used eminent domain. A local case in the Winner-Colome area was settled out of court with details sealed. A few individuals can resist, but there is so much money behind the pipeline that resistance by a few is futile...all your acres are ours.

    The SD PUC and legislature have been woefully inadequate in protecting the people they all claim to represent.

    The Wildlife or whatever writer in the MDR today presented a completely excrebable column complete with an insulting attack on Tim Johnson.

  18. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.05.28

    Old Guy, Thanks, but I am still confused. This blog is about the KeystoneXL having pipes bursting at the welds. Is that from Bakken oil? And if so, wasn't it built for the tar sands from Trans Canada? If the Bakken oil will cause bursts of the welds, I would certainly think that the tar sands stuff would definitely be a problem.

  19. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.05.28

    Douglas, Thanks, you hit the nail right on the head. What is wrong with our State government, and in fact in this case with our Federal Government, allowing a foreign company to apply for and receive the right to use eminent domain to get use of our land?

    Every time I hear one of our five Republican candidates, including the one that I support, Stace Nelson, talking about we need to approve the KeystoneXL, it makes my blood boil. I can't for the life of me figure out how we can sell out our citizens for a business proposition that could despoil our rivers, lakes streams and aquifers, to say nothing of our farmers' land. How can these people call themselves conservatives with that attitude?

  20. Douglas Wiken 2014.05.28

    They are "pocket book conservatives". Rounds ads where in the local weekly today. He is all for the sanctity of profit and guns...and energy development with no specifics.

  21. WR Old Guy 2014.05.29

    Lanny I don't believe any oil was flowing when the defects were found. Every welded joint is inspected and x-rayed to find flaws. I also believe they now video the welding and burial of the pipe. The defects were probably found during the records review. I am bothered by the use of uncertified welders (pipeline welders require a special certification) and TransCanada's assertion that the problems found there have nothing to do with their proposed construction methods for the Keystone XL.

  22. bret clanton 2014.05.29

    As for the farmers and ranchers that have the KXL crossing their property I think you need to give them a little more credit about their knowledge about it Jerry. All easements in SD have been acquired except one by Colome. It has not been settled out of court or resolved. One common misconception about condemnation is that once in court all that is being determined is compensation for said easement. It is not a trial about need or rights or anything other than value of land being seized....

  23. bret clanton 2014.05.29

    The need for KXL to transport Bakken oil is not a viable argument anymore. There has been two oil pipelines ( Oneoak Bakken Express and Dakota Express ) whose plans have been shelved because of lack of interest from North Dakota producers. They are all gearing up for rail delivery because in using rails they are not confined to one delivery point....

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