Opinion: Pilgrim Pipeline offers a safer way to transport oil

pipeline-sqA complex energy routine currently takes place in the Hudson Valley corridor. Every year, more than three billion gallons of critical refined products such as gasoline and heating oil are loaded onto river barges in New Jersey for delivery to points along the Hudson River Valley. And every year, roughly the same amount of crude oil is shipped down the Hudson from Albany in oil barges on their way to refineries in New Jersey. Two fleets of hulking barges make their way down the river and then return home empty, crossing north and south and navigating around each other.

This routine for transporting energy products is maintained to satisfy regional demand for these critical fuels. But the method is outdated and increasingly dangerous, spurring a lawsuit by one environmental group seeking an updated spill response plan for the Hudson River, and prompting another environmental group to sound an alert to communities that take their drinking water from the Hudson.

The Pilgrim Pipeline project proposes to bring the region’s outdated transportation system into the 21st century by moving fuels more safely and efficiently than the method used today. Much has been written about the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline, much of it by those who lack familiarity with our project. Here are the facts:


Pilgrim would create a 178-mile parallel double pipeline to carry refined petroleum products north and crude oil south between Albany and the New York Harbor. The proposed project has numerous advantages for New York State, including creating a safer and more secure means to transport oil and petroleum products, limiting the amount of petroleum products moving across docks, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing supply disruptions and price spikes that occur during severe weather conditions or other unplanned events.

While the potential construction of a new pipeline makes headlines these days, use of pipelines to transport America’s fuels is extremely commonplace. Over 70 percent of all oil and refined products in the U.S. move by pipeline, and more than 40 million barrels of crude and refined products travel through our country’s 500,000-mile-plus pipeline network each day. In fact, the Hudson Valley region is one of the few remaining major population areas that still relies on river barges. The reason for this transition is simple: Pipelines are the safest and most efficient means of transport available, safer than both barges and railroads.

Read opinion piece urging opposition to the pipeline. 

According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the spill risk for barges is almost seven times greater than that for pipelines, and the vast majority of pipeline incidents that occur today involve old pipelines using antiquated construction technology. Pipelines remove the risk of collision between barge or tanker and bridge, a major safety concern and a chief drawback of marine transportation. Pipelines are also safer and more environmentally friendly than railroads. The railroad-equivalent of Pilgrim would be two trains of approximately 50 2,000-barrel tank cars moving each way every day.

The Pilgrim Pipeline will be a state-of-the-art project and an excellent example of the security provided by modern pipelines.

Not surprisingly, due to their enormous presence in America’s fuels network, the technology behind pipelines has evolved considerably over the past decades. The Pilgrim Pipeline will be constructed of high tensile strength steel, the highest quality steel pipe on the market today. The pipe will be produced in an electronically controlled furnace system, which maintains temperature during the manufacturing process and allows for a more pure, consistent metallurgy. The result is that the Pilgrim Pipeline will have tremendous strength and durability.

On top of that, to protect against external corrosion, the pipe will have a fusion bonded epoxy coating as well as a cathodic protection system. Where the pipe is joined, all welds are x-rayed to make sure welding is done properly. Before being put into service, the pipeline is pressure tested at 1.5 times normal operating pressure for any potential leaks. Once the pipe is placed in the ground, a series of instrumented modules that scan every square inch of the pipe from the inside are run through the pipe to record information about the internal conditions of the pipeline, forming a complete record of the baseline condition of the pipe. The operating system has pressure sensitive block valves that would automatically shut down all sections of the line in the event of any loss in pressure.

In addition to offering a safer transportation option, the project brings clear environmental benefits over the current modes of fuel delivery.

By reducing river congestion caused by barges and replacing hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil currently crossing the docks, the Pilgrim Pipeline would limit emissions and produce a net air quality benefit to the region. Moreover, the footprint of the pipeline itself is only about 5½ feet, and the pipeline will be placed almost exclusively along existing rights-of-way in order to minimize its environmental footprint. It will be built underground using some of the most advanced drilling techniques to ensure that construction is done quickly and with minimal disruption to the surrounding area.

Despite what some say, the project would in no way change the amount of oil or refined product currently transported between Albany and New York Harbor. The same barrels moving along the Hudson would be transported from the same existing supply terminals to the same existing distribution terminals. The Pilgrim Pipeline simply provides a more safe and reliable means to do the job. The volume of crude oil moving south is based on demand, and East Coast refineries are already running near capacity. Moreover, the Hudson Valley’s needs for home heating oil, gasoline, diesel, etc. have been relatively steady for years. Yet it is obvious to anyone who has endured winter price spikes in home heating oil caused by navigation problems on the Hudson — or who experienced the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy and the resulting lines at gas stations — that the region should explore more reliable means of transporting energy products.

Fossil fuels are slated to drive our economy for the foreseeable future. America’s growing capacity for energy production means its citizens face a choice about the infrastructure that transports those fuels. By creating a reliable, efficient and state-of-the-art underground pipeline that reduces fuel barge traffic through the region, the Pilgrim Pipeline offers clear benefits to the region. Pilgrim is an exciting option for a region relying on an outdated energy delivery ritual, and it is the right choice for Hudson Valley citizens today.

George Bochis is vice president for development at Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings, LLC