Keystone pipeline at risk near Okla. quake, study says

Miles of pipe ready to become part of the Keystone pipeline are stacked in a field near Cushing, Okla., in 2012.
Miles of pipe ready to become part of the Keystone pipeline are stacked in a field near Cushing, Okla., in 2012. File photo

A federal agency devoted to reducing risks from earthquakes concluded in a 2015 study that Cushing, Okla., the site of Sunday’s 5.0 magnitude earthquake, which carries part of the Keystone pipeline, is a major source of risk.

“Cushing, Oklahoma is an area of concern because it is a major hub of the U.S. oil and gas pipeline transportation system that includes operational sections of the Keystone pipeline,” the report stated.

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The report by the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction program analyzed aftershocks that showed that fault lines near Cushing have been reactivated and could potentially trigger an earthquake as large a magnitude of 5.7 or greater.

The report states that if the “fault zone were to rupture beyond the region of increased stress into the active structures extending south of Cushing, the possibility of a significantly larger and damaging earthquake exists.” And this size earthquake “could seriously damage storage tanks and pipelines in the Cushing facility.”

The potential for earthquakes this large “has serious implications for infrastructure design standards,” the study stated. And it further concluded that the energy industry should “avoid injection into active faults and be prepared to” change where and how much wastewater it is disposting of in Oklahoma.

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The price of oil futures rose Monday and some investors are worried. “It’s definitely a long-term negative development if you are getting earthquakes of that magnitude at such an important site,” Bob Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities USA Inc. in New York, told Bloomberg. “It doesn’t bode well for the future.”

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission released a statement that said it is looking into making changes to oil operations in the area of both Sunday’s 5.0 magnitude earthquake and last week’s 4.6 magnitude quake.

The oil companies that report to the commission have not reported any damage after Sunday’s earthquake and have resumed operation, according to Matt Skinner, a spokesman for the OCC.

But the commission has limited jurisdiction on some of these companies, Skinner said.”State regulation applies only to a few of the operators at Cushing,” he said. “Under Oklahoma law we can have no stronger roles than what the feds have in place.”

“Our investigation into the incident is ongoing,” according to Susan Hand, a spokeswoman for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The pipeline agency has jurisdiction over many of the affected oil sites, Skinner said.

In October the Tulsa World reported that engineers in Cushing were running tests to build better storage tanks so that stronger earthquakes wouldn’t cause any damage. The test run by Kenneth Erdmann, of Matrix PDM, indicated that Cushing’s largest tanks were at some risk of structural failure from oil sloshing and shifting.

A magnitude-5.0 earthquake struck near Cushing, Okla., between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, on Sunday night, Nov. 6, 2016. (Video by Oliver Morrison / The Wichita Eagle)

FEMA explains what you should do before an earthquake happens and when it occurs in an animated video called "When The Earth Shakes."

Oliver Morrison: 316-268-6499, @ORMorrison

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