Joseph S. Pete | The Times (Munster, Ind.)
SCHERERVILLE — Northwest Indiana is filled with tank farms that store the oil and gas that keep America going, but Enbridge Energy Partners LLP is building the mother of all tanks as part of $250 million investment in its terminals in Griffith and Schererville.
The pipeline distributor is pumping about a quarter of a billion dollars into its Griffith and Hartsdate terminals largely to handle increased supplies of crude oil from North Dakota, Montana and Canada.
Enbridge, which just built a bigger Line 6B pipeline through Northwest Indiana and is constructing a new Line 78 between Pontiac, Ill., and Schererville, has been upgrading and expanding both facilities, where shipments of crude oil get rerouted to refineries throughout the Midwest, including the BP Whiting Refinery. The projects created 350 construction jobs.
Most prominently to anyone who’s recently driven down Kennedy Avenue, Enbridge is building what spokesperson Jennifer Smith described as the “mama duck” of storage tanks: a hulking 575,000-barrel tank that towers over the nine other 100,000-barrel tanks at the 56-year-old terminal in Schererville.
About 3.3 million tons of locally procured steel are going into the imposing structure, which looks something like a mother duck leading a row of ducklings across a pond. The new $20 million tank, which is 270 feet around and 56 feet tall, flanks the existing tanks at Hartsdale, which are uniformly sized at a much smaller 130 feet in circumference and 40 feet in height.
The supersized tank is being built because the new Line 78 can bring up to 570,000 more barrels per day into the terminal and that crude oil needs to be stored somewhere for a few days before it’s sent off to be refined into fuel for cars and planes, propane for grilling and heating, and petrochemicals used to make plastic. The humungous “mama duck” tank will boost the storage capacity at Hartsdale by nearly 64 percent when it comes online by the end of next year.
Flights of metal stairs run up to the top of the huge cylindrical tanks, which have floating roofs that rise or sink depending on the level of oil inside. They are surrounded by massive gravel berms designed to hold 110 percent of the crude, as well as all the rain that would fall during a 25-year flooding event, in the unlikely event of a leak or spill. Workers clean the tanks out at least once a decade, and they are starting to handle more oil than ever before.
As BP did with its $4.2 billion multi-year Whiting Refinery modernization, Enbridge is adjusting to a big shift in oil extraction. Production has been booming in the oil sands region in Canada and the Dakotas because of new methods of drilling that involve reaching heavy crude in underground reservoirs and pumping it to the surface. The oil sands have been yielding 1.7 million barrels per day, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
In an energy outlook released in January, BP estimated shale oil and oil sands crude, along with biofuels, would account for 60 percent of global growth in energy by 2013, including the entire net increase of production outside of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC. Shale oil is expected to capture 7 percent of the global market, and oil sands crude 5 percent.
Enbridge, which employs more than 110 workers and contractors in the region, has invested $1.6 billion to replace 210 miles of Line 6B from its Griffith Terminal to upper Michigan with a much larger larger pipeline. The amount of oil flowing through the pipe was reduced after it leaked in 2010, spilling nearly a million gallons into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, but the replacement line more than doubles the capacity from 240,000 barrels per day to 500,000 barrels per day.
The Houston-based energy company invested $75 million in infrastructure at the Griffith Terminal in conjunction with the bigger Line 6B. There’s a pump station to move larger batches of oil through the lines, and an electrical substation to make sure it’s getting enough juice. A new “pig launcher” sends bullet-like maintenance tools known as pigs — pipeline inspection gauges — through the pipe so they can separate different batches or check for rust, nicks or dents that need to be fixed by roving work crews.
Construction took place at the Griffith Terminal last year. The new Line 6B — completed through Northwest Indiana — is running from Griffith to Ortonville, Mich., and the last 50 miles in Michigan are under construction.
Right-of-way clearing commences this fall on the next big pipeline project: a 79-mile length of Line 78, which will carry crude at a leisurely 4 mph “walking” pace through a 36-inch pipe into the Hartsdale Terminal.
The company is putting another $175 million into that terminal and a new transfer that connects it to the Griffith Terminal a few miles north. The Hartsdale Terminal in Schererville is currently fed by Line 62, which can transport up to 235,000 barrels per day.
Since June, as many as 200 construction workers have been building all new tank lines and a new manifold at the facility on Division Street in Schererville. About 100 workers are now building the “mama duck” tank, which — at more than five stories — is one of the tallest structures in Schererville.
Enbridge decided to build a single massive tank instead of a few smaller ones so it would not have to buy any properties surrounding the terminal, Smith said.
“You have to make due with the space you have to get the capacity you need,” she said. “The terminal is pretty well established in its footprint.”