June 2021, Vol. 248, No. 6

Editor's Notebook

West Coast Greets ‘Cleaner’ Pipe Conversion

By Michael Reed, Editor-in-Chief

Between the California towns of Paramount and Carson, about 40 miles south of Los Angeles, a pipeline that once shipped crude oil from the former to the latter is another step closer to transporting hydrogen gas instead.  

Surprisingly enough, to me anyway, is that the planned conversion passed unanimously through the Long Beach City Council recently – a neighborhood traversed by the 12.5-inch pipeline – with little opposition.  

The thinking on the part of many who you might expect to be adamantly opposed to the use of pipelines of any stripe appeared to have been summed up by City Councilman Rex Richardson, who according to the Long Beach Post said, “It gets rid of a crude-oil operation and turns it into hydrogen fuel, and that’s a use toward zero-emission vehicles.”   

The over-simplicity of this statement aside, his position was supported by Councilman Al Austin, who told attendees, “This is a better use of existing infrastructure that will result in cleaner energy use in our city and beyond.”   

While that’s true, the project also will require construction of an additional half-mile section of pipeline within Carson, where that city approved the environmental impact review in late 2020. As with any conversion project, additional pipe and other infrastructure will be needed.  

The pipeline conversion is designed to connect the existing Air Products hydrogen facility in Carson to the World Energy Paramount refinery. The existing pipeline went in service in the 1920s, but went offline in 2018 when World Energy purchased the Paramount facility, a company spokeswoman told P&GJ.   

World Energy, a major seller of biofuels, has converted a former oil refinery in Paramount to a state-of-the-art, low-carbon fueling hub, requiring an overhaul of existing infrastructure.  

“As a 100% renewable fuels producer, World Energy has never used the pipeline to transport crude oil,” the spokeswoman said, adding that the conversion was completed in February 2021, and the commissioning process was completed in April.  

The request to convert the existing pipeline makes it possible to manufacture biofuels at the Paramount plant.  

Paramount Pipeline stores and transports refined renewable products and hydrogen gas through pipelines throughout the Los Angeles Basin. Hydrogen is a needed component in the production of renewable fuels.   

As it turns out, Long Beach had issued refinery operator Paramount Petroleum a series of pipeline permits to operate within the city since 1983. Paramount recently sold its pipelines to World Energy, the parent company of Paramount Pipeline LLC.  

Hydrogen can be transported a few different ways: as a gas in high-pressure containers; as a liquid in thermo-insulated containers; in processed form as methanol or ammonia; or in a chemical carrier medium. However, by far the least expensive and most practical method over the long haul is via pipeline, where higher energy transportation capacity is possible.  

While the process of converting to the pipeline to hydrogen has gone relatively smoothly – no one spoke against the project at the City Council meeting, for example – there were “unavoidable” potential release of hydrogen into the environment to be dealt with, according to the findings of a related California Environmental Quality Act.   

In order to take this into account, the pipeline will be operated at low-pressure levels,  then gradually increased in order to monitor for leaks.   

Also, according to the Long Beach Planning Bureau, the operator will distribute about 8,000 notices in proximity of the pipeline as is done with crude pipeline projects, telling residents about safety measures and letting them know who to call in case of an emergency.   

It’s a familiar process to most of you, and it most assuredly will require pipelines.  

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