Yet another tar-sands hazard

 

Ever hear of “DilBit”?  It sounds like a new kind of snack pickle, or maybe a little cat owned by Dilbert, the geeky cartoon character.  Actually, it’s something far less benign – the raw oil extracted from tar sands development in Canada.

Diluted bitumen (also known as "DilBit") … is significantly more acidic and corrosive than standard oil and requires increased heat and pressure to move through pipelines. These unique characteristics bring with them new liabilities to the integrity of the American oil pipeline system that is currently unprepared to handle this product, and new threats to the waterways and aquifers that cross paths with these pipelines."

That assessment is from a new report, Tar Sands Pipeline Safety Risks (PDF), from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Pipeline Safety Trust, National Wildlife Federation, and Sierra Club. The report warns of the “increased risk of spills along the controversial Lakehead and Keystone XL pipelines” and notes that “the safety and spill response standards used by the United States to regulate pipeline transport of bitumen are designed for conventional crude oil . . . Until (new) safety and spill response standards are adopted, the United States should put a hold on the consideration of new tar sands pipelines."

The Keystone XL pipeline has already been on hold since July, when the EPA declared its environmental study inadequate.  According to the Montreal Gazette,

The call for the Obama administration to hit the pause button on new oilsands pipelines comes as the U.S. State Department is weighing whether to grant TransCanada a "presidential permit" to begin construction on the Keystone XL, which would ship oilsands crude from Hardisty, Alta., to refineries along the Gulf Coast of Texas.

The U.S. already imports more than a half-million barrels per day of diluted bitumen, according to the report, which is up to 20 times more acidic than conventional oil. The import amount is expected to triple by 2019. In Alberta, the pipeline system, which has carried high amounts of DilBit since the '80s, has had 16 times the number of spills due to internal corrosion as U.S. pipelines, which began carrying low levels of the substance 10 years ago. When a spill does occur, the report notes that DilBit is more dangerous than other forms of oil:

While all crude oil spills are potentially hazardous, the low flash point and high vapor pressure of the natural gas liquid condensate used to dilute the DilBit increase the risk of the leaked material exploding. DilBit can form an ignitable and explosive mixture in the air at temperatures above 0 degrees Fahrenheit … one of the potential toxic products of a DilBit explosion is hydrogen sulfide, a gas which can cause suffocation in concentrations over 100 parts per million ...

DilBit contains benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and n-hexane, toxins that can affect the human central nervous systems … (and) cause cancer. DilBit also contains vanadium, nickel, arsenic, and other heavy metals in significantly larger quantities than occur in conventional crude. These heavy metals have a variety of toxic effects, are not biodegradable, and can accumulate in the environment to become health hazards to wildlife and people.

And you thought tar sands development was risky enough already just because of the environmental destruction in Canada’s boreal forest and the megaloads of equipment now rolling along the byways of Montana.

Jodi Peterson is HCN's managing editor.

Image of Canada oil pipeline in progress courtesy Flickr user Roger Blood.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance, a leading grassroots conservation advocacy organization for over 30 years, seeks a passionate, dynamic, organized, and technology-savvy communications professional to help...
  • OPERATIONS AND FINANCE MANAGER
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a national grassroots organization led by women, seeks a resourceful, self-motivated, team player to serve as Operations and Finance Manager....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    ORGANIZATIONAL BACKGROUND Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) fosters community stewardship, education and awareness of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • WYOMING STATE DIRECTOR
    Save the World ... or at least a piece of it! Join The Nature Conservancy and make a tangible and lasting impact by creating a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR FOR AN ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCACY NON-PROFIT NEAR YOSEMITE
    Demanding, but rewarding, advocacy work on forest, water, wildland, and wildlife issues. Applicants should have experience dealing with land management planning, public speaking, grassroots organizing,...
  • NEW AGRARIAN APPRENTICESHIP
    Quivira Coalition's 2020 New Agrarian Apprenticeships in Regenerative Ranching and Farming -Apprenticeships run 4/20 - 11/20 Applications accepted 10/15/19 - 12/1/19 NAP partners with skilled...
  • PHILANTHROPY DIRECTOR AT WILDERNESS WORKSHOP
    Wilderness Workshop seeks a full time Philanthropy Director to raise funds for our team. Learn more: www.wildernessworkshop.org
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT WITH WESTERN RESOURCE ADVOCATES
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks an enthusiastic and organized problem solver to join our growing team as an Executive Assistant. The Executive Assistant is instrumental...
  • WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL
    Two positions: Development Director OR Development Writer, Communications Director. Full job descriptions at https://wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org/careers.
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Great Land Trust seeks to hire a Conservation Project Manager. Position is full-time, based in Anchorage, Alaska. First review of applications will be on October...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eagle Valley Land Trust Executive Director Position Description Summary of Position: The Executive Director, working with and reporting to the Board of Directors, has overall...
  • FINANCE & LOGISTICS COORDINATOR
    The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, founded in 1928 as an independent nonprofit organization, is a biological field station located near Crested Butte, Colorado. Our primary...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    See Full Job Description
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position: Development Coordinator Responsible to: Executive Director Time Commitment: 15-20 hours per week, or as otherwise agreed upon General Description: The Development Coordinator assists the...
  • EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Friends of Cedar Mesa seeks a full-time Education Manager for the Bears Ears Education Center to provide day to day operational and administrative oversight. See...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED SCP SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    Seeking to hire an experienced advocate/manager to oversee the organization's sportsmen/women-driven advocacy in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Open until filled
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    for northern AZ collaborative conservation ranchlands group
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Partners are seeking an experienced and energetic Executive Director who is excited about the opportunity to lead our growing organization! A full description of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country News Seeks an Executive Director to advance its mission, grow its audience and influence, and strategically and sustainably guide the organization through a...
  • 2 PROPERTIES ON THE WESTERN EDGE OF THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Organic farm, hot springs, San Francisco River runs through both. [email protected]