Tar sands oil is different.
Compared with conventional crude, it’s is harder to clean up, more toxic to the environment and is suspected of being more corrosive to pipelines
. That’s a very dangerous combination.
So when Enbridge showed their plans
for the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline in B.C. and Alberta, you might think they had fancy new plan to deal with this more dangerous oil if it spills into a river or the ocean?
For some reason their emergency plan seemed only to deal with spills of normal conventional crude oil.
Odd, because Enbridge has always stated that Northern Gateway is only intended to ship dangerous tar sands oil: raw, unrefined diluted bitumen, or ‘dilbit
’ for short. Not normal crude oil.
There is a world of difference.
Raw tar sands oil is actually so thick that it has the consistency of peanut butter. It can’t flow through a pipeline. So oil companies have to dilute it with a cocktail of toxic chemicals known as ‘condensate’ to get it to flow like a liquid. Condensate is nasty stuff, containing poisonous chemicals like benzene, toluene and hydrogen sulphide. But diluted form—dilbit—is the only way to get raw tar sands oil through a pipe.
And then there’s what happens when it spills, as it does at an unnervingly common
rate. Hint: dilbit
doesn’t behave like normal oil at all.
First, the lighter condensate evaporates, causing a toxic plume that’s extremely dangerous to people and animals. This leaves behind a thick tar that is heavier than water – so heavy in fact that it sinks, coating the entire river or ocean bottom with oily goo. This is a big problem. Because the way oil spills, like BP’s in the Gulf of Mexico or the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, are cleaned up is with booms and skimmers....on the surface.
Enbridge knows this. So it was a bit rich to read in the Globe
, that conventional oil and dilbit “react the same way once spilled.”
If that’s true, how does Enbridge explain the problems its tar sands oil spill created in Michigan when 3 million litres
of dilbit spilled into the Kalamazoo River. Hundreds of people got sick from the evaporating toxic condensate, and more than 50km of the river bottom was coated by the sinking tar sands. Enbridge tried to clean it up like they would a normal oil spill at first, but traditional cleanup methods clearly didn’t work.
This is one of the reasons why the Kalamazoo spill became the most expensive inland oil spill in U.S. history, costing nearly $1 billion so far to cleanup. They have had to dredge the entire river.
And folks in B.C. and Alberta aren’t the only ones who have to worry about a tar sands spill—because Enbridge wants to ship tar sands oil through an aging pipeline, Line 9
, from Sarnia to Montreal. I mean, we’re only talking about major rivers that flow into the Great Lakes.
Coming from the perspective of a charity committed to preventing and reducing pollution, Enbridge’s denial of the obvious is worrying to us. So is the National Energy Board’s refusal to look into the issue, as is being done
in the U.S. If they won’t even admit that they are shipping more dangerous oil, how can we trust them to keep us safe from a spill?