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What Makes Canadian Oil Sands so Bad?

Even if approved USA residents don’t have to wait until after the Keystone XL Pipeline is complete to experience a Canadian Oil Sands spill. Pipelines carrying Canadian crude have already been in place for years and spilling!

canadian oil spill in Michigan

Michigan’s Kalamazoo River is still closed years after the spill

July 2010: More than 1 million gallons of dilbit crude oil spilled into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River by a pipeline owned by Enbridge Inc. and to date cleanup has not been completed due to submerged oil, even after spending over 800 million.

March 31st, 2012: An Exxon Mobil pipeline carrying Dilbit Canadian crude oil ruptured in Mayflower Arkansas causing an evacuation of 22 homes and spilling 10,000+ gallons.

Firstly what is currently already being pumped through pipelines from Canada across the USA is a type of synthetic crude oil more correctly called DILBIT from (Diluted Bitumen), which is more like coal or pitch than oil. Dilbit is a mixture of hydrocarbons basically composed of Bitumen, which needs to be diluted using chemicals and many other lighter types of hydrocarbon solvents (benzene, naphtha, hydrogen sulphide and other proprietary ingredients) so that it can be transported it in a pipeline because it is so thick (and nasty-so much for fair and balanced journalistic neutrality), the result is about 70 percent bitumen and 30 percent diluent. See Athabasca tar sands or oil sands for more information. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athabasca_oil_sands
an a just a little on Benzene https://kenburridge.com/?p=62

Some Lessons from Kalamazoo River Tar Sands Oil Pipeline Spill

Why is this type of oil more of a concern than normal crude oil? Because pipelines used to carry this toxic stuff require much higher pressure and more heat than just ordinary crude oil, which makes pipeline ruptures even more likely due to: weld failures, vibrations, shock, cavitation, explosions, friction, and piezoelectric effects etc.

Secondly: From an environmental point of view mining Canadian Oil Sands requires huge amounts of clean water 4.5 parts water to 1 part shale oil, however, using unground steam and recycled water to heat bitumen the water usage may drop to something closer to 20% of that figure. Previously in 1997, Suncor which is just one of several companies in the Canadian Oil Sands business admitted that their tailing ponds had been leaking 1,600 cubic meters of toxic water into the Athabasca River a day. Oil sands development contributes arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel other metal elements toxic at low concentrations to the environment. It is estimated that leaking tail ponds would create over a billion cubic meters of polluted water by 2020.

Thirdly: Extracting, Refining and Burning this type of oil releases more carbon than most any other fossil fuel, as it is mined more than extracted. All of this processing and extract of course requires enormous amounts of energy, which means burning additional fossil fuel (mostly natural gas) and/or electricity just to refine the material to where it can qualify as synthetic crude oil! The crude oil still needs to be refined again to make gasoline, fuel diesel or jet fuel. According to Scientific American
Canadian bitumen emits twice as much greenhouse gas per barrel because of the resources needed to process it than oil from Saudi Arabia. The reason it is mined is strictly for money and energy. If other secondary costs are not factored in then burning the Oil Sands produces between 7 and 10 Btu (British thermal units) of energy for every 1 Btu needed to extract it.

Lastly dilbit is toxic and a dangerous material that should be kept far away from any natural aquifers and people since clean water is essential for all life. It is not reasonable to assume that everyone can afford to pay for water or air filters and/or relocate far away from pipelines and potential oil spill areas. It is way past time for lawmakers to consider the needs of people other than those that wish to protect their dividends from owning stock in fossil fuel companies.

Also not being talked about is that a dilbit spill is many times harder and more expensive to clean up than light crude oil. For instance unlike 90% of conventional crude oil which floats (that means 10% sinks and probably never recovered) when spilled in water. A dilbit spill may also only float for a little more than a week before the dilbit reverts to bitumen and sinks.

canadian oil spills in USA

Canadian crude runs into Arkansas suburb streets

During the last decade, industry’s average cost of cleaning up a barrel of spilled crude was $2,000; the cost of cleaning up a barrel of dilbit is estimated at $29,000 and if it was spilled in a remote river or body of water it will most likely never be cleaned up.

If dilbit is being transported there will be spills as witnessed by pipeline oil spills in Mayflower Arkansas and the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.


Green-Eco-EV News Reporting by Ken Green Burridge

kenneth green burridge

Kenneth Burridge test-drives electric Nissan LEAF in Melbourne Australia

EV of the Year Judge, independent green journalist, photographer, author and sustainability activist that has published over 1000 articles. Mr Burridge’s travels have taken him to over 30 countries and 300+ major cities. He is originally from the USA, but has been residing in Australia for the last seven years. Connect to Ken Burridge on: Twitter, facebook, Google+Linked in or website