Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Federal Study to Assess Dangers of Dilbit When It Spills

by Elizabeth Douglass 

Are dilbit spills more dangerous to people and the environment than leaks of conventional oil? For the first time the U.S. will study this question.

Cleanup of the 2010 Enbridge pipeline spill that dumped more than a million gallons of dilbit in the Kalamazoo River. Still ongoing, the cleanup has been especially difficult because the dilbit contained a mixture of oil-thinning chemicals and heavy bitumen, which gradually sank after the chemicals evaporated. The full effects of the calamitous accident will likely remain unknown for years. Credit: Mic Stolz
The federal government said Tuesday it will study a critical question in the battle over oil pipelines carrying Canadian diluted bitumen: Are spills involving dilbit more dangerous to people and the environment than leaks of lighter traditional oil?

In recent years, dilbit spills in Michigan, Arkansas and elsewhere have provided convincing evidence on the subject, but researchers are still working on definitive scientific studies that would translate those examples into broader conclusions about the risks of dilbit.  

The disastrous effects of those spills—and fear that future spills could foul aquifers and vital waterways—have inflamed opposition to dilbit pipelines across the country. It's one of the issues in the years-long debate over TransCanada's partly built Keystone XL pipeline, a project that would carry more than 800,000 barrels per day of dilbit from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. The controversial project still lacks the required presidential permit for the segment stretching from the U.S.-Canada border through Nebraska.


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