Leave B.C.’s waters bitumen-free

Diluted or not, shipping bitumen is an environmental and health hazard

Dear Sir:

It is interesting to read the letters to the editor from Greg Stringham of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (May 14) and David Black of Kitimat Clean (May 21) in which they duke it out over which is favourable for the north coast. Mr. Stringham promotes diluted bitumen-carrying pipelines and tankers while Mr. Black favours a diluted bitumen-carrying pipeline and tankers carrying products refined at a refinery near Kitimat. Neither alternative is a healthy choice for the B.C. north coast.

Mr. Stringham claims that, “…diluted bitumen meets all the same specifications and behaves the same as other crude oils…” In making these claims, I’m guessing Mr. Stringham is referring to Alberta Innovates‘ (a mouthpiece for the Alberta oil industry) comparison of eleven ‘conventional’ crudes and four dilbits in their presentation in Washington, D.C. of July 23-24, 2012. On page 13 of that presentation the eleven ‘conventional’ crudes ranging from 0.4-3.4 per cent sulphur are said to overlap those of the four dilbits which range from 2.5-4.6 per cent sulphur.

It would be quite a stretch to consider any of the eleven ‘conventional’ crudes on their list as oils from conventional sources.

Typically, oils from conventional sources don’t tend to be as locked up by sand, tar and rock and are generally much lower in sulphur and much easier to extract than either the transitional or “unconventional” crude oils that come from the Alberta tar sands.

The North American benchmark crudes; Brent (0.4 per cent sulphur) and West Texas Intermediate (0.2 per cent sulphur) have about one-tenth the sulphur levels of dilbits from Alberta.

When you further consider hydrogen sulphide (H2S), a poisonous gas at relatively low concentrations, you’ll find Cold Lake dilbit at 300 ppm (parts per million) and Western Canada Select dilbit at 400 ppm.

Compare that to West Texas Intermediate at less than 10 ppm H2S (EnergyWire news, Dec. 10, 2012). You’d have to conclude that first responders to a spill of dilbit would have a few more serious health concerns on their plate than in dealing with a spill of conventional crude oil. Dilbit comes very close to the H2S range of 500-1000 ppm which may cause respiratory paralysis, collapse, and death (MEG Energy material safety data sheet for dilbit).

So, Mr. Stringham, when it comes to human health effects, these oils do not behave the same as other crude oils when spilled.

Mr. Black concludes that dilbit will sink in the presence of sediment and plant and animal matter. This would be the case whether the dilbit spill were to happen in a rain swollen river or at sea.

Pipelines are renowned for breaching during high rainfall events and resultant landslides. Anyone who’s ever seen the Bulkley, Skeena, Copper or Kitimat River during a heavy sediment load during spring runoff or heavy autumn rains wouldn’t give a dilbit spill much of a chance of cleanup without a thorough dredging of these precious salmon spawning watercourses.

So Mr. Stringham and Mr. Black, please peddle your ideas elsewhere and leave B.C.’s waters bitumen-free.

Dave Shannon, Terrace, BC





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