What you need to know about public health and safety risks from Utah’s refineries

*For a complete discussion of the health affects of pollution see “The Health Consequences of Air Pollution” on this site, under the heading Pollution and Health. References for this summary are listed at the end.

1. According the Utah DAQ’s official documents the refineries as a group are the second largest industrial source of pollution after Rio Tinto/Kennecott (RTK) in Salt Lake and Davis Counties. Specifically, RTK is responsible for about 30% of Salt Lake County’s overall air pollution. The Holly oil refinery itself emits about one fifth the amount emitted by RTK. Chevron and Tesoro each emit about 60% of what Holly does. However, see item #6 below. There is strong evidence that these official numbers severely underestimate the refineries emissions which are likely many times larger than those official numbers.
2. The refineries represent a serious safety risk. From 2000 to 2010 Utah’s five refineries have reported fires, explosions, chemical releases and spill, both large and small, on average once every nine days. Numerous serious fires and explosions have occurred in the last few years including one that damaged 271 homes on Nov. 4, 2009.

The safety risks are industry wide and nation wide. A letter from the US Dept of Labor to all the country’s refinery managers said, “In the last fifteen years, the petroleum refining industry has had more fatal or catastrophic incidents related to the release of highly hazardous chemicals (HHCs) than any other industry sector…We are particularly concerned that our inspection teams are seeing many of the same problems repeatedly.”

Rafael Moure-Eraso, the Chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, said, ““We have a problem with the refinery industry. We have decreasing staff levels, disinvestment in safety, a lack of training, and accidents or near-misses — indicators of catastrophe — being ignored.” U.S. refineries have sustained financial losses from accidents at a rate much higher than their overseas counterparts — four times as high, according to a 2006 report by Swiss Re, the world’s second-largest reinsurer. They indicated that the gap between refineries and those in other parts of the world was widening.

Russ Elveston, a forensic engineer and safety consultant retired from OSHA said, “All the units are working at higher capacity, higher pressure, higher throughput…hazards have increased simply because the units operating now produce more than they did 15 or 20 years ago. When there’s a release, the results tend to be a little more significant.” On April 2, 2010 the Chemical Safety Board Chairman John Bresland said, “The CSB has 18 ongoing investigations. Of those, seven of these accidents occurred at refineries across the country. This is a significant and disturbing trend that the refining industry needs to address immediately.” Michael Silverstein, head of the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health and a former federal OSHA policy director said, “The regulatory scheme at both the state and federal levels is flawed. Right now, it’s a catch-me-if-you-can system, and the consequences of being caught are relatively small.”

According to a 2012 report from the Center for Public Integrity, refinery workers describe, “a climate in which safety takes a back seat to ramped-up production. Rather than schedule top-to-bottom maintenance outages, which take units out of operation for extended periods, equipment is being pushed hard, sometimes beyond its design life, the workers say. They have a term for it: ‘Run to failure.’”

“They’re managing their shareholders’ investments,” Dave Campbell, secretary-treasurer of United Steelworkers Local 675, which represents workers at five refineries in the Los Angeles area, said of the oil companies. “The price we pay is with our lives and our health.”

Despite a special inspection program launched by OSHA in 2007 — and mirrored by most states that have their own safety programs — problems continue to occur at refineries with stunning regularity. 24 of the 58 refineries examined by federal officials as of November 2010 had fires or explosions after the inspections were completed.

According to a 2010 City Weekly article, Utah refinery workers say, “Mind-numbing overtime is frequently part of the internal inspections because the operators lose profits while the facility is not in production. “Overtime is now the norm, much of it forced.” California maintains a steady presence at refineries rather than simply dropping in, inspecting and writing citations. Utah officially inspects refineries once a year, but many refinery workers say even that doesn’t happen.

3. Tesoro has had even more serious recent safety lapses. On Oct. 21, 2009 the SLC Tesoro refinery had a flare stack explosion. According to a refinery engineer who has consulted with UPHE that is a manifestation of severe incompetence, comparable to a surgeon amputating the wrong limb.

After a fire at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington April 2, 2010 that killed seven workers…an investigation revealed the exchanger that blew apart was put into service in 1972. Tesoro last examined welds on the device in 1998. This was the only time in the exchanger’s 38-year life that such an inspection had taken place. Moreover, it found, Tesoro had tested fewer than 20 percent of the welds and focused on areas least susceptible to damage. Company records indicate that a planned 2008 inspection by Tesoro never took place.

Washington issued the highest fine in the history of the state against Tesoro as a result of this explosion. Judy Schurke, director of the Washington state agency that overseas workplace safety and health said, “This explosion and the deaths of these men and women would never have occurred had Tesoro tested their equipment in a manner consistent with standard industry practices, their own policies and state regulations.” Lynne Baker, spokeswoman for the United Steelworkers, said, “The industry has known that to prevent such an incident from happening, any type of equipment in contact with high temperature hydrogen has to be maintained and inspected more so than in other processes. This was a preventable accident.”

4. Three of Utah’s refineries still use one of the most deadly chemicals known in large quantities even though there are safer alternatives that two thirds of the nation’s refineries have adopted. Despite decades-old warnings about the potential for mass casualties, 50 refineries across the nation still rely on a toxic chemcial known as hydrofluoric acid, or HF. At least 16 million Americans live in the potential path of HF if it were to be released in an accident or a terrorist attack, according to refinery owners’ worst case scenario reports.

Known for its ability to race long distances in a cloud, HF is extremely toxic. It causes lung congestion, inflammation and severe burns of the skin and digestive tract. It attacks the eyes and bones. Experiments in 1986 detected the acid at potentially deadly levels five miles from the point of release. In Utah Chevron, Flying J and Holly all use HF. The EPA requires that every refinery that uses HF calculate what a worst case scenario would look like if an accident involving HF occurred at their refinery. Chevron calculated that 1.1 million people would be at risk and the potential radius of exposure would be 22 miles. For Flying J, it was 376,000 people at risk with a radius of exposure of 11 miles. For Holly it was 216,294 people at risk with a radius of 11 miles.

On October 30, 1987, at Marathon Petroleum Company’s Texas City refinery. A piece of equipment came loose and fell on a vessel containing HF. Over the next 44 hours, tens of thousands of pounds of HF gushed out, drifting into nearby residential areas and forcing the evacuation of 4,000 people. More than 1,000 people went to the hospital. Nationally, there have been at least 29 fires at 23 refineries that use HF since the beginning of 2009. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board called a July 2009 explosion at Citgo Petroleum Corp.’s Corpus Christi, Texas, refinery “a significant near-miss” for a widespread release of highly toxic hydrogen fluoride (HF) into a community.

Trucks entering Utah’s “refinery row” are also carrying HF which puts the local community at serious risk from a possible trucking accident.

5. Oil refinery emissions are higher inside homes near refineries than outside those homes. Toxic pollution from oil refineries doesn’t stay outside, it seeps into nearby homes, and builds up. You can say that residents of South Davis County breathe refinery pollution with every breath they take.

6. Nationwide refinery emissions are many times greater than what is reported to government agencies and the EPA knows it. According to the Associated Press, April 22, 2010, “The nation’s oil and chemical plants are spewing a lot more pollution than they report to the Environmental Protection Agency — and the EPA knows it. Records, scientific studies and interviews suggest pollution from petrochemical plants is at least 10 times greater than what is reported to the government and the public.” How come? The United States is using outdated measuring devices, not the lasers, solar technology and remote sensors used by European countries and Canada. Internal documents from the EPA confirm that, and other reports state that real emissions could be anywhere from 3 to 100 times greater than what is reported, primarily because valve leaks are much greater than what these older methods are detecting. There is every reason to believe that Utah refineries are also vastly underreporting their real emissions.

7. Refinery pollution is uniquely toxic. Crude oils contain over a thousand different hydrocarbons and, depending on the source of the oil, vary greatly in the relative amounts of individual hydrocarbons and trace metal and sulfur content. Refinery emissions are highly contaminated by HAPs (Hazardous Air Pollutants) which are considered highly toxic in very small quantities. HAPs are primarily benzene-like compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), dioxins and heavy metals.

Benzene is officially considered a carcinogen by the Dept. of Health and Human Services, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the National Toxicology Program, and the EPA. People who live near oil refineries have the double the risk for leukemia compared the rest of the population. Studies with pregnant animals show that breathing benzene has harmful effects on the developing fetus. These effects include low birth weight, delayed bone formation, and bone marrow damage.

Long-term exposure to benzene primarily harms the bone marrow, the soft, inner parts of bones where new blood cells are made. This may result in:

• Anemia (a low red blood cell count), which can cause a person to feel weak and tired.

• A low white blood cell count, which can lower the body’s ability to fight infections and may even be life-threatening.

• A low blood platelet count, which can lead to excessive bleeding.

Exposure to benzene near the US permissible limit is associated with sperm having the wrong number of chromosomes. Exposure to petrochemicals, specifically benzene, gasoline, and hydrogen sulphide is significantly associated with increased frequency of spontaneous abortion.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), one of the most serious components of refinery emissions, act as endocrine disrupting hormones in extremely small quantities. They can pass through the placenta and result in concentrations as high in a newborn baby as the baby’s own sex hormones. Endocrine hormones are likely the most powerful biologic agents known. Chemicals that mimick those hormones are known as “endocrine disruptors.” 1/1000 of previously recommended safe dosages of hormone mimickers are now known to create genetic malfunctions and precancerous conditions in in vitro cells.

The Endocrine Society, the official organization of the specialists, endocrinologists, made this official statement on the danger of endocrine disrupting chemicals in 2009. “Even infinitesimally low levels of exposure indeed, any level of exposure at all, may cause endocrine or reproductive abnormalities, particularly if exposure occurs during a critical developmental window. Surprisingly, low doses may even exert more potent effects than higher doses.” The main finding of a new report, three years in the making, published March 14, 2012 by a team of 12 scientists who study hormone-altering chemicals was: small doses can have big health effects, there are no safe doses for endocrine disruptors.

A recent article in the world’s most well respected medical journal, The New England Journal of Medicine, made this statement. “Mutagenic effects theoretically can result from a single molecular DNA alteration. Regulatory prudence has led to the use of “one-hit models” for mutagenic end points, particularly cancer, in which every molecule of a carcinogen is presumed to pose a risk. The carcinogens of concern in crude oil are benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).”

The article also said, “Pregnant women should particularly avoid dermal contact with oil and should avoid areas with visible oil contamination or odors.”

The proposed Tesoro expansion will increase their annual HAPs emissions by 9,000 lbs/ year. As a group HAPs are the deadliest, most toxic substances known and this may represent the worst of the public health consequences to refinery expansion.

8. Industrial emissions are even more toxic than traffic pollution.

see references below.

9. Children living near petrochemical industries have higher levels of PAHs in their blood than adults, contributing to more DNA damage. see references below.

10. Refinery expansions will increase local diesel emissions from hundreds of new trucks coming in and out of the refineries carrying new crude oil. Two new studies, considered the best ever done on the toxicity of diesel emissions, confirmed that long term exposure to even low levels of diesel exhaust raises the risk of dying from lung cancer: for local residents about 50% and for refinery workers about 300%.

1. Brody, J.G., R. Morello-Frosch, A. Zota, P. Brown, C. Perez and R. Rudel. 2009. Linking Exposure Assessment Science with Policy Objectives for Environmental Justice and Breast Cancer Advocacy: The Northern California Household Exposure Study. American Journal of Public Health, 99: S600-S609,

2. Barregard L, E Holmberg and G Sallsten. 2009. Leukaemia incidence in people living close to an oil refinery. Environmental Research 109:985-990.

3. Xing C, Marchetti F, Li G, et al. Benzene exposure near the US permissible limit is associated with sperm aneuploidy. Environ Health Perspect 2010;118:833-839

4. Xu, Xiping, Sung-Il Cho, et al.. “Association of petrochemical exposure with spontaneous abortion.” Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 55: 31-36. 1998.

5. Bernard D. Goldstein, M.D., Howard J. Osofsky, M.D., Ph.D., and Maureen Y. Lichtveld, M.D., M.P.H. The Gulf Oil Spill. N Engl J Med 2011; 364:1334-1348April 7, 2011

6. Silverman DT, Samanic CM, Lubin JH, et al. The diesel exhaust in miners study: a nested case-control study of lung cancer and diesel exhaust. J Natl Cancer Inst. March 2, 2012. doi:10.1093/jnci/djs034.

7. Attfield MD, Schlieff PL, Lubin JH, et al. The diesel exhaust in miners study: a cohort mortality study with emphasis on lung cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. March 2, 2012. doi:10.1093/jnci/djs035.

These refinery expansion plans should be suspended for the following reasons:

1. A health study of what the refinery emissions are doing to the health of residents of South Davis County has never been done and should be done before expansion is allowed.

2. The three refineries that currently use hydrofluoric acid should be required to change to safer alternatives.

3. The refineries should be inspected regularly, not once every few years.

4. The refineries should be required to use remote sensing technology to detect the full extent of their fugitive emissions.

5. The state should adopt a policy that no net increase in refinery related pollution will be allowed.

Contact the EPA and Gov. Herbert’s office with your phone calls and e-mails about why these expansion plans should not be allowed to proceed as planned. The deadline

Care about refinery pollution? Contact

Leukemia: The price of living close to an oil refinery?

Leukemia: The price of living close to an oil refinery?
Mar 05, 2009Barregard L, E Holmberg and G Sallsten. 2009. Leukaemia incidence in people living close to an oil refinery. Environmental Research 109:985-990.
Synopsis by Negin P. Martin, Ph. D

Swedish scientists have discovered a remarkable increase in the incidence of leukemia in people living close to an oil refinery.

Lysekil is one of the largest and most modern oil refineries in Europe. Yet, during the past 10 years, communities downwind of the refinery had twice as many cases of leukemia as would be expected based on the refinery’s low emissions.

But, without further research, the study’s authors can only guess as to why the rates vary so much from risk estimates. It could be due to the emissions, an unknown factor or chance.

A number of scientific studies have raised concerns over cancer risks associated with living close to a refinery. This is the first study to compile and analyze information about cancer incidence in a large Swedish population who live near an oil refinery.

Refineries release organic compounds that can cause cancer. For example, the chemical benzene is associated with an increased risk of leukemia.

Regulatory agencies set safe exposure levels for chemicals by testing for effects at high concentrations, then, using statistical extrapolation to determine safe exposure levels. This method assumes that if exposure goes up so do effects and if exposure goes down so will effects. But, research is beginning to show that chemicals do not always follow this rule and may cause different effects at higher and lower levels.

Based on the results, the organic pollutant levels in the exposed areas were well below accepted levels and the incident of cancer should not have increased. But actual measurements showed a doubling in the risk for leukemia in the last 10 years.

The scientists note that more studies are needed to determine why the rates varied so much from predictions. Further research could discern if the increased incidence of leukemia is caused by – rather than just associated with – the refinery’s emissions or if some other unknown factor is responsible.

Researchers studied seven parishes in the vicinity of the Lysekil refinery on the west coast of Sweden. Two parishes located 2 to 5 kilometers downwind from the refinery were classified as exposed to refinery fumes. Five other parishes that were greater than 7 kilometers away from the refinery were used for comparison.

The average amount of air pollutants in exposed parishes was estimated from air sample measurements provided by the Swedish Environmental Research Institute. The average exposure was similar to that found in a Swedish city with road traffic, except the levels of propene were five times higher.

The number of refinery employees as well as geological and socioeconomic backgrounds of inhabitants in exposed and unexposed parishes were similar in the exposed and unexposed groups. Within these populations, leukemia cases and total cancer incidence from 1975 – the year that refinery was built – to 2004 were retrieved from the Regional Swedish Cancer Registry.

Reference parishes used as control groups had the expected rates of leukemia and other combined types of cancers. In exposed parishes, the incidence of leukemia was 50 percent higher than expected for the past 30 years – 33 cases were found when only 22 were statistically expected. The highest number of leukemia cases was reported in the last 10 years with 19 cases when only 8.5 would be expected.

The oil refinery and the people in the community were made aware of the study’s findings.

Oilsands development about to exceed Alberta’s new pollution limits: documents

EDMONTON – Less than two weeks after Alberta enacted legally enforceable pollution limits for its oilsands region, industry figures already suggest they will soon be breached by emissions of two major gases causing acid rain.

Regulatory documents for Shell’s proposed Jackpine mine expansion say annual levels of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide are likely to push past limits contained in the province’s Lower Athabasca Regional Plan if all currently planned developments proceed.

The documents, filed late last week, also provide what may be the clearest picture yet of what impact two decades of development have had on northeastern Alberta.

“It validates the concern that many stakeholders have raised about the cumulative pace and scale of development,” said Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute. “It’s the first real test of the (plan).”

Shell filed the papers after the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency asked the company to give a clearer account of how the environment of the oilsands region has changed since development began and what part the Jackpine expansion would play. Written by environmental consultants Golder and Associates, the document estimates how levels of the two gases have grown over the years.

Average annual levels of sulphur dioxide are estimated at about 20 times what they would naturally be over a large area from Fort MacMurray to about 100 kilometres north. Nitrogen dioxide is estimated to be at least 10 times pre-development levels — although the report acknowledges hard data from that time is spotty.

And if all the projects that have been announced publicly or are in the regulatory process go ahead, the pollutants are projected to exceed what are supposed to be absolute caps.

Sulphur dioxide will reach average annual concentrations of 21.1 micrograms per cubic metre of air, just over the plan’s limit of 20 micrograms. Nitrogen dioxide will reach 59.5 micrograms, well over the limit of 45.

Randall Barrett, director of Alberta Environment’s northern region, said the projections are derived from models deliberately designed to overestimate emissions as a way to ensure caution.

“It shows us we have to be very diligent in how we are setting pollution controls for any plants in this area, because the computer models are predicting that we are getting close or over some of the air quality (levels).”

Regulators use the models to determine what sort of emission controls to impose on applicants, said Barrett.

“What would likely happen is they would go to the most stringent type of air quality pollution control, because the models are predicting you could be over the limit.”

Barrett said actual air monitoring data continues to show both sulphur and nitrogen dioxides remain well under their caps. If those gases increase as more facilities come on stream, the plan includes “trigger” levels that would require industry to improve its pollution controls.

“This (modelling) is enforcing how important that monitoring is.”

The government is obliged to act if pollutants exceed either the triggers or the absolute caps — an obligation that Environment Minister Diana McQueen has underlined.

“It is a legally binding commitment that holds government accountable to Albertans,” she said when announcing the plan Aug. 22.

Spokesmen for Shell weren’t available for comment.

In the document, Shell points out the sulphur dioxide levels are concentrated in areas closest to its mines, regions that should be treated differently. Levels in “non-developed areas” remain below the government’s cap, it says.

It also says elevated nitrogen dioxide levels are a result of “over-predicted” emissions from giant trucks used in the mines and suggests those emissions are being reduced as the vehicles are upgraded.

Dyer says the government’s plan makes no provision for treating some areas differently than others. He also says contaminants in one area do ultimately spread throughout the region.

An earlier Shell document acknowledges 23 small, mostly unnamed lakes, have already passed their critical load for acid.

The document also lists cumulative effects that aren’t yet governed by the regional plan, such as wildlife impacts.

Out of 22 indicator species — including birds, mammals and amphibians — 16 will suffer high or moderate negative consequences even under the current amount of development, it says. Some areas will suffer “moderate” biodiversity loss, even after reclamation efforts.

Shell argues species will rebound as the area is returned to a more natural state and adds there should be enough undisturbed regions to maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Controversial studies suggest pollution from Alberta oil sands is largely localized

New research that claims pollution from Alberta oil sands mines remains largely local is unlikely to change any minds among those staunchly opposed to the massive energy development.

The surprising conclusions of two studies published in the last few weeks by respected Canadian scientists suggest that while the area immediately surrounding oil sands mining operations contaminate the area within 50 kilometres, the pollution doesn’t appear to be reaching downstream areas 200 kilometres away.

According to the Globe and Mail, the scientists sampled lake-bottom sediment and discovered negligible levels of pollutants such as volatile organic compounds and particulates.

In fact, drilling deeply into the sediments, they found many lakes were cleaner today than in past decades or even centuries, the Globe said.

“It’s still, by and large, a natural landscape,” Roland Hall, a University of Waterloo professor of biology and one of the lead researchers on one of the studies, told the Globe.

[ Related: Oil sands development about to exceed Alberta’s new pollution limits ]

The research conclusions run counter to longstanding claims by communities downstream from the oil sands operations around Fort McMurray, Alta., that pollutants have contaminated water, fish and people.

Hall said his study concluded the toxins originate from natural sources of polycyclic aromatic compounds “via the water continue to be a main process that’s delivering them.”

But critics were quick to jump on the results. The Globe noted University of Alberta professor David Schindler said the researchers’ lake sampling was “well outside the range where atmospheric transport would reach it, so tells nothing about that source. In short, it adds very little to the controversy over the amount that industry is contributing to the river.”

The research was also funded by Suncor Energy Inc., a major oil sands developer. But Hall and his associates apparently couldn’t find anyone else to pay for the work, the Globe said.

The scientists behind the study aren’t crackpots. Hall is associate dean of graduate studies at the University of Waterloo, currently on sabbatical, the Globe reported. Brent Wolfe holds the northern research chair from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. And George Dixon, Waterloo vice-president of research, is known internationally for his expertise on water toxicology.

According to the Globe, the researchers found levels of airborne metals peaked in the late 1950s and 1960s, when oil sands extraction was still a concept. Arsenic dropped to pre-industrial levels and lead is now 10 per cent above “background” concentrations.

The scientists suggested the declines could be tied to the move to unleaded fuel and the closure of smelting operations at Yellowknife’s Giant Mine, a huge emitter of arsenic.

[ Related: Canada’s claim to be energy superpower rings hollow ]

Levels of polycyclic aromatic compounds, known to cause cataracts, organ damage and cancer, were lowest between 1975 and 1995, during a period of oil-sands growth, the Globe said. The researchers found the compounds were higher in the mid-18th and mid-19th centuries, when Prairies saw a lot of forest-fire activity.

Hall noted his research doesn’t negate the findings of Schindler and others showing contamination within a 50-kilometre radius of oil-sands operations.

Toxic substances found in snow near Alberta oilsands

Opponents of Canada’s policy to rapidly develop oil sands production are likely to leap on newly released research suggesting pollution from mining the oil-laden bitumin is showing up in snow near extraction sites and also in lakes up to 100 kilometres away.

CBC News reported that a presentation by Environment Canada scientists this week to a Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry conference in California turned up toxic substances dangerous to fish eggs in snow.

University of Alberta biologist David Schindler said he’s not surprised by the results and that the studies “confirm my worst suspicions.”

[ Related: Controversial studies suggest oil sands pollution largely localized ]

In 2009, Schindler also found contaminants in snow near the oil sands and later his team discovered a fish with a tumor, which they linked to oil-sands contamination, CBC News said.

The snow within 50 kilometres of oil-sands operations was contaminated with a long list of “priority pollutants,” including a neurotoxin that builds up in food webs, Postmedia News reported. Snow-melt runoff collected near oil-sands plants was toxic to newly hatched minnows in the lab, the researchers found.

Alberta Environment spokeswoman Erin Carrier said the provincial government takes the findings seriously.

“We recognize that there is naturally occurring bitumen in the area,” Carrier told CBC News. “But we also recognize that with the development of oilsands in the area, that we do have to monitor.”

The Alberta government says it has worked with Ottawa to launch a joint monitoring program in northern Alberta.

Another study being presented at the conference in Long Beach, Calif., reveals that Environment Canada scientists have discovered contaminants linked to oil sands in the sediments of lakes up to 100 kilometres away, according to Postmedia News.

“The footprint of the deposition is potentially larger than we might have anticipated,” said Derek Muir, a senior Environment Canada scientist.

The pollutants found in lake sediment are called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs.

“That means the footprint is four times bigger than we found,” said Schindler, referring to his own research that tracked heavy metals and other pollutants up to 50 kilometres from oil-sands operations.

The research, which looked at six remote lakes whose sediments have been collecting undisturbed for a century except for atmospheric deposits, found the level of PAHs increased dramatically beginning in the early 1970s to up to 23 times pre-1960s levels.

However, the hydrocarbon contaminants were lower than “guideline limits” except for the lake closest to oil-sands operations, researchers found.

“So overall we don’t think that the PAHs have yet reached a level in the sediments of these lakes where they are going to be toxic to aquatic life,” Muir told Postmedia News.

But “there is definitely a concern about it,” he said, adding more work in underway to sample sediments in other remote lakes in the region.

The study seem to contradict results in research released last month that found only negligible levels of contaminants in lakes up to 200 kilometres from oil-sands operations. The two earlier studies suggested PAH contamination came from natural sources via water runoff.

Critics have challenged the sampling methods and the fact the work was bankrolled by an oilsands producer.

Environmentalists worry that given the Conservative government’s policy towards rapid oilsands development, the research done by Environment Canada scientists won’t get much attention.

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“Scientists have been told to refer questions to media liaisons and not to actually speak about their studies themselves,” Chelsea Flook, executive director for the Prairies at the Sierra Club, told CBC News.

At a similar conference held in Boston last year, Environment Canada scientists were given a list of precise answers for reporters’ questions, CBC News said.

Postmedia News reported that Environment Canada said scientists were not available to discuss their findings and only arranged interviews after the news agency obtained details of the reports to be presented at the Long Beach conference this week.

Community Advocates to Provide Balance

Community Advocates to Provide Balance at Kinder Morgan Pipeline Information Sessions

Lower Mainland, BC – As pipeline giant Kinder Morgan continues its series of public information sessions in the Lower Mainland, local residents are calling the company out on the marked absence of detailed maps and information available to residents, and on the generally misleading nature of these events.

WHAT: Skeptics of the proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will be gathering outside the company’s scheduled information sessions in Abbotsford, Langley, Chilliwack & Hope. Representatives from local groups will be there to speak to residents, offering hard facts and a balanced picture of the risks associated with the project.

WHY: Instead of providing meaningful dialogue about their controversial pipeline proposal, these sessions are being used by Kinder Morgan as a sort of “focus group” to promote the project and gauge public opinion. One local resident described the event as similar to a “condo sales centre”. So far, no community-level maps of the pipeline route have been made available. Residents—whose homes, farms and communities could be at risk due to this project—deserve the real facts, as well as an opportunity to engage in a relevant discussion.

WHO: Representatives from the PIPE UP Network joined by supporters and members of the public.

WHERE + WHEN: Set ups will take place outside the following venues.

November 17 2012
Abbotsford Info Session – Sandman Hotel (32720 Simon Avenue) – 1pm-4pm

November 22 2012
Langley info session – Walnut Grove Secondary School (8919 Walnut Grove Drive) – drop in from 5pm-8pm

November 27 2012
Chilliwack Info Session – Best Western Rainbow Country Inn (43791 Industrial Way) – drop in from 5pm-8pm

November 28 2012
Hope Info Session – C. E. Barry Intermediate School (444 Queen Street) – drop in from 5pm-8pm

November 29 2012

Abbotsford Info Session #2 – Straiton Community Hall (4698 Upper Sumas Mountain Road) – drop in from 5pm-8pm

For a full list of the sessions please visit: http://pipe-up.net/2012/11/06/kinder-morgan-schedule-of-public-info-sessions/


For more information, contact:

Lynn Perrin, PIPE UP Network, Abbotsford, 604-309-9369

Kevin Harper, PIPE UP Network, Langley, 778-995-3201

Sheila Muxlow, PIPE UP Network, Chilliwack, 604-751-0172

Sharlene Harrison-Hinds, PIPE UP Network, Hope, 604-860-0388

Kinder Morgan announces ‘info session’ in Chilliwack

By Robert Freeman
Kinder Morgan is scheduled to hold an information session in Chilliwack later this month on the proposed pipeline expansion project.

A spokesperson for the company did not return a call for more details, but according to the Trans Mountain website, the Chilliwack session will be held Nov. 27 at the Best Western Rainbow Country Inn. The event is scheduled to start at 5 p.m., according to the website.

Meanwhile, earlier information sessions held in communities east of Chilliwack are drawing criticism from opponents of the plan to expand the pipeline that runs from the Alberta oil sands, through the Fraser Valley, and on to ocean ports in Vancouver.

Critics said the information sessions are not true community consultation, but a company spokesperson said the format allows individuals to ask representatives at the sessions questions they might feel too intimidated to ask in front of a crowd of opponents to the project.

PIPE UP Network spokesman Mike Hale said the group is “not optimistic” the information session in Chilliwack will shed much light on “the realities of tar sands exports.”

“Kinder Morgan seems to be on a ‘transmit’ rather than ‘receive’ in their communications these days,” he said, about the info session format, adding “this is not to be confused with consultation.”

PIPE UP members will attend the Chilliwack session to provide a different point of view on the expansion proposal.



Make B.C. a leader in oil spill response standards says government

By R. Bruce Striegle

High on a Burnaby, B.C. hillside overlooking Burrard Inlet and the mountains of Mt. Seymour and Indian Arm Provincial Parks are the Head Office and supply warehouses of Western Canada Marine Response Corporation. Established in 1976 and called Burrard Clean Operations, the operation was initially an industry cooperative of four major oil companies and a pipeline company, providing oil spill response within the Port of Vancouver. Not far away is Westridge Marine Terminal, the end of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline and the only facility on Canada’s West Coast able to ship crude oil by ocean-going tanker.

Canada’s Shipping Act of 1995 brought new safety standards for ships and oil handling facilities and created the industry-funded and managed Marine Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Regime. The new system was to ensure that industry had the capability to clean up its own spills under the leadership of Transport Canada. The Act required the oil industry to maintain a 10,000 tonne response capability (70,000 barrels) covering marine regions South of 60 degrees N. latitude in Canada.

Following implementation of the 1995 Act, Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) was certified by Transport Canada as Canada’s first response organization to provide marine oil spill response services to ships and oil handling facilities on the West Coast and interior navigable waters. Since its inception, WCMRC has provided response to more than 650 spills.

Bruce Turnbull, WCMRC’s business support manager explains the organization continues to be industry-funded. “Our primary shareholders are Imperial Oil, Shell Canada, Chevron, Suncor and Kinder Morgan. Through a membership structure, other marine operations such as cruise lines, BC Ferries, barge and tug companies, container or other dry cargo carriers have joined, taking our membership base to about 2,000.”

The company has 22 permanent staff, eight part-time employees and up to 500 trained responders. “We maintain an inventory of sophisticated spill response equipment, more than 30 vessels and over 50 tightly-packed response trailers,” says Turnbull. “We are ready to provide the expertise and gear, including containment booms and mechanical recovery capabilities necessary to organize and manage marine oil spills along the 27,000 kilometres of B.C.’s coastline.”

Turnbull says that in the face of proposed capacity expansions, WCMRC will expand proportionally. “Currently we have more than double the capacity required through our certification of 10,000 tonnes, or 70,000 barrels.” He explains that should the Northern Gateway pipeline proceed, Port of Kitimat will become a designated port, requiring spill protection certification for the port of the minimum 10,000 tonnes, “We’re ready to meet those requirements should the pipeline proceed.”

Is the issue royalties or spills and spill response?

On the same July day that British Columbia Premier Christy Clark made national headlines with her demands that B.C. must receive increased benefits from the proposed twin-piped Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, the B.C. Government released a 56-page technical analysis outlining its minimum requirements for the expansion of the heavy oil export industry. Lost in the manufactured royalties’ controversy were some startling sections in the report on the state of existing marine spill capabilities in B.C. The report contained eleven recommendations to improve and strengthen oil spill response.

While nationwide headlines have focused on opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal, opposition has also mounted over a second pipeline from Alberta, with Kinder Morgan preparing to expand its 1,150 kilometre Trans Mountain Pipeline. Constructed in 1953, the line carries 300,000 barrels daily. The proposed expansion will raise capacity to 750,000 barrels a day, roughly equal to that of the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal.

From its Westridge Marine Terminal on the Eastern reaches of Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet, a 20-minute drive from downtown Vancouver’s waterfront parks, beaches and seawalls, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will swell tanker traffic through the postcard-scenic urban waterway from four or five per month to between 20 or 25. Much of the current pipeline capacity is distributed by surface transportation to the Metro Vancouver and Washington State markets, with only a handful of tanker exports. The increased pipeline capacity is in response to new commitments for export to Asian and California markets accounting for the dramatic rise in tanker trips. Trans Mountain says it has received binding orders, enough to ship 660,000 barrels per day for 20 years.

Responding when a spill happens

Not an insignificant fact behind the opposition is that in the summer of 2007, an excavator doing sewer work in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby ruptured the Trans Mountain Pipeline. A 30-metre geyser of diluted bitumen (dilbit) spewed 250,000 litres onto a residential neighbourhood, 70,000 litres of which drained into Burrard Inlet. The rupture forced evacuation of 250 people and the spill cost an estimated $15 million to clean up.

Western Marine Response Corporation handled the spill recovery. Trevor Davis, WCMRC’s area manager, South Coast, explains the organization handles roughly 20 incidents per year, spills ranging from small gasoline incidents with powerboats to episodes with tankers and canola oil. “The largest responses we’ve handled included the Kinder Morgan Burnaby spill, a 2006 bunker oil cleanup in Squamish of approximately 29,000 litres or 243 barrels, and our work in 2005 at Lake Wabamun, Alberta.” The Alberta spill involved a CN Rail freight train derailment spilling approximately 734,000 litres of bunker oil and a chemical used to treat utility poles.

“We’ve also responded to a request from our Washington State mutual aid partner to assist with the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. We sent 15 crews of 13 responders, supervisory personnel, containment and fire booms.” The organization sent a skimming vessel and crew as well as response advisors to assist in the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. Davis adds that the polluter manages and pays spill recovery costs.

The B.C. Technical Analysis however, says, “Limits of liability rules in Canada mean that a spiller, through insurance and pooled industry funding may not have to spend more than approximately $1.3 billion cleaning up a spill. This means costs could fall to the B.C. and federal governments (i.e. provincial and federal taxpayers), as well as local businesses and residents.” Those costs include clearing beaches of oily waste and disposing of it, rehabilitating oiled wildlife and coastlines, salvaging wreckage and economic impacts to other business sectors operating in the area.

Tanker traffic to almost double in B.C. waters

Each year along the B.C. coast there are about 1,180 tanker trips. This includes tankers carrying jet fuel or gasoline and 60 tanker visits carrying various petrochemicals to or from Kitimat on the northern B.C. coast. With the construction of the proposed oil pipelines, the number of tanker trips will almost double to approximately 2,280 per year.

Tankers are categorized by their size (dead weight tonnes) and their cargo capacity. The only tankers transporting oil in Port Metro Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet waters are called Aframax. They weigh from 70,000 to 120,000 dead weight tonnes, with a capacity of 500,000 to 800,000 barrels of oil. Within these waters, Aframax tankers are currently subject to loading restrictions of 85 per cent (13.5 metres draft) and the larger class Suezmax tankers (weighing from 120,000 to 200,000 dead weight tons, with a capacity of one million barrels) are not permitted.

U.S. tanker traffic also impacts B.C.’s tanker traffic count. In 2010, there were approximately 700 U.S. oil tanker trips. Loaded in Alaska and unloaded in Washington, they make return trips, in each case, passing along the entire outer coastline of B.C. This traffic complies with a voluntary tanker exclusion zone keeping them outside B.C.’s Northern Coastal waters, but still close enough to have an impact in the event of an accident.

The controversy over dilbit – Alberta bitumen

The B.C. Technical Analysis states, “Crude oil and refined oil makes up the majority of the oil products being shipped along North America’s West Coast. As such, most available spill response capacity has been designed to address these types of spills.” Oil may be oil to the financial sector, but the properties of Alberta bitumen are different. In order to attain a viscosity able to be pumped through pipelines, the thick processed bitumen is mixed with a variety of chemical additives including light natural gas or other petroleum products and includes sulphur and heavy metals.

According to many scientific sources, including statements in the B.C. report, dilbit, when spilled in water, is more likely to sink, due to its higher density. In addition, due to its additives, it is environmentally a higher-risk product than crude oil. It is more difficult to recover bitumen and more remediation is required should an unintended release occur, particularly once bitumen sinks into the water column or into soils.

It’s clear, however, that the oil industry, including producers and spill responders, treat dilbit in the same manner as crude, and in fact call it heavy crude. In an October 2011 fact sheet published by the Association of Oil Pipelines, diluted bitumen is referred to as having characteristics similar to other heavy crude currently transported by pipeline in Venezuela, Mexico and California. This information concludes that diluted bitumen is essentially the same as any other type of crude and is not more of a risk to pipelines, people or the environment than other crudes transported via pipeline.

Industry maintains no difference between dilbit and heavy crude

The Association dismisses claims of increased risk to pipeline infrastructure, and states that, “No instances of crude oil release caused by internal corrosion from pipelines carrying Canadian crude are evident in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) pipeline accident data from 2002 through early 2011.” This contrasts with the events of July 25, 2010, when at 5:58 PM local time, a 30-inch pipeline, Enbridge’s Line 6B, originating in Griffith, Indiana, and crossing South-Eastern Michigan ruptured in a wetland at Marshall, Michigan.

As documented in the USDOT accident report, during a planned shutdown, increased pressure ruptured the line. The report says, “The pipeline segment ruptured due to corrosion fatigue cracks that had grown in size until the pipe failed during the planned shutdown.” An estimated 3.2 million litres of oil saturated the surrounding wetlands, flowed into a local creek and then the Kalamazoo River. Hundreds of residents were evacuated, 320 people reported medical problems, and as of July, costs of the cleanup exceeded $US767 million.

WCMRC’s Bruce Turnbull responds to the question of dilbit recovery vs. crude pointing out that the issue is one of density. The National Energy Board prohibits pipeline transport of anything over .94 density, he explains, and says that the density of freshwater is 1.0, with saltwater being even denser, so the propensity of dilbit is to float. “We handled the product during our clean-up of the 2007 Burnaby Kinder Morgan rupture. We know that our equipment was able to clean very effectively. In fact, we found it easier to clean on the water. We were out over a period of days, and at no time did it sink.”

South Coast area manager Trevor Davis adds that testing during and following the Burnaby spill showed no indications of sinking dilbit. Controlled testing using Burrard Inlet seawater and dilbit let stand for nearly three weeks also didn’t sink. ”Our experience was that it floated.” He suggested reasons why the product sunk in the Kalamazoo incident could include water temperatures, lower density freshwater, turbulence of the creek and river (factors cited in the USDOT report) and the sediment created by the turbulence, which would add density.

Existing B.C. spill response ­requirements too limited

The B.C. Technical Analysis states that West Coast marine spill management needs strengthening to increase capacity for all types of spill scenarios. The report says it is possible that the existing capacity for crude oil spills, from training to equipment, may not be appropriate for bitumen. Thus, a major gap may exist for all current and future bitumen shipments taking place on Canada’s West Coast.

In language unusually blunt from government, the report says, “The existing requirements for marine spill response organizations on the West Coast are insufficient given the potential impacts of a major spill. Chief among these insufficiencies is the modest requirement that response organizations maintain capacity to address spills up to a maximum of 10,000 tonnes. This maximum is the equivalent of 70,000 barrels of oil. The West Coast’s response organization would be completely overwhelmed by a spill similar in scope (260,000 barrels spilled) to Exxon Valdez.”

Like many things Canadian, responsibility for oil spill cleanups involves a multi-tiered, multi-jurisdictional checkerboard. Federal and provincial governments share the responsibilities, but the Coast Guard, the provincial Ministry of Environment’s Emergency Program, Environment Canada, Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans, Canadian Wildlife Services, local municipalities and First Nations and even the Royal Canadian Navy must all be engaged, and most of these bodies will have a role or a say in spill response. With B.C. located between Washington State and Alaska, there are also trans-border considerations, and international co-operation responsibilities and agreements around spill response.

The B.C. Technical Analysis says that a December 2010 report from the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, Oil Spills from Ships, found that on the federal side, risk assessments related to spills were incomplete, emergency management plans were out-of-date and there was no national approach to training, testing plans (exercises) and maintaining equipment. “These types of gaps make it difficult to fully assess the extent of spill management in Canada’s marine environment.”

Current levels of spill resources not adequate for projected capacity

Who is responsible for action in a spill recovery comes down to the details of each event. The federal government holds the constitutional authority for navigation and shipping, the province has the authority for management of provincial lands and resources. Provincial jurisdiction technically also expands into the inter-tidal zone (all land between the high and low tidal marks) as well as the seabed of the Straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca, the Queen Charlotte Sound – Johnstone Strait and the coastal seabed between many of the major headlands along B.C.’s outer coast.

While WCMRC has a proven track record, perhaps the B.C. government has a point, in light of the proposed scope of added pipeline and tanker capacity, when its report says that greater clarity is required about existing marine spill management capacity in B.C. “A full assessment does not exist and is required in order to have a complete picture of government, industry and community expertise and resources.”

The government report suggests that at the current level of resourcing, B.C. spill response capability is likely not big enough to respond to growth in volume of spill, nor has the potential for handling concurrent major incidents. In a review of neighbouring states, Alaska has an operating budget of US$9 million, 82 staff members (36 emergency responders), and a US$50 million response account. Washington State operates with 70 staff members (28 emergency responders) an approximate US$12 million annual capital budget and a US$9 million response account.

In light of the scope of the proposed developments, according to its report, the Government of B.C. has already begun to work with the federal government to improve the capacity of marine spill response on the West Coast and ensure the highest level of spill preparedness on routes where oil is being transported either as a cargo or as a fuel.

Kinder Morgan “Information” Sessions and Events

Kinder Morgan “Information” Sessions and Events Hosted or Recommended by BROKE

Date Event
13 November 2012 East Vancouver Info Session – Pacific National Exhibition (PNE), Hastings Room (2901 East Hastings Street) – 5pm-8pm
15 November 2012 Downtown Vancouver Info Session – Harbour Centre, Segal Hall (515 West Hastings Street) – 5pm-8pm
17 November 2012 West Point Grey Info Session – Aberthau Mansion (4397 West 2nd Ave) – 5pm-8pm
20 November 2012 Coquitlam Info Session – Centennial Secondary School, Courtyard (570 Poirier Street) – 5pm-8pm. Contact Sven Biggs at sven@tankerfreebc.org
21 November 2012 Surrey Info Session – Ellendale Elementary School (14525 110A Avenue) – 5pm-8pm
November 24  2012 Burnaby Info Session #1 – Stoney Creek Community School (2740 Beaverbrook Crescent) – drop in from 1pm-4pm. Contact Karl Perrin at perrink@shaw.ca
November 26  2012 Burnaby Info. Session #2 -Eagle Creek at Burnaby Mountain Golf Course, 7600 Halifax, 6:30-8. Contact Mary Hatch at maryhatch@shaw.ca

Tsleil-Waututh Nation Advisory

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation is encouraging the public to attend information sessions on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in hopes that most of those who attend will be critics of the project.

But Tsleil-Waututh members say they will keep their distance while the information sessions are under way. The Tsleil-Waututh has decided to keep its distance because it expects to be consulted by the federal government on the $4.1-billion project.

It deems itself a sovereign government with constitutionally protected rights and title. Participating with Kinder Morgan in anything that would be deemed as consultation with respect to the pipeline would be counter to that position, it says.

“We, as a nation, expect to have a meaningful consultation – government to government,” said Carleen Thomas, an elected council member of the Tsleil-Waututh.

“We are clear that the government cannot delegate this obligation to consult to third parties such as Kinder Morgan.”

Burnaby Residents Opposed to KinderMorgan Expansion Advisory

BROKE urges the public  to not Sign in at Kinder Morgan “information” sessions and to not fill out the Kinder Morgan consultation forms. These sessions are not public consultations or part of the government process.

After attending an info session Len Laycock said he found the public hearing to be more like a “sales centre for condos.” Except in this case they are trying to sell you a toxic pipeline.

Other Events Hosted or Recommended by BROKE

Date Event
21 November 2012 7:00 PM Chevron Advisory Committee Open House – Confederation Seniors Centre. The meeting is open to the public. We encourage people to to go and ask questions.
29 November 7-8:45pm “White Water Black Gold” Location TBA. See updates at http://brokepipelinewatch.ca/events. Contact person Ruth at ruth@cranberrycommons.ca
10 December, 2012 6:15 PM Kay Meek Theatre, West Vancouver, Ben West and Ruben George to speak

Rebutting industry’s arguments against due dilligence for tar sands pipelines

Natural Resources Defense Council

Anthony Swift’s Blog

Rebutting industry’s arguments against due dilligence for tar sands pipelines

Anthony Swift

Posted November 14, 2012 in Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming, U.S. Law and Policy

In response to growing public concerns about the safety of tar sands pipelines and the risks that tar sands spills pose to their communities, industry lobbyists at the American Petroleum Institute (API) and its surrogates have been busy making the argument that industry’s plans to transport millions of barrels of tar sands on the U.S. pipeline network requires no due diligence. The Kalamazoo tar sands spill in Michigan tragically demonstrated the consequences industry’s failure to evaluate the safety risks of the pipeline transport of tar sands diluted bitumen – after more than two years and nearly a billion dollars in cleanup cost, officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have found that nearly 40 miles of the Kalamazoo river is still contaminated by submerged tar sands. In the face of a public increasingly concerned by proposals to build tar sands pipelines like Northern Gateway through British Columbia, Keystone XL through the Ogalla aquifer to the Gulf Coast, and Enbridge’s pipeline through Canada’s eastern provinces and New England, industry lobbyists have been making a number of disingenuous arguments to avoid doing due diligence. But their arguments simply do not withstand close scrutiny.

Let’s take a closer look.

Claim 1: According to API, “crude derived from tar sands has been transported by pipeline since 1968”

This statement is incredibly disingenuous. When the tar sands industry refers to crude oil derived from the tar sands, what they’re actually talking about is tar sands bitumen which has been processed in upgraders to create “synthetic crude oil.” Upgrading facilities located on tar sands mines have historically put raw tar sands bitumen through an initial refining process. While synthetic crude oil is ‘derived’ from tar sands, it is physically and chemically different than bitumen.

In our report Tar Sands Pipeline Safety Risks, NRDC raised the alarm that tar sands production had far outstripped the capacity of upgraders to process it. Rather than build new upgraders, in the late 90s industry began mixing tar sands bitumen with volatile natural gas liquids and transporting the heavy, viscous mixture – called diluted bitumen – in pipelines. It was this mixture that spilled into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010, causing the most expensive pipeline accident in U.S. history.

Claim 2: According to API, diluted bitumen is not heated for transportation in pipelines

API often makes the claim that tar sands diluted bitumen is not heated from transportation in pipelines and that “the range of temperatures for all crude oils from Canada is 40 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.” As they say, a picture is worth 1000 words, so the best place to start is TransCanada’s own temperature effects study for Keystone XL:

TranCanada Temperature Study.png

Figure 1. TransCanada’s temperature affects study for Keystone XL, State Department Final EIS

Now this chart may prove to be conservative – Keystone 1’s maximum temperature is listed as 158 degrees F. To clarify, tar sands diluted bitumen is so viscous, or thick, that when it is pumped at high pressures in pipelines, it generates a tremendous amount of friction which in turn generates heat. As tar sands diluted bitumen moves further down the pipeline, it gets hotter and hotter.

And that in itself is a cause for concern. Temperature is a known factor in pipeline spills – dramatically increasing the rate of spills due to external corrosion. A small patch of pipelines moving heavy crude in Kern county, California demonstrate the risk of high temperature pipelines. A statewide study of pipeline safety in the 90s revealed that higher temperature pipelines were almost 12 times more likely to fail due to external corrosion than ambient temperature pipelines moving conventional crude.

External Corrosion Incidents.png

Figure 2. Relationship between pipeline temperature and spills, California State Fire Marshalls (CSFM) 1993

Claim 3: The U.S. currently refines heavy crude oil blends from Mexico and Venezuela which have similar properties as diluted bitumen

This is another industry red herring. While certain crudes from Venezuela and Mexico have similar levels of corrosivity as Canadian tar sands, they are not transported on the U.S. pipeline system. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) tracks imports of crude into the country with some specificity. Their databases show that heavy crudes from Venezuela and Mexico are refined on the same coastal refineries in which they’re imported. The only crudes which are moved on the U.S. pipeline systems are ones which are significantly lighter and less corrosive – similar to crudes produced in West Texas and North Dakota.

Texas City Refinery.png

Figure 3. Satellite image of Texas City refinery – a typical coastal refinery where heavy crudes are processed at port of entry.

Claim 4: U.S. regulators at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) have sufficiently strong regulations to ensure the safety of diluted bitumen tar sands pipelines

That’s not what PHMSA’s Administrator Cynthia Quarterman told Congress. When asked, she told the House Energy and Power subcommittee that 1) pipeline safety regulations weren’t established with diluted bitumen in mind and 2) her agency couldn’t assure the safety of pipelines move diluted bitumen without more study.

Moreover, following the San Bruno and Kalamazoo pipeline disaster, federal investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have laid blame on both pipeline operators as well as regulators at PHMSA, repeatedly citing weak regulations and poor enforcement as contributing factors.

“Pervasive organizational failures by a pipeline operator along with weak federal regulations led to a pipeline rupture and subsequent oil spill in 2010” NTSB on Kalamazoo tar sands spill, July 10, 2012

Claim 5: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) controls the sediment levels in pipelines in their tariff agreements

FERC doesn’t have jurisdiction over pipeline safety for hazardous liquid pipelines and doesn’t set its tariff requirements to ensure their safety. Refineries have reported significantly more sediment in Canadian heavy crudes. In fact, under FERC’s tariff requirements, a pipeline like Keystone XL would move 125 pounds of sediments and water per minute. Neither industry nor regulators have investigated the safety risks associated with these sediment levels – and doing so isn’t part of FERC’s job or expertise.

Claim 6: Analysis of pipeline failure statistics by Albertan regulators at the ERCB “hasn’t detected any significant differences between pipelines handling conventional crude versus pipeline carrying crude bitumen, crude oil or synthetic crude oil.”

This would be useful information if the ERCB had any means of detecting differences between pipelines carrying diluted bitumen and conventional crude, but they don’t. ERCB tracks conventional crude, synthetic crude and diluted bitumen pipelines simply as “crude oil pipelines.” Those pipeline categories are all tracked as “crude oil” in ERCB’s spill statistics. Until the ERCB starts collecting more precise data, it will be unable to detect problems with diluted bitumen pipelines – whether or not they exist.

Claim 7: Alberta Innovates found that Canadian tar sands had properties similar to other heavy Canadian crudes

In Tar Sands Pipeline Safety Risks, NRDC compared diluted bitumen to West Texas Intermediate, a light crude representative of the crudes historically moved on the U.S. pipeline system. It’s similar to the crude produced throughout Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, North Dakota and Montana. API and other industry groups claimed it wasn’t fair to compare tar sands diluted bitumen with WTI, because diluted bitumen isn’t anything like WTI. On that point we agree. However, industry groups then argued that diluted bitumen should be compared with similar heavy crudes that had not been historically moved on the onshore pipeline system in significant volumes – such as Mexican, Venezuelan or Canadian crudes.

Alberta Innovates conducted such a study, comparing diluted bitumen to very heavy blends of Canadian crude which 1) required similar unconventional production processes as tar sands, 2) could not be moved in pipelines without being mixed with volatile light natural gas liquid condensates, 3) had not historically been moved in significant volumes on the U.S. pipeline system, 4) have significantly increased in production over the last ten years on the same pipelines moving tar sands.

Heavy Crude versus diluted bituemn.png

Figure 4. Both tar sands diluted bitumen and the heavy Canadian crudes Alberta Innovates compares it to have not been historically been move on the U.S. pipeline system in large volumes, data from U.S. Energy Information Administration

As we discussed when the report came out, industry should not be allowed to avoid doing diligence regarding diluted bitumen transport in pipeline because diluted bitumen compares with a similar crude for which industry has also not done due diligence.
Comments (Add yours)
Michael Berndtson — Nov 15 2012 08:43 AM

Tar sands is like creosote. Creosote is coal tar derived and cut or diluted with a solvent like diesel or mineral spirits so it can flow. Its specific gravity as a liquid mixture is around 1.0 to 1.1 (water being 1.0). The issue with tar sands flowing through the XL Pipeline along the Great Plains is upon the “extremely slight chance of a spill” – the fluid won’t necessarily stop at the near surface water table – but continue migration downward through the subsurface – potentially impacting the lower aquifer. When creosote is spilled into the subsurface it kind of separates into its original components as it flows downwards. So lower density stuff pools on the near surface water table – and the denser stuff to sinks until something stops it – tight clay or bedrock.

Bottom line. Subsurface remediation becomes a common place light non-aqueous phase liquid (LNAPL) petroleum hydrocarbon remediation to a big messy LNAPL and dense NAPL or DNAPL remediation. See Superfund sites for wood treating like Libby Groundwater. Hopefully this was considered already for permit bonding.

Michael Berndtson — Nov 15 2012 09:52 AM

The second paragraph in the comment above makes little to no sense. Sorry. The bottom-bottom line is that subsurface remediation, should it ever be necessary would be more similar to a typical DNAPL project rather than a more commonplace LNAPL projects, i.e. more costly. Always write, proof-read, submit (WPS).