Keystone XL: DilBit Through the Heartland

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Author: Rand Clifford

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Meats is so much more than converting an area of boreal forest the size of England into a cankerous and lifeless open sore bleeding tar. More than decimating some of the world’s last wild forests—home to 35% of Canada’s wetlands. More than attacking Earth’s biosphere with a carbon weapon of mass destruction….

How far has corporate depravity driven corporate disregard for life on Earth? MEATS goes the distance with the Keystone XL pipeline.

December 11, 2012…an L.A. Times article by Molly Hennessy-Fiske revealed that Jack Sinz, Texas County Court at Law Judge, lifted his restraining order that delayed a portion of TransCanada’s Keystone XL running through eastern Texas. The restraining order resulted from landowner Michael Bishop filing suit to halt pipeline construction on his property because TransCanada fraudulently promised that Keystone XL would transport “crude oil”.

TransCanada lawyers convinced Judge Sinz that Michael Bishop “…understood what he was doing when he signed off on an easement agreement with the company three weeks ago.”

TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard stated: “TransCanada has been open and transparent with Mr. Bishop at all times.” Then Mr. Howard further illuminates the howler of TransCanada being open and transparent: “Since Mr. Bishop signed his agreement with TransCanada, nothing about the pipeline or the product it will carry has changed. While professional activists and others have made the same claims Mr. Bishop did today, oil is oil.”

Problem is, oil is exactly what Keystone pipeline does not pipe.

Raw bitumen diluted with up to 50% natural gas liquids (condensates) at 1,440 pounds per square inch (psi) pressure, and temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit—that’s what Keystone XL pipes, a wicked brew called, “DilBit”.

What in Hell is DilBit?

That depends.

Consider TransCanada’s spokesman, Shawn Howard, and his, “…oil is oil”. MEATS and Keystone XL advocates cultivate public misconception of DilBit being “crude oil”. A dangerous ruse spanning pipeline safety regulations to pipeline technology and leak detection…back to public awareness. Pawning off DilBit as crude oil is TransCanada’s public-relations Job Number One—except when it comes to the IRS….

The oil industry pays an eight-cents-per-barrel tax on crude oil produced in or imported to the U.S., proceeds earmarked for the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund that covers cleanup costs for oil spills. Funny thing…in 2011, at the request of a company whose identity is kept secret, an exemption was made that frees DilBit from this tax because, as the secret company made clear: “oil” from Canada’s tar sands is so different (chemistry, behavior, how it’s produced) that it should not be considered crude oil.

Texas, and federal statutory codes define crude oil as “liquid hydrocarbons extracted from the earth at atmospheric temperatures”. Simple enough, DilBit is not crude oil.

Alberta bitumen is strip-mined and steam-melted from sands and silts; it takes two tons of earth, three barrels of water, and lots of natural gas to extract one barrel of raw bitumen , which is almost a solid.

MEATS currently consumes, per day, enough natural gas to heat 3 million Canadian homes, and fouls 400 million gallons of water. Wastewater is pumped into immense tailing ponds rich in arsenic, cyanide, ammonia, cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel, zinc…not to mention the biocidal gumbo of hydrocarbons—sixty-five square miles of tailing ponds, so far.

Downstream from tailing ponds, as in Fort Chipewyan …spikes of lupus, renal failure, hyperthyroidism…and 100 of the town’s largely indigenous population of 1,200 have died of cancer. Many rare cancers.

DilBit’s character really shines its deepest darkest black when spilled into the environment.

Actually, a cup of coffee might spill, a glass of milk; eruption is a better term for a DilBit pipeline or pump station, “event”.

Permanent Pollution

Keystone was predicted to spill no more than once every seven years….

After being in operation less than one year, Keystone tallied its eleventh spill—at a pump station, which TransCanada insists “don’t count”.

It was in Ludden, North Dakota, May 7, 2011. A 3/4-inch pipe fitting failed under the pressure, erupting DilBit sixty feet high—21,000 gallons in minutes.

July 26, 2010 had already shown us what a DilBit pipeline at 1440 psi and 160 degrees F. can do. Line 6B of the Enbridge Energy Partners Lakehead system ruptured, erupting a million gallons of DilBit into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River; the “Marshall spill”.

Since pipeline operators are not required to say what they are piping, emergency responders didn’t discover until ten days later that what turned the Kalamazoo River black was DilBit. Original expectations were that cleanup would take a few months. But after two years the job was not over…apparently never will be. The EPA has declared thirty miles of the Kalamazoo River “…essentially permanently polluted”.

Typically, 90% of crude oil spilled into water can be captured with booms and skimmers.

DilBit is from 50% to 70% bitumen, diluted with natural gas condensates collectively called diluents (exact composition of diluents is a “trade secret”). DilBit in the Kalamazoo River was 70% bitumen. After diluents separated out, bitumen sank and coated the riverbed.

Coincidentally, nine days before DilBit tarred the Kalamazoo River, the EPA warned that the “proprietary nature” of DilBit diluents could complicate cleanup.

Over the last ten years, average cleanup cost of spilled crude oil has been about $2,000 per barrel; DilBit in the Kalamazoo has cost $29,000 per barrel, making it by far the most expensive spill in U.S. history—over $800 million so far. Much of the bitumen cannot be cleaned up without destroying the riverbed.

DilBit pipelines operate at elevated temperature and high pressure to reduce viscosity and increase piping efficiency—increasing the risk of corrosion for a product that, compared to crude oil, contains huge amounts of abrasive quartz particles. DilBit’s extreme acidity and sulfur content also weaken steel.

Between 2002 and 2010, the Alberta hazardous-liquid pipeline system had twenty-five-times as many leaks and ruptures per mile than the U. S. system, mostly from internal corrosion.

TransCanada responded to the corrosion problem by seeking a safety waiver to use thinner-than-normal steel for Keystone XL.

What little research done regarding DilBit has been conducted by industry, so it’s proprietary. That’s right, the old “trade secrets” suppression of information helping to keep government regulating DilBit as crude oil.

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