[From a climate change perspective, I would be happy if the world did
not find it desirable to move crude oil across continents and oceans,
including dilbit. However, energy consumers world-wide and I are not
aligned on this, and transporting of oil is not going to stop anytime
soon. Therefore, we need better technology to clean it up when (not if)
the spills happen. Disclosure: I know a bit about better oil spill
clean-up technologies so the argument they do not exist is a
There actually is some research on the behaviour of spilled dilbit in
lab conditions, and sadly, in real-world conditions (Mayflower,
Kalamazoo). Short version. It floats on freshwater for hours to days,
and seawater for days, and may float indefinitely. In my world, an
apparent lack of research is grounds for doing more research, not
implementing a permanent ban (though I understand the attraction of
asserting that solution). Fast response can be a feasible response to
spilled dilbit. Admittedly, that is not in the industry's current playbook.
I am a long-time proponent of the Precautionary Principle and the
Polluter Pays regulatory environment. So, how about we put the onus on
the oil industry and specific operators to demonstrate the behaviour of
the dilbit they will be using or transporting, and that they have an
effective means of cleaning up spills to an effective standard, which
evidence should determine. As a starting point for the discussion, we
could start at 2 parts per billion (ppb) hydrocarbons in water, and 10
parts per million (ppm) as an acceptable threshold for clean-up
performance. (There are naturally occurring hydrocarbons in water and
soil, so a zero-line is not reasonable.) (Based on numbers from a
single source I found via a web browser. Better data welcomed.
I am in favour of requiring industry to disclose what is in the diluent
they use, and requiring them to stick with the published information
links in on-line article]
Secrecy Around Composition of Oilsands Dilbit Makes Effective Spill
Response, Research Impossible: New Study
By Judith Lavoie • Friday, December 23, 2016 - 09:37
Knowledge gaps about the behaviour of diluted bitumen when it is spilled
into saltwater and lack of information about how to deal with multiple
problems that can result from extracting and transporting bitumen from
the Alberta oilsands, make it impossible for government or industry to
come up with effective policies to deal with a disaster, says a newly
published research paper, Oilsands and the Marine Environment.
The study by ecologists from Simon Fraser, Stanford, Oregon State and
Northern Arizona universities, who scrutinized more than 9,000 research
papers, concludes that officials should collect more information about
the environmental effects of bitumen before setting regulations.
Tweet: ‘There isn’t enough science in the public eye to answer questions
about the risk bitumen poses to the ocean’ http://bit.ly/2hzVkhV
#bcpoli“There just isn’t enough science in the public eye to answer
questions about the risk bitumen poses to the ocean,” said lead author
Stephanie Green, a Banting postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Ocean
Solutions at Stanford University.
“We found almost no research about bitumen’s effects on marine species,”
As controversy continues to swirl around the federal government’s
approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion and as
president-elect Donald Trump prepares to overhaul energy and
environmental regulations and reopen the Keystone XL pipeline
application, the lack of credible information highlights policy flaws,
the researchers said.
“In this context, policymakers risk confusing the lack of evidence for
particular environmental effects with evidence that there is no risk,”
Out of all the studies examined, only two addressed the toxicity of
bitumen in the ocean, said coauthor Thomas Sisk of Northern Arizona
“We don’t even know for certain whether this form of petroleum will
float or sink during an ocean spill,” he said.
Bitumen is the consistency of peanut butter when extracted from the
oilsands and, as it is too thick to flow through a pipe, it is diluted
with chemicals or lighter petroleum products such as natural gas
concentrate, refined naptha or synthetic crude oil to make it flow. The
diluted product is commonly known as dilbit.
However, a major block to coming up with spill responses or figuring out
the exact behaviour of dilbit in the ocean is that there are dozens of
different formulas and the chemical diluent mix is treated as a trade
secret by oil companies.
“A crucial first step in filling this gap is a requirement that the
chemical composition of oilsands products be made available for
scientific study and impact assessment,” the study recommends.
The paper, which was published this week in the journal Frontiers in
Ecology and the Environment, found that policy flaws include a failure
to adequately address carbon emissions or the cumulative effects of
The scientist found there are 15 “pathways” through which the extraction
and transportation of oilsands bitumen can negatively affect oceans.
Impacts include problems resulting from a spill, the effect of increased
tanker traffic on marine animals and climate change effects such as
increasing ocean acidity and temperature and rapid sea-level rise, says
However, there are few scientific studies looking at the effect of two
or more of the impacts arising simultaneously.
“Projects should not be considered in isolation and multiple types of
impacts need to be considered simultaneously. Everything is connected,”
said co-author Wendy Palen of Simon Fraser University.
The gaps in information on multiple stressors are particularly evident
on a regional basis for eelgrass and kelp forest systems, the study says.
“Accounting for the effects of multiple projects, concurrently, in
scientific assessments and planning processes will lead to more accurate
assessments of oil sands contributions to cumulative effects on
resources that are in the footprint of multiple industries,” it recommends.
Expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline from the Alberta oilsands to
Burnaby will see the capacity of the pipeline triple to 890,000 barrels
a day, compared to the current capacity of 300,000 barrels a day. The
expansion will also mean the number of tankers, travelling through the
Strait of Georgia and Juan de Fuca Strait, will increase to 34 a month
from five a month.
The BC Liberal government has set five conditions for approving the
pipeline expansion, but is showing every sign that it will get a green
light, while the NDP and Green Party oppose it.
Green Party leader Andrew Weaver claims his party is the only one to
consistently oppose the pipeline.
“You can’t clean up dilbit, so we should ban heavy oil tankers on the
coast,” he said categorically.
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