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Which Chemicals Will Be in the Keystone XL Pipeline?

September 29, 2010

Interior of Indian-made pipe used in the Keystone pipeline

Crossposted from Plains Justice Today

Fresh in my inbox is a Texas Landowners Documentary, about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, available on YouTube. The Center for Energy Matters, which produced the video, is a little group of Oklahomans and Texans who have decided that a foreign corporation using eminent domain to take land that locals don’t want to sell for a project locals don’t want is not okay.

The Center’s leadership includes Mike Bergey, a leading wind power entrepreneur, other clean energy businesspeople, and attorney Harlan Hentges, a University of Texas law graduate whose Edmond, OK firm is called Organic Lawyers.

Local news reports about the formation of a new Texas group, “STOP” (Stop the Tar Sands Oil Pipelines), cite lack of response from Texas Congresspeople as one reason why landowners and residents near the pipeline route are speaking up for themselves.

Local news also followed up with TransCanada’s response to “STOP”. T.C. spokesman James Prescott says: “When we make a financial commitment to a landowner, as if we are buying their property, and we get limited rights to it, we get access to it, we’re not buying it. It’s still theirs to do with as they see fit. And we’ve already acquired easements from two thirds of the landowners on the route in Texas. And we’re on the hook. It’s our risk, not theirs.”

TransCanada adds that they are “unbelievably forthcoming” about the contents of the pipeline, including the chemical diluents, and that it’s no secret: “What’s in the pipeline, no we don’t mix it with a lot of chemicals,” said Prescott. “Let’s talk about that. Let’s have that discussion. Now you’re getting into some fairly detailed stuff, and I’d be happy to provide you with that information. It’s not secret. We’re unbelievably forthcoming on this project.”

There’s some debate on the news website about what the diluent is, so Plains Justice took a look at TransCanada’s disclosure documents for the Keystone I pipeline. The Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) provided in the Keystone I Emergency Response Plan identify a variety of substances that may be used as diluents, including synthetic crude oil, natural gas condensates, naphtha, petroleum distillates, clarified oils, various and “residues.”

Technically, “diluents” are any substances that decrease the viscosity of bitumen to make it transportable. In general, diluents are lighter petroleum substances that are either naturally formed (such as natural gas condensates) or semi-refined. Diluent is not a particular chemical, but a class of petroleum substances. Basically, it’s the runniest and cheapest light oil the industry can lay its hands on in large amounts.

The industry also appears to be using semi refined materials derived from refining other crude oils, including naphtha and other distillates. One example of the makeup of diluents is included below. As you can see, it’s not a very exact formula and may vary from batch to batch and pipeline to pipeline, which probably isn’t what you want to hear when it’s going to be running through your backyard or under your fields.

Source: Shell Canada MSDS, “Albian Heavy Synthetic Crude”

Hydrocracked Residues 30-50%

Petroleum – crude oil 25-70%

Naphtha, hydrotreated Light 0-30%

Natural Gas condensates 0-20%

Nat Gas Condensates (C2-C20) 0-20%

Residues (Petroleum) Vacuum 0-15%

Distillates Hydrotreated Middle 0-12.5%

Naphtha, Hydrotreated Heavy 0-12.5%

Naphtha, heavy Hydrocracked 0-12%

Clarified Oils, Catalytic Cracked 2-10%

Naphtha, heavy straight-run 0-6%

Naphtha, Light straight-run 0-6%

Distillates, straight-run 0-5%

Benzene 0.1-1%

Xylene 0.1-0.5%

Ethylbenzene 0.05-0.5%

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