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Bitumen, Not Like All Other Oil?

February 23, 2011

There is a debate that has residents of South Dakota wondering if TransCanada is telling the truth about what is being pumped through the Keystone I pipeline, that runs through Eastern South Dakota. On February 18, The Argus Leader reported that TransCanada is disputing a new report that claims that the diluted bitumen that flows through Keystone I “is hot, corrosive and potentially unstable, posing a unique safety risk to the public”. This would be the same type of crude that would be flowing through the Keystone XL pipeline, if the project is approved.

The report by a coalition of environmental groups – the National Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Foundation and the Pipeline Safety Trust – says pipelines carrying diluted bitumen have a higher rate of corrosion failure. Diluted bitumen is the heavy tar sands oil extracted, mixed with natural gas condensates.

Shawn Howard, a TransCanada spokesman, claims that this mixture is no different from any other crude oil that flows through other pipelines. He goes on to say that TransCanada would not invest 13 billion dollars in the pipeline project if they thought that it would be a hazard. But members of the environmental groups believe that TransCanada’s vested interest is based on dollar signs not safety.

“Whether South Dakota residents like it or not, they’re going to be married to these pipelines for 30, 40, 50 years,” said Rick Hauffe of the National Wildlife Foundation.

If anything were to happen to the pipeline in the next several decades the residents of South Dakota would have to live with the oil company’s mistakes. A prime example of this type of situation is the effects that residents in Michigan are facing after the devastating oil spill in the Kalamazoo River. For 12 hours oil leaked from the pipeline into one of the most prominent water ways in the area.

The report also says the bitumen mix makes leak detection more difficult and complicates spill cleanup. It cites the Enbridge spill in Michigan last summer, in which a pipeline rupture dumped 800,000 gallons of heavy crude into the Kalamazoo River.

The coalition of environmental organizations, along with many other individuals and groups, are asking the State Department to take a complete look at every aspect of the Keystone XL pipeline project before they approve it. TransCanada remains hopeful that the project will be approved in the next several months.





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