Did you know that there is a tar sands pipeline already operating in BC?
Despite the well-known risks associated with transporting tar sands, many of the residents who live along Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline route are not aware that the pipeline exists, let alone that it is transporting toxic substances.
The Trans Mountain pipeline begins in Edmonton, Alberta, crosses the Rocky Mountains and 98 streams and rivers as it makes its way to the Pacific Coast. In the Lower Mainland it runs through drinking water sources and watersheds, high-density residential areas, schools, prime organic farmland and many local businesses.
Built in the 1950s, as a multi-use pipeline to transport natural gas and conventional oil for local consumption, Kinder Morgan bought the Trans Mountain pipeline in 2005 and has been covertly using the pipeline to transport tar sands bitumen for export.
In February 2012, Kinder Morgan announced plans to build a new pipeline along side the existing one allowing it to increase exports of diluted bitumen from 300,000 barrels per day to as much as 750,000 bpd.
What is tar sands diluted bitumen?
Tar sands diluted bitumen, or ”dilbit” is not your “grandma’s crude.” Compared with conventional crude, bitumen blends are more acidic, thicker and more sulphuric. Raw bitumen is solid or semi-solid at room temperature, so producers dilute it with natural gas condensate, naptha, or other volatile substances. The mixture is thicker than conventional oil but can be moved through pipelines provided it flows at significantly higher temperature and pressure.
In the event of a diluted bitumen spill, the diluents evaporate into a toxic, and potentially explosive, airborne cloud of hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic compounds, including benzene (a known carcinogen). The heavier bitumen then sinks within sediment and water columns.
This process creates significant challenges for cleanup efforts, particularly in rivers and wetland environments. In the case of conventional oil spills, mechanical devices such as booms, skimmers and materials to absorb oil are directed at containing and recovering oil floating on the surface of water. The fact that the bitumen is heavier than water, and sinks, makes it much more difficult and expensive to clean up than conventional oil. Inevitably, when spills occur, some of the bitumen will persist in the ecosystem indefinitely.
What happens if there is a spill?
A case in point is the Kalamazoo River tar sands spill that happened in July 2010 in Michigan. More than 20,000 barrels of tar sands dilbit leaked out of a 42-year-old pipeline forcing local residents to evacuate their homes and shut down their businesses. The clean up was originally expected to take two months, and yet the effort continues into 2012 costing more than $800 million USD to date with a significant portion of the clean up costs coming from taxpayer dollars. The full social, economic and environmental costs of this disaster have yet to be determined.
Despite industry claims of new and “safer” pipelines, the Keystone Pipeline, built in 2010 “to meet or exceed safety standards,” had a dozen spills in its first year of operation. It is not a case of “if” there will be a spill, but “when.”
Why should we think twice about tar sands exports?
Kinder Morgan’s expansion plans would double the risk of a tar sands spills along the pipeline, putting ecosystems, property values, and local businesses at risk. It would also increase the number of super tankers out of Vancouver, threatening waterways in southwestern BC, while entrenching a tar sands-dependent export economy.
There are better alternatives. Ending fossil fuel subsidies and providing incentives for renewable energy and energy-efficient transportation, would keep our communities safer, create more jobs (far more than capital-intensive pipeline projects), reduce our carbon footprint, and better protect our environment.
Published: September 19, 2012 5:00 AM
Burnaby Residents Opposed to Kinder Morgan Expansion (BROKE) are hosting a town hall meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 10, at 7 p.m. to raise awareness about Kinder Morgan’s expansion proposal for its Trans Mountain pipeline.
The meeting, at Confederation Seniors’ Centre, 4585 Albert St. in Burnaby, will feature speakers Rueben George of Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Kennedy Stewart, MP for Burnaby-Douglas, Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan, Sven Biggs of Tanker Free BC, Ben West of the Wilderness Committee and Mary Hatch of BROKE.
The forum will highlight the proposal to ship crude bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to the pipeline’s terminus, Westridge Terminal in North Burnaby.
“A lot of people are assuming that the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline through Burnaby is business as usual, but there are some differences that significantly elevate the environmental risks to our community,” said Karl Perrin of BRO
Published: September 05, 2012 4:00 PM
Updated: September 05, 2012 4:14 PM
At a recent Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Ian Anderson gave a presentation on Kinder Morgan’s plan to twin the Trans Mountain Pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby, passing through the Fraser Valley. Ian emphasized the “economic benefits” and that pipeline technology is the safest mode of transporting tar sands oil (otherwise known as bitumen).
Although he mentioned some spills, there have been an alarming and distressing number of pipeline spills over the last 10 years, leaving devastation in their wake. The biggest spills are impossible to clean up, with oil industry only being able to clean up to 15 per cent of the mess, leaving the rest to poison ecosystems. The most important lesson with this experience is that, despite “improved” engineering, spills keep happening. So we know that spills, bursts and leaks are inevitable. Ian Anderson stated clearly at the luncheon that, although his company would do everything possible to prevent spills, there are no guarantees. This is very understandable as there is always the risk of human error and technology does wear down. In addition, pipelines are subject to earthquakes and tremors, mud slides and landslides in BC’s rough terrain. This does not even take into account the extreme risk for a disaster to happen on coastal waters, as bitumen would be loaded onto huge tankers in increasing numbers to be shipped to foreign markets out of Vancouver harbour.
The Harper government is telling the public that “economic benefits” of getting bitumen to Asian markets out weigh any collateral damage this may cause. Not only will be there be a boon of short term jobs and a few long term jobs, but federal, provincial, municipal and First Nations governments will gain huge revenues by way of royalties and taxes. This short-sited vision has been exposed by Robyn Allen, an experienced economist, as not being in the best interest of BC or Canada. Given the inevitability of a disastrous spill on the coastal waters and/or land, there is no consideration given to other sectors of the economy – tourism, fishing, agriculture, or to irreparable damage to precious aquifers. The plans violate aboriginal rights to proper consultation and consent as many First Nations are in fierce opposition to this project.
We have seen too many images of seals, birds, and fish suffering death in an oily mess in the waters and on land. Most alarming is that bitumen is currently being pumped through the 59-year-old Kinder Morgan pipeline and will more than double if another pipeline is built along side of this one. This is destined for Burnaby where highly toxic bitumen will be loaded onto huge tankers, increasing the inevitability of disastrous spills. Yes there are some short-term economic benefits to the Kinder Morgan “pipe dream.” On the other hand, the long-term collateral damage is a price too high for BC to pay. This is not in the best interest of Canada, and we the people must take a stand to stop both Kinder Morgan and Enbridge plans.
Skwah First Nation Member