Common Sense Canadian

Bitumen Spills from Enbridge, Kinder Morgan Are Certain Disasters Waiting to Happen

Posted May 19, 2012 by Rafe Mair in Energy and Resources
Spilled diluted bitumen separates in Michigan's Kalamazoo River (photo: NRDC's Switchboard)

I urge you to read again Rex Weyler’s blog on the Common Sense Canadian on the consequences of a bitumen spill in Vancouver Harbour. And “consequences” should very much on our minds, front and centre.
We are talking three pipelines and two tanker routes.
For the Northern Gateway project we have two pipelines. The reason is that bitumen, the Tar Sands gunk, is too thick to transfer and must have what they call “condensate” mixed in to move it. This natural gas addition does nothing to reduce the damage if there’s a leak or a rupture. Thus Enbridge takes the mixture, known as diluted bitumen (Dilbit), to Kitimat while pumping “condensate” imported by tanker to the Tar Sands by a second pipeline. This highly toxic Dilbit substance will move in huge tankers down what is probably the most dangerous coastline in the world.
The other pipeline is the old Trans Mountain pipeline now used by Kinder Morgan company (a clone of the disgraced Enron) and, if their latest application is accepted, will be twinning that line, thereby increasing their shipping capacity from current levels of 300,000 barrels a day to 850,000 barrels a day, with a tanker a day going through the treacherous Second Narrows.
It is not my intention here to discuss the risks involved in these three pipelines and two tanker routes – there is no need to because ruptures and spills are a lead pipe certainty. The only issue is clean-up.
Anthony Swift writes for Switchboard, which is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the US’s most effective environmental group. Here’s what he has to say on clean-up:
Raw tar sands bitumen is nearly solid at room temperature and must be diluted with toxic natural gas liquids to create the thick sludge that travels in high pressure pipelines. This sludge is between fifty and seventy times as thick as conventional crude oil. When spilled, the light natural gas liquid in the tar sands vaporizes, creating a toxic flammable gas that poses a health hazard to emergency responders and nearby landowners. The bitumen, which is heavier than water, sinks into rivers and mixes with sediments.  Bitumen contains significantly more heavy metals than conventional crudes and does not biodegrade. (emphasis mine)
This is an oversimplification but this may help – with ordinary crude, a process called “rafting” is used, whereby the spilled crude oil is pushed into a smaller area then removed. Even then, as the Exxon Valdez demonstrated, only a relatively small proportion of the spill can be cleaned up. Unfortunately bitumen sinks, so rafting is of no use.
It’s like a clear cut without reforestation. It’s death.
The bottom line is this: spills or ruptures are certain and the damage immense and all but impossible to clean up.
This is what Prime Minister Harper wants to have approved quickly and his poodle, Premier Clark, because she needs Harper’s generosity over the HST mess.
We simply cannot let these catastrophes happen to us.


About the Author

Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at


    Dave Nelson

    On your Hydro piece of Sunday 13 May, 2012 thank you. It has long been my opinion that Premier Campbell decided to turn BC Hydro away from public power when they were approached by Enron. Recently read “The Smartest Guys in the Room”, and found on the ‘net an Enron timeline from a BBC TV reporter. I believe it was Enron who provided Campbell with the idea to make BC Hydro buy private power at doble+ the market price, and to run up about 27 deferred deficit accounts, that while they can defer the expenses, if BC Hydro were made to pay them off in full like many British Columbians do with their credit card balances every month, the real truth of BC Hydro’s bankruptcy would be clear for all to see. I live alone with my cat in a Burnaby townhouse. My monthly BC Hydro bill has gone from 64 to 105 per month, in less than a year and a half. It went up when I got my SmartMeter. Soon, now the warm weather is here? I will be turning off my main breaker switch from 11pm to 11am, to stop hydro from coming into my home, and to stop the meter from recording usage. Soon there will not only be a need for conservation but a means test so end users can afford BC Hydro’s very necessary product. -30-


    I am pretty sure I read. The chemicals are 60% more toxic than said to be. Was this not the reason Europe was so angry at Harper. He gave them false statements of the toxicity, of the dirty oil.

    I watched a program on TV. I was horrified at the oil still left from the Valdez spill. There are huge globs of oil under rocks, and it still smells terrible, even after 22 years.

    All the pipe bursts in Alberta are obscene. The huge spill at Peace River…4.5 million liters. People were deathly ill from the smell. They had to euthanize wild life.

    There was also the Rainbow spill in Alberta, again wildlife had to be euthanized.

    Alberta has had horrendous pipeline bursts. And still, they want to inflict those atrocities onto the BC people. They certainly don’t care about the F.N. food sources being contaminated. Think of all their rivers, streams lands and the sea, that they could not longer depend on for food, to feed their family’s? That filthy toxic oil, will kill everything that comes in contact with it.

    No, we will fight the greed of Harper, and support the F.N. people.

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