Alberta bitumen must be diluted with toxic condensate just to make it flow

Meet ‘Dil Bit’: The Enbridge Testimony Stephen Harper Doesn’t Want Heard


The following statement was made by Miranda Holmes today at the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel hearings into the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline in Comox, BC.


Many voices have been heard during these hearings, yet one has remained silent: the oily character at the centre of the debate. I think that’s a shame and so I am using my time before the panel to allow this character’s case to be made.

Hi, my name’s Dil Bit. That’s short for Diluted Bitumen, but I feel like I’m amongst friends here, so let’s not be too formal.

I come from the tar sands and, as you know, Alberta totally digs me. Alberta’s so generous she wants to share me with everyone.

If she gets her way, I’ll be passing through British Columbia a lot in the future, so I thought I should introduce myself properly.

As fossil fuels go, I’m a bit unconventional. But, as Alberta’s favourite son Steve will tell you, I’m totally ethical. (And don’t let those jet setting celebrities tell you any different.)

I’m also way better than conventional crude oil.

For instance, my total acid concentrations are up to 20 times higher than conventional crude. My sulphur content is up to 10 times higher and I’m up to 70 times thicker. Pretty impressive, eh?

Yeah, it’s true I can be a bit abrasive. Bits of quartz, pyrite, silicates, sure I carry them around. It’s just the way I’m made.

So conventional crude doesn’t have my grit. So what? No need to point out, like those granola eaters at the Natural Resources Defense Council did, that putting me in a pipeline is “like sandblasting the inside of the pipe.”

I don’t know why the Americans have taken against me, because – like so many of them – I pack some serious heat. Thanks to my true grit and my thickness (I like to think of it as strength), I make pipes hotter than conventional crude – and harder to monitor. In fact, pipelines carrying me are16 times more likely to leak.

See? I told you I was better.

I’m Alberta’s most precious resource. You think she and Steve are going to let just anyone transport me? No way.

For my travels through British Columbia, they’re going to use Enbridge, a fine, upstanding company with an excellent track record. Why, it took Enbridge 10 years to spill half as much oil as the Exxon Valdez. And they didn’t just spill it in one spot – they spread it around.

Regulators in the US thought the three million litres of me Enbridge spilled in Michigan was so funny they compared the company to those great comedy characters the Keystone Kops.

If Enbridge maintains its current success rate it should be able to meet Steve’s federal standards, which allow undetected pipeline leaks of less than 2% of capacity per week.

For the Northern Gateway project that means Enbridge could legally leave 11 million litres of me a week behind on my way to Kitimat without getting into any serious trouble. And why should they? Eleven million litres of me would be more than three times funnier than Michigan, right?

That’s good news for me, because I’ve heard there are some mighty pretty places in northern BC and I think it would be a shame not to get to know them better.

And it’s good news for BC, because your premier’s promising lots of jobs out of oil and gas exports, and cleaning up after me will sure keep people employed.

Sorry if any of the spots I’m going to wreck is one of your favourites, but I’ve got to keep Alberta happy. You know what she’s like. 


About Miranda Holmes

Miranda Holmes is a former journalist who spent a decade working on toxics and genetic engineering for Greenpeace and other environmental organizations in Canada and the UK. She has also worked on human rights and development issues. She is now an associate editor of the award-winning Watershed Sentinel magazine.

31 thoughts on “Meet ‘Dil Bit’: The Enbridge Testimony Stephen Harper Doesn’t Want Heard

  1. The majority of Enbridge supporters don’t live in the area that would be impacted by a tar sands spill. Apparently NIMBY means it’s okay to destroy someone else’s environment. Oddly Albertans don’t seem too concerned with the damage the tar sands exploiters do to their back yard. That said, “stay the hell out of mine!”

    1. I support Alberta oil, in my country, in my gas tank. But I do not support further destruction of protected lands, rivers, streams, lakes, and species. Alberta can destroy itself, but I can stand by and let the foreign oil companies destroy British Columbia. There are alternate methods, less destructive to get this poison to foreign markets.

  2. Very well said (and very sad at the same time).

    The people of BC (and Canada) have to take a stand against the big oil companies and the Harper government.

  3. While it is good to have people aware of what exactly is involved, let us not condemn the government before they have actually done anything. The DilBit tale is informative, but part of the problem is that too many groups are motivated by concerns re additional CO2 emissions, which is a confusing issue for many. I applaud the Harper government’s withdrawl from Kyoto — which would have seriously penalized the Canadian economy for little gain — but would have concerns if they did decide to push through a pipeline that is clearly dangerous. I am reassured by Harper’s comment re science being the main determinant. I think that is a reasonable position.

  4. Question: what makes dilbit so corrosive, the diluent or the bitumen or both?

    (Okay…Questions plural…)

    How is the diluent separated from the bitumen before it’s piped back to Albetar? …and before the bitumen is loaded onto the tanker ship?

    What I’m getting around to: what does this bitumen, which was once mixed with diluent, do to the inside of tanker holds?

  5. A large amount of the problem with this whole project would disappear if we were to refine this material on-site and ship the finished product instead. I’m not saying that spills of refined petroleum products are good, but they are less likely and far less toxic. And we would be making more jobs for Canadians. Why do we insist on selling our raw resources?

    In addition, why build this pipeline in this location. Kinder-Morgan already has a pipeline to the west coast. It was recently doubled through Jasper National Park. Double the rest of it and send REFINED product from the Oil Sands to Vancouver. I believe Kinder-Morgan has a better safety record than Enbridge.

    1. Sorry guy. You mentioned oil sands. There are no oil sands in Alberta or anywhere else in Canada. Only TAR sands and there is a very big difference.

  6. Unless you have a cheap ,available alternative to fossilfuel energy,walk to work,don”t need to travel anywhere or don’t mind getting oil from the despots of the world,then get a grip on reality! Put in lots of safequards, but get over it. It is what it is. Or.. we could all just become vegetarian nudists.

    1. Hey Cassie, I just wanted to let you know that your argument is partially bunk. Bitumen doesn’t fuel cars. Oil/Tar sands oil will never be used in vehicles. Check out wikipedia:

      Asphalt ,[1][2] also known as bitumen (/bɪˈtjuːmən, baɪ-/),[3][4] is a sticky, black and highly viscous liquid or semi-solid form of petroleum. It may be found in natural deposits or may be a refined product; it is a substance classed as a pitch. Until the 20th century, the term asphaltum was also used.[5]

      The primary use (70%) of asphalt/bitumen is in road construction, where it is used as the glue or binder mixed with aggregate particles to create asphalt concrete. Its other main uses are for bituminous waterproofing products, including production of roofing felt and for sealing flat roofs.[6]

      So, disagreeing with a Pipeline to ship Bitumen won’t mean that I walk to work.

      Making statements that refer to people who disagree with this pipeline as vegetarian nudists is a little ridiculous, don’t you think?

      The best way for us to openly discus this definitely important issue is to fight ignorance. Insulting people who disagree with you won’t help. It just makes you look bad.

      I encourage you to do some research on this topic before lashing out online. Here are a few links that will help you.

      I hope that this helps.

      Good look in engaging in high quality, educated debate in the future.


  7. Miranda, Excellent piece. Informative with just the right amount of attention grabbing humor. Too bad that BC has been priced right into Enbridge pocket by the ,soon to be , out of work liebral party.Bad when the government say that the environment is the most important thing they believe in than put a price on it like crissy clown did in BC.

  8. Natural gas condensate which is used to dilute tar sands bitumen is highly volatile and carcinogenic. Dil-bit is an environmental and health catastrophe waiting to happen. So far Enbridge has shown minute ability to clean up the spills it has perpetrated in the past. Thinking people cannot allow this pipeline to make it off the drawing board.

  9. Just the property of the Bitumen being highly abrasive should be cause for alarm. bitumen continuously being pushed through the pipe at high pressure could only lead to assured eventual failure of the pipeline.

  10. Harper is a true dictator and, no true Canadian. Harper is a traitor, selling Canada out to Communist China.

    On NV Grumps web site. There is a map of the sea going into Kitimat Port. Strangely N.V Grumps noted, there were many little islands missing on that strange map.

    Harper, Premier Redford, big oil and Enbridge, will stoop to what ever it takes, to force the Enbridge pipeline into BC.

    No Canadian has to honor nor obey traitors, who commit treason against our country.

  11. O my, I’ll be sharing this far and wide!!! Many many thanks – absolutely wonderful, attention-holding, and right on the mark!!

    Huge Kudos to you!! and – as they say .. You Go Girl!!

  12. Thank you for everything it took to write an deliver the most excellent retort response to the latest insulting full page advertisements taken out by the proponent that ty to whitewash the real character of the wa the do business. I am grateful to you and those who make the stand on behalf of the increasing many who know the folly this pipeline will inflict upon us (the land, tha water, the species, the history….).

  13. Just got back from Comox. Not only did the panel not cut me off (which, frankly, I was expecting them to do), but apparently one of the panel members was seen attempting to hide a snigger behind his hand. There was much laughter and a big round of applause from the spectators, who were duly chastised for “reacting” during presentations, as it could make it difficult for the panel to hear.

    However, the BEST moment of the afternoon was during the set of presentations after mine. Apparently some of the locals had hatched a bit of a plot. As they all began to stand up, one of the organisers waved a red card (I kid you not) and bustled the three panel members into a back room, to ensure they were not exposed to whatever protest was afoot. And what was the protest? Everyone sang ‘Oh, Canada”. A truly Keystone Kops moment, this rush to protect the panel members from the national anthem.

    And I am surprised say that when we got to the final line, “We stand on guard for thee”, my eyes actually got a bit moist. Not something that’s ever happened to me before, but this time it did hit me: When our government will not protect our environment, we really will have to guard it ourselves

  14. Thank you for the introduction to the real “Dil Bit”; not the one Harper and fellow travellers want us to know.

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