Did you know that there is a tar sands pipeline already operating in BC and Northwestern Washington?
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 southwestern BC and northwestern Washington state it runs through drinking water sources and watersheds, high-density residential areas, schools, prime 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, for several years, has been silently transporting tar sands bitumen by pipeline to refineries on Puget Sound and to Kinder Morgan’s Westridge Terminal in Burnaby for export to Pacific Rim Markets. In February, 2012, a Globe and Mail article reported on a tanker shipment from the Westridge Terminal to China.
Also in February 2012, Kinder Morgan announced plans to build a new pipeline alongside the existing one allowing it to increase exports of diluted bitumen from 300,000 barrels per day to as much as 750,000 bpd. Recently company officials have revealed that approximately one quarter of the pipeline’s throughput is now diluted bitumen shipped to the Westridge Terminal. There it is pumped into tankers which sail through Burrard Inlet and the Straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca to refineries in California and China. Upgraded tar sands products go to the Chevron Refinery in Burnaby and also in a pipeline from Abbotsford, through Sumas, Washington to Puget Sound refineries.
What is tar sands diluted bitumen?
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 and, when moved through pipelines,, generates 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 sinks in water.
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 (one million litres) 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 cleanup 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 tankers out of Vancouver, threatening waterways in BC and Washington state, 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.
We are a group of concerned residents of southwestern BC who have come together to share information and resources concerning Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline which travels across the Fraser Valley, close to our rivers, farms, homes, schools and workplaces. We want to make an informed decision about the transportation of tar sands diluted bitumen and to hold Kinder Morgan accountable for putting our communities at risk.
Get involved and learn more! Come out to our Town Hall meetings!