The 16-page report describes diluted bitumen as a raw and thick form of tar sands oil that is significantly more acidic and corrosive than standard oil and requires increased heat and pressure to move through pipelines. Those attributes make it more difficult to clean up after a spill.
Plus, that different chemical composition — five to 10 times as much sulfur as conventional crude and more chloride salts — can weaken pipelines and make them susceptible to breaking during pressure spikes. As well, researchers found that refiners are discovering more quartz sand and other solid material in diluted bitumen that essentially sandblasts pipe interiors.
An analysis in the report points out that Alberta's pipeline system — which is newer and carries more oil sands — has experienced 16 times more safety incidences due to internal corrosion than the U.S. pipeline system.
Between 2000 and 2010, Casey-Lefkowitz said, U.S. imports of diluted bitumen have grown five-fold from 100,000 to 500,000 barrels per day. That number could balloon to 1.5 million barrels per day by 2019.
Keystone XL, Lakeland Under Report Microscope
The report analyzes potential elevated safety risks of two pipeline systems — TransCanada's existing Keystone pipeline and the proposed Keystone XL, as well as the Lakehead system operated by Canadian-based .
Diluted bitumen is the primary product transported on Keystone, which runs from Alberta to Illinois and Oklahoma. Both conventional oil and tar sands oil are shipped via the Lakehead system that goes from the Canadian border to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.
If built, Keystone XL's six-state U.S. portion would stretch 1,375 miles through Montana, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. Leaks of diluted bitumen on that pipeline would threaten the Ogallala Aquifer, a massive underground water source in the Midwest and Great Plains that supports agriculture and provides drinking water for millions.
Michigan's Kalamazoo River is still fouled by the aftermath of a rupture along an Enbridge pipeline between Indiana and Ontario that dumped more than 800,000 gallons of oil last July. Submerged oil means an Environmental Protection Agency-enforced ban on wading, swimming and fishing along a 30-mile stretch of the river remains in place.
The report highlights how pipeline spills in the Upper Midwest threaten the Great Lakes, which account for one-fifth of the world's freshwater. It also describes the risks that pipe ruptures in the central U.S. pose to other iconic waterways and already-compromised landscapes that provide crucial habitat for birds, fish and other creatures.
Rivers on the list include the Missouri, Yellowstone, Mississippi, Platte, Red and Neches. Ecosystems on the list include the sand dunes of Indiana, sandills of Nebraska, prairies of Kansas, prairie potholes and shortgrass prairies of South Dakota, and migration routes of pronghorn antelope in Montana.
Canadians Dispute Wrong Version
A Canadian regulatory agency issued a lengthy Wednesday claiming NRDC's analysis of pipeline data were flawed and resulted in misleading and incorrect conclusions.
However, NRDC countered the statement, saying that Alberta's based its argument on an earlier and incomplete version of the report from December.
"We stand by the information provided in the report — which is well documented and reviewed," Casey-Lefkowitz and Anthony Swift, both of NRDC, spelling out at length how they reached specific conclusions in the report.
For instance, "in comparing the Alberta and U.S. hazardous liquid system spill rates and incidence of internal corrosion, the report made every effort to make an 'apples to apples' comparison," they wrote.