National Academy of Science Report Finds Oil Sands Crude No More Likely to Spill than Any Other Type of Oil
Report A “Boon for Backers of the Keystone XL Pipeline”
Yesterday, on a busy news day involving the Keystone XL pipeline, some may have missed that the National Research Center (NRC) of the National Academy of Science (NAS) released an important report which states unequivocally that diluted bitumen (one of the kinds of crude oil that will be transported by the Keystone XL pipeline) does not pose an increased risk compared to other crude oils when transported via pipeline. As Mark Barteau, an author of the report and professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan put it:
Diluted bitumen has density and viscosity ranges that are comparable with those of other crude oils. It moves through pipelines in a manner similar to other crude oils with respect to flow rate, pressure, and operating temperature. There’s nothing extraordinary about pipeline shipments of diluted bitumen to make them more likely than other crude oils to cause releases.
And from the report itself:
The committee does not find any causes of pipeline failure unique to the transportation of diluted bitumen. Furthermore, the committee does not find evidence of chemical or physical properties of diluted bitumen that are outside the range of other crude oils or any other aspect of its transportation by transmission pipeline that would make diluted bitumen more likely than other crude oils to cause releases.
This NRC report bolsters the State Department’s environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline, which found that,“[B]ased on averages of approximately 5 years, the acids [in diluted bitumen] are too stable to be corrosive under transmission pipeline temperatures,” and that, “Dilbit viscosity is comparable to those of conventional heavy crude oils and there is no evidence of increased corrosion or other potential pipeline threat due to viscosity.” Recent testing and studies done by ASTM International and Penspen have also come to the same conclusion.
NAS’s findings are the latest in a series of reports that destroy one of the primary talking points of Keystone XL opponents, such as Sierra Club’s Michael Brune, who has claimed that “[t]o pass through the pipelines, tar sands must be brought to extreme temperatures and pressures. Add sand and powerful chemicals to this equation, and you’ve got a formula for corroding and rupturing steel pipes, leading to breaches that spill toxic goo into aquifers and rivers.” Not true. As the NAS report states, “There is no evidence that operating temperatures and pressures are higher or more likely to fluctuate when pipelines transport diluted bitumen than when they transport other crude oils of similar density and viscosity.”
API’s Peter Lidiak made the important point that, “Canadian oil sands crudes have been transported safely in the U.S. for more than 40 years,” and “not a single corrosion-related pipeline release from pipelines carrying any Canadian crude has been reported.” With that in mind, Keystone XL is also going above and beyond the requirements of any other pipeline by adopting 57 extra safety measures, leading the State Department to declare that the project would “have a degree of safety over any other.” With this latest NAS study, it’s time, as Peter Lidiak said, to “put false claims to the contrary to rest.”
What They’re Saying About the NAS Report:
USA TODAY: “A congressionally mandated report Tuesday says the Canadian tar sands that a controversial pipeline plans to carry to the Midwest is no more likely than other crude oil to cause pipeline failure, a finding that undercuts one reason environmentalists say President Obama should reject the billion-dollar project.”
Bloomberg: Keystone Gains as Study Shows Oil Sands Pose No Added Spill Risk: “Heavy crude oil to be carried by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline poses no greater risk of a spill than other types of oil, the National Research Council said in a report. The report disputes arguments made by Keystone opponents that diluted bitumen, a tar-like substance mined in Alberta’s oil sands, is more corrosive than conventional crude oil and is more likely to create ruptures and oil spills in pipelines. The review of spills “did not find any causes of pipeline failure unique to the transport of diluted bitumen,” according to a statement from the council, part of the National Academy of Sciences that advises the U.S. government on science policy. “There’s nothing extraordinary about pipeline shipments of diluted bitumen to make them more likely than other crude oils to cause releases,” Mark Barteau, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Michigan, said in a statement accompanying the report released today. Barteau was the chairman of the committee that wrote the report.”
FuelFix: Federal scientists: Diluted oil sands crude poses no higher pipeline risk: “The heavy oil sands crude that would flow through Keystone XL is no more likely to cause pipelines to corrode and fail than other crudes, according to a government study Tuesday that could give a boost to the controversial TransCanada Corp. project. But the report by the National Academy of Sciences did not examine the challenges in cleaning up any spills of dense Canadian bitumen that can only be transported through U.S. pipelines after it is diluted with lighter oils. And critics said the study focused too much on the risks of pipeline transmission of diluted bitumen in comparison with other heavy crude — not lighter oils and petroleum products that historically have been the mainstay of the U.S. pipeline network.”
Reuters: Canada oil no more harmful to pipelines than other crude-report: “Producers of heavy crude, or bitumen, from Canada’s oil sands, dilute the oil with light hydrocarbons so it can flow through pipelines. Environmental groups contend the mixture corrodes the insides of pipelines because of its acidic and mineral content. The debate about the corrosiveness of Canadian oil has intensified after several high-profile leaks involving the crude. Opponents of Canadian oil sands projects have used the argument as the Obama administration considers permitting TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry up to 830,000 barrels per day of Canadian and domestic oil. But the National Research Council report, required by a 2011 pipeline safety law, said the oil mix was no different than other crude oils. ‘Diluted bitumen does not have unique or extreme properties that make it more likely than other crude oils to cause internal damage to transmission pipelines from corrosion or erosion,’ the report said.”
Politico: The conclusions of the much-anticipated study are a boon for backers of the Keystone XL pipeline: Diluted bitumen is no more corrosive than crude oil, nor more likely to spill from a pipeline than any other type of crude oil, according to a study released today by the National Research Council. The conclusions of the much-anticipated study are a boon for backers of the Keystone XL pipeline, discounting at least one concern of opponents who say the diluted bitumen is more corrosive to pipelines and therefore makes them more subject to spills.
Greenwire: Major pipeline study upends Keystone XL battle: Larger pipelines carrying heavy Canadian oil sands fuel are at no greater risk of a spill than those running conventional crude, the National Academy of Sciences concluded today in a study hotly anticipated by both camps in the long-running debate over Keystone XL. The NAS study deals a blow to one central safety argument made by opponents of the $5.3 billion Keystone XL link — that the heavier chemical components of so-called diluted bitumen make it more dangerous to ship…