Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sinking bitumen to cause big trouble for Pacific exports?

A guy talking near some jars of bitumen.
Stolen from here.
Here's an article about how some scientists think that some diluted bitumen would sink in the event of an oil spill in the ocean. 
Merv Fingas says that Enbridge's expert, Alan Maki, is wrong when he says diluted bitumen is wrong. Fingas says the diluent separates from the bitumen in time, and then any bitumen that is denser than salt water will sink in the ocean, making cleanup more difficult. Quite a lot of bitumen is denser than salt water, although not all. He adds that bitumen is less damaging to sea life than conventional oil because it has "fewer soluble toxins". I suppose that squares with the observation that fish in the Athabasca river appear to be fine despite exposure to bitumen for thousands (millions?) of years.

So is he right? The article goes into a bunch of contradictory studies. Suffice to say, I think there's a good chance bitumen sinks more than conventional oil, but I really don't see why it's so hard to prove that conclusively. Why doesn't the NRC or someone go and do a test and put an end to this he-said she-said? 

This is somewhat topical for Enbridge, since they've recently been ordered to dredge parts of the Kalamazoo river, where a heavy oil spill took place last year. They explain that by saying the oil coated sediments which dragged it down, something that could presumably happen in the ocean with diluted bitumen. 

Solutions if Fingas is right? Well I guess they could upgrade any bitumen before shipping it. Or continue shipping exclusively to the US. Or maybe ship it really, really carefully?

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