Wednesday, January 08, 2014

After Lac Megantic, After Plaster Rock, Just How Volatile is Athabasca DilBit Anyway?

It seems like we're producing a lot of unusually volatile oil products these days.  Massive explosions of derailed oil tankers wiped out a big chunk of Lac Megantic and took the lives of more than 60-residents who never had a chance to escape the explosive inferno.

Late yesterday, a derailment of five oil cars and four propane cars near Plaster Rock, New Brunswick had fire crews keeping well away from the site until this morning, preferring to let the fire burn itself out.

On January 2, U.S. authorities issued a warning that fracked oil from the enormous Bakken field was unduly volatile three days after a massive explosion in Casselton, North Dakota.   The question is finally being asked whether these rail cars laden with unconventional oil are "bomb trains"?

This is a question of grave concern to British Columbians.  The stuff the Alberta and federal governments want to transport across our province may be the most volatile of them all.  It's like Alison Redford and Stephen Harper want to take a dump in our backyard and hope we won't notice.

In their obsessive quest to get bitumen to "tidewater" they have to cut a number of cost and safety corners.  The stuff they're trying to export is a form of very heavy oil mixed with a variety of nasty products including petcoke (granular coal), toxins and carcinogens.  They could refine that garbage out on site in Athabasca but that would undermine any notional profitability.   Yet the way they want to market bitumen it won't go through a pipeline.  Too sludgy by far.  The answer is to bring in a light hydrocarbon product, a diluent; mix that with the sludge, heat it and then, with enough pressure, DilBit will move through a pipeline.

The question that needs to be answered in light of Lake Megantic, Plaster Rock and Casselton, is just how volatile is DilBit?  What risks, in addition to the inevitable spills, does it pose along the pipeline routes?  Will the Northern Gateway put Kitimat at risk?  What about Kinder Morgan's pipeline that passes through the Lower Mainland to its port in Burnaby?

As Ray Grigg points out, diluent is laced with benzine and naptha.   These are volatile, highly-flammable solvents.  Enough. 


Troy Thomas said...

A train of fracked oil exploded in North Dakota, too, just recently.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hey Troy. Yet Joe Oliver wants to consider shipping 2-3 million barrels a day into Kitimat by rail.

kootcoot said...

Let me put on my tin foil hat and speculate that Joe Oliver's minions are blowing up trains on purpose, in order to garner support for pipelines! Actually I don't have a tin foil hat and I don't think that, but just watch the pro-pipe suckers use it as an argument for pipelines to move crap that should be left in the ground to begin with.

There is no profit in this crap, only loses, except for Steve and Joe's oiley cartel buddies. The trade in dilbit crap makes the Columbian drug lords look like girl scouts selling cookies door to door.

Ray Blessin said...

The pipeliners are cracking the champagne every time a tanker train blows up! It's like a gift!

e.a.f. said...

oh, mound of sound, its just few lives here and there. lets not stand in the way of corporate profits.

Moving dangerous goods by train has always been a problem. However, now there is so much of it being moved there are of course more accidents. we live in a modern society, goods have to be moved. there is of course a safe and expensive way and a cheap and dangerous way. Politicians and corporations are more interested in cheap and don't care if its dangerous.

If the tanker cars were properly built, if the rails were maintained, if the trains themselves were maintained and inspected, the way air planes once were, and speeds were reduced things might improve. We don't of course need to move a lot of this stuff around, if we would just use it in our own country.