Sunday, November 23, 2014

Whether You Support Pipelines or Not, Here's Something We Can Surely Agree On.

No secret I'm opposed to both Kinder Morgan and Northern Gateway.  A sizeable majority of British Columbians are of the same mind but a significant minority supports the pipeline initiatives.  In situations like this it can be helpful to seek out areas of agreement, common ground.

Here's an idea we should all be able to endorse.  If you insist on shipping Athabasca oil to Asia, why not ship oil?  That may sound facetious but it's not.

Bad as these pipelines are, they're made far worse by what Ottawa and Alberta want to push through them - dilbit.  Dilbit is bitumen mixed with a light oil condensate called a diluent.  Bitumen is just too sludgy to push through a pipeline.  It's full of acids, toxins, heavy metals and, of course, petroleum coke or "petcoke," a granular and very high carbon form of sulfur-rich coal.  To get it through a pipeline you have to dilute it with condensate.  Even then you have to heat the mixture and propel it with powerful pumps to get it moving through the pipeline.

Pipeline opponents have plenty of reason to object to dilbit pipelines.  You're taking a product that is full of corrosives and forcing it through a pipeline under high pressure.  If you want to know what that pressurized corrosive does to a pipeline you might ask the authorities in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Yes, and that was an Enbridge pipeline.

British Columbians have ample reason for concern because a Kalamazoo-type spill here would likely happen in the mountainous wilderness where Enbridge intends to run Northern Gateway.  That would make it more difficult to detect and extremely difficult to get crews and equipment in to attempt clean up.  A spill into a fast-moving mountain stream would spread rapidly, confounding clean up efforts and endangering the ecology for great distances.  Enbridge repeatedly balked at cleaning up Kalamazoo.  How would the company respond to a far more difficult and enormously more costly clean up in British Columbia?

Another cause for concern is the prospect of a supertanker catastrophe. Navigating those northern coastal waters with their currents and tides is challenging on a good day and, up there, good days are not abundant.  When you're tasked with moving the volumes of dilbit Enbridge is planning for Northern Gateway, you have to keep tankers sailing in and out no matter the conditions and that is a formula for disaster.

Dilbit, because of all the sludge in it, sinks.  The condensate separates out and floats to the surface where it dissipates.  The bitumen component congeals and heads for the bottom which, in a lot of places up there, can be 600-feet down and neither the governments nor Enbridge has anything that can clean up a deepwater spill like that.

So, where is this elusive common ground?  I think both sides should be able to rule out the dilbit option/problem.  How can that be done?  Refine the product on site in Athabasca.  Do it there, at the source.  Then, once you have refined out all the garbage, all you'll be transporting is conventional crude oil.  The product you send to market won't be bitumen or diluted bitumen.  The acids, the abrasives, the toxins and heavy metals, the carcinogens and the petcoke will be removed and dealt with on site in Alberta where they belong.

That doesn't mean we'd be okay with it.  The 1989 Exxon Valdez catastrophe, after all, was a conventional oil spill,the ship didn't even sink, and, a quarter century later, Prince William Sound still isn't cleaned up. However refined oil that floats is vastly preferable to hazmat oil that sinks and coats the bottom for generations, poisoning the entire marine habitat.

Another major factor is that transporting fully refined conventional crude oil significantly cuts the volume of product shipped.  The condensate isn't in there. The crud isn't in there.  All of that is removed and left behind in Alberta.  That refining process would allow a major reduction of up to 40% in the number of supertanker trips required to get the product to overseas markets.  The more tanker trips you have the more groundings or sinkings you'll have.  It's that simple.  Even pipeline supporters can understand that.

Bear in mind that the stuff Big Oil and its governmental minions want to ship, dilbit, still has to be refined somewhere.  That somewhere will be in Asia where they'll have to refine out not only the condensate but also all the crud, including the pet coke, out of the bitumen.  So what could be the objection to refining the goop in Athabasca?

What we're usually told is that it would be uneconomical to refine bitumen in Alberta.  Overseas markets, we're told, have unused refining capacity.  So what? We could not only address the hazmat issue but also create a lot of jobs and revenue by refining Athabasca bitumen on site.

I suspect the on-site refining option would be refused because it would add an unbearable burden to the sleight-of-hand trick used to portray the Tar Sands as a huge money maker.  It would also leave Alberta responsible for the energy requirements and emissions related to the refining process.

So you can see how, to a British Columbian, this smacks of a set up.  We have to accept the risk of a potentially catastrophic hazmat spill to bolster the bottom line of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.  They're externalizing the risks, offloading them on the province and people of British Columbia, and we're being told they're doing it as of right.

That they're dealing us cards from a stacked deck is obvious.  One by one, Harper has stripped us of our safeguards.  He moved the West Coast oil spill emergency centre to Quebec.  He shut down entire sections of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans responsible for monitoring our coastal marine habitat. He trashed fisheries regulations. He closed essential Coast Guard installations.  He gutted the navigation regulations to accommodate the supertanker armada.  He set up an utterly fraudulent environmental review process, plainly sculpted to deliver a scripted result.  He's engaged the state security apparatus to spy on environmentalists.  Now you tell me this federal government isn't already at war with us.

When taken in the context of this litany of skulduggery, the refusal to refine this bitumen on site in Alberta can be seen in a plain light for what it is - a deliberate choice to expose British Columbia to enormous risks by transporting hazmat - hazardous materials - through highly risky conditions while simultaneously stripping us of every means we ever had to respond to catastrophe.


Toby said...

Mound, you are talking about the the Peter Lougheed proposal. It makes sense. It keeps the jobs and profits in Alberta. It means shipping a safer product. It means the leftovers can be put back in the hole they came out of.

Why would Steven Harper oppose this? Look at his backers, the Koch Brothers and other foreign oil men.

The Mound of Sound said...

They always seem to go quiet whenever the subject of petcoke comes up. The producers try to pretend that it has nothing to do with them. I have linked to a story in which the oil company calls petcoke "benign." The fact is the stuff gets burned in some thermal-electric plant in Asia.

John's Aghast said...

Finally someone offering a solution instead of wailing about the ineptitude of Chrispy and Steve.
Refine the stuff in Alberta. No refinery capacity? Barge the refinery modules (instead of LNG Modules) in from South Korea.
Canadian labour too expensive? Bring the TFWs in that were going to refine it in Asia. No loss of Canadian jobs. In fact, we can capitalize on the camps and associated facilities to house all the TFWs.
Minimize the carnage on land, sea and air. Insist on environmental standards that would be lacking at the destination.
Don't like the Kitimat/Prince Rupert ports? Ship it up the McKenzie Valley and through the Beaufort Sea = a much less hazardous route through potential oil fields.
And the pipeline route is already approved?

Enough castigating the oil proponents and their government partners. Get onside and insist on concessions to safeguard the environment and our economy.

The Mound of Sound said...

The only problem is, John, that we can 'insist' until our heads explode. It won't make any difference. The pipelines Enbridge and Trans-Canada intend to build are dilbit pipelines.

As Toby has pointed out, Peter Lougheed understood this and he's the last leader Alberta had who did grasp how to properly deal with Athabasca bitumen.

There's simply nothing to "get onside" with. The despicable, underhanded way British Columbia has been treated at every turn shows that we're not dealing with people ready to do what's right - for us anyway.

John's Aghast said...

Hey Mound, I'm on your side. You're not capitulating already?
What do you mean there's nothing to "get onside with"?
Kinder Morgan wants a pipeline? Well, we'll go along with that PROVIDED ITS A FINISHED PRODUCT THAT YOU'RE PIPING.
Enbridge wants to ship Alberta's oilsands? We'll go along with that, PROVIDED ITS A FINISHED PRODUCT (and goes through the McKenzie Basin).
Heckfire, we've got plenty of time to negotiate, IF WE START NOW. First Nations will give us five or ten years breathing time, and hopefully by then no one will want the stuff.
There's gotta be another Peter Lougheed out there! We can't continually be dealt such lousy hands.

The Mound of Sound said...

No, John, I'm not capitulating. When you're up against people who constantly deal from the bottom of the deck your chances of a successful negotiated outcome are non-existent. We're going to have to fight this on social licence which means hordes of British Columbians standing up in defiance and getting arrested. These American companies have already shown they'll use muscle, not reason, with those who object. They know they've got the federal government, RCMP, CSIS and other government agencies in their pocket.

Purple library guy said...

I live in greater Vancouver, so I'm kind of un-thrilled about the prospect of a tanker full of dilbit rupturing right in the middle of bloody Burrard Inlet, which is barely big enough for the things to fit and is of course a busy harbour. Even on a financial level, the results of spilling tar all over Vancouver's shoreline would be catastrophic--tourism would go through the floor. From the marinas to all the little shoreside parks to the Stanley Park Seawall, it's outrageous that we're even contemplating putting all this at risk.
On top of that, it may be that the condensate seems to just "dissipate" if it's way out somewhere in the wilderness. But apparently it's really bad news to breathe it, we're talking serous health hazard or even potentiall fatal. I'm not wild about the prospect of a massive cloud of poison gas over the Lower Fucking Mainland. That condensate is also the stuff that blew away the town of Lac Megantic.

Refine it to crude . . . heck, refine it to gasoline and diesel, that would be way better. But even so, I'd much prefer it didn't happen at all. This globe ain't gonna stop warming until a while after we stop spending billions on pipelines and start spending those billions on renewable energy.

So, I've been at the Burnaby Mountain protests and in the next couple days I plan on getting myself arrested. It may be only symbolic, but whaddayagonnado?

The Mound of Sound said...

Stay in touch, PLG. Good luck.

Tim said...


Here in NS, NS Power, wholly owned by Emera (American company) bought petcoke that was sitting next to the great lakes. The curious thing about petcoke, is that it can't be burned in the US to the best of my knowledge. Yet, in NS it can be burned. They already have an outlet for their product in North America (a vast oversupply) so it makes strange corporate sense to have petcoke present overseas,

Ron Waller said...

Bitumen tankers are a good example of "externality" and moral hazard. Oil corporations are gambling with people's future: heads they win, tails an enormous cost is passed onto people.

As you point out, the Kalamazoo River bitumen spill is one of the costliest in US history.

So environmentalists should fight against pipelines and fight for a ban on exporting unrefined bitumen and demand leaders take a stand. So far Elizabeth May is the only one speaking out against this.

East Energy and even Keystone are a scam because the oil corporations really want to export dilbit to Asia to get the best price.

According to Andrew Leach there is a difference between upgrading and refining. Upgrading will convert the bitumen to heavy oil. This will be much less dangerous than dilbit. So environmentalists need to demand that bitumen is at least upgraded before being exported.

Purple library guy said...

The whole arrest thing was conducted in a very civilized fashion and I am none the worse for wear after napping a few hours in a cell. I heartily recommend crossing that police tape to anyone in the area. It may only be a symbolic action but the mounting numbers are drawing some media attention.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi, PLG. Good to hear that it wasn't a horror show. There seems to be a growing sense that these "blockadia" events are achieving a degree of permanence. I'm planning to make my appearance in Kitimat when the time comes.

So, what's the drill? Were you charged with trespassing or breach of the injunction? Were you simply held and released? What lies in store?

Purple library guy said...

Was charged with civil contempt of court for breaching the injunction. All protesters were going to have the same court date, Jan. 12. Were told that if we crossed a second time, the charge would be bumped to criminal contempt of court.
Luckily for us, though, it's already been thrown out on a technicality. Turns out when Kinder Morgan asked for the injunction, the GPS co-ordinates they specified were the wrong ones and so the police tape we crossed was not actually in a place covered by the injunction. So when K-M applied to have the injunction extended and amended, the judge threw out the charges against all the arrestees (except two who'd been charged with other stuff).
Some of us were left wondering, if K-M can't even get the co-ordinates of their drilling site right, how are we supposed to trust them to build the one pipeline that doesn't leak?!