Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Harper's Bitumen Policy - Don't Ask, Don't Tell

The Harper government has gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid the public learning just what's in bitumen and the risk that stuff poses to our rivers, our lakes, our groundwater supply and our oceans.  Mum's the word.

Two things we've learned about Harper by now.  He's secretive and pathologically dishonest.  The man is a born liar.

One of those subjects Harper wants to keep out of the public eye is bitumen, his Athabasca Tar Sands bounty.  His government commissioned a study in 2003 and promptly buried it.  It has now surfaced but it raises a massive number of questions and delivers damned few answers.

Here's what the Canadian Press says is missing from the report.

Toxicology: Research on the biological effects of oilsands products is lacking. Report found no peer-reviewed articles at all.

Bitumen in water: There is little information on how bitumen, diluted bitumen or products used to dilute bitumen behave in water, including whether bitumen sinks or floats.

Metals: Although bitumen has different heavy-metal concentrations and components than conventional oil, their behaviour in a spill hasn't been studied.

Condensate: Not much is known on the toxicity of condensate — a lighter hydrocarbon used to dilute bitumen for pumping — once it enters a body of water.

Pathways: The mechanics of how bitumen and other oilsands products interact with organisms is unknown.

Air toxicity: More research is needed on the toxicity and deposition of oilsands hydrocarbons through the air.

Specific water bodies: Little research has been done on the effects of hydrocarbon spills specific to Canadian waters such as the Great Lakes.

Photo-toxicity: Studies should be conducted on whether chemicals in bitumen are made more toxic by sunlight, as happens with some hydrocarbons

Dispersants: More needs to be known about the interaction of bitumen, the environment and dispersants, which are chemicals sometimes used to break up and speed the decomposition of oilspills.

Ice: The behaviour of oil, bitumen and dispersant in the ice-choked, cold and dark waters of the Canadian Arctic is largely unknown.

The government has been sitting on this report since 2013.  A spokesman for Fisheries & Oceans tried to fend off criticism by saying that a peer reviewed version of the report will be released soon.  Peer reviewed?  What is there that warrants peer review?  The report simply lists, item by item, all the critical information we don't have, all the matters that haven't been studied.  How do you peer review that?  

The industry responded quickly and, as expected, the bullshit flowed hot and heavy.

"There have been a number of studies by reputable third-party and scientific organizations ... that demonstrate that diluted bitumen behaves just like any other type of crude oil product that's transported through our pipeline," he said.

In an emailed statement, Phillipe Reicher of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association made a similar point.

"Generally speaking, we have no operational evidence that indicates that diluted bitumen behaves differently than other forms of crude oil," he said.

Claiming that dilbit behaves just like any other type of crude oil and that there's no operational evidence to indicate that dilbit behaves differently than other forms of crude is an outrageous and very deliberate lie.  Just two words are needed to put the lie to that - Kalamazoo River.  

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