|Tanker Navigating the Second Narrows|
No Margin for Error
Harper's fetish to deliver petro-sludge to China via British Columbia ports includes Vancouver as well as Kitimat. If Kinder Morgan gets its way, Vancouver could play supertanker roulette just about once a day. That probably sounds a bit alarmist to anyone unfamiliar with the Second Narrows passage these ships would have to navigate. Others know better.
Now there's word from The Tyee, about what a bitumen tanker disaster could mean for the population of Vancouver and it's not good. Check out the graphic here.
Stinking. Toxic. Explosive. These words could describe the cloud of fumes filling the airshed of the Lower Mainland if there was a tanker spill of diluted bitumen in Vancouver harbour. The public health emergency and potential evacuation of large parts of the city might easily overshadow the more well known consequences of an oil spill as local authorities struggle to move hundreds of thousands of people out of harm's way.
Companies operating in the oil sands are increasingly shipping unrefined bitumen because it is more profitable for them to refine it elsewhere. This lack of value-added processing, supported by the Harper government, not only limits the long-term employment and economic benefits of bitumen extraction, it also creates enormous public safety hazards downstream.
Bitumen is too thick to pump through a pipeline so it must be diluted with a variety of volatile and toxic chemicals imported from elsewhere around the world. This mixture is called "diluted bitumen" and is more abrasive, corrosive and acidic than conventional crude, and typically must be piped under higher temperatures and pressures -- raising the risk of pipeline failures.
The additional risk is that the toxic solvents used to dilute bitumen can quickly evaporate when released into the environment, increasing public safety risks and complicating clean-up efforts if the heavy bitumen sinks into water.
...Oil sands operators have considered the composition of diluted bitumen blends a trade secret and regulators are often not provided detailed information on the types of chemicals they might have to respond to in the event of a spill and subsequent public health emergency. What information is available is not reassuring. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for one common variety of diluted bitumen warns:
"High vapour concentrations are irritating to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs; may cause headaches and dizziness; may be anesthetic and may cause other central nervous system effects, including death. Hydrogen sulphide gas may be released. Hydrogen sulphide may cause irritation, breathing failure, coma and death, without necessarily any warning odour being sensed. Avoid breathing vapours or mists."
Expert testimony last year to the U.S. Congress also flagged the possibility of off-gassing bitumen solvents "exploding with catastrophic results." The MSDS sheet from Imperial Oil states "Extremely flammable; material will readily ignite at normal temperatures... may release vapours that form flammable mixtures at or above the flash point."
Yet these Albertacentric, Big Oil pandering Petro-Pols on both sides of the floor of the Commons don't think twice about exposing British Columbia to this virtually inevitable environmental disaster. What do we have to do to stop this, secede?