Keystone aided as Bitumen study finds no greater spill risks

Heavy crude oil to be carried by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline poses no greater risk of a spill than other types of oil, the National Research Council said in a report.

The report disputes arguments made by Keystone opponents that diluted bitumen, a tar-like substance mined in Alberta’s oil sands, is more corrosive than conventional crude oil and is more likely to create ruptures and oil spills in pipelines.

“There have been several studies to look at this over the years, but none that have been as credible and comprehensive as the NAS study,” said Greg Stringham, vice president of markets and oil sands for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said in a telephone interview from Calgary. “It does provide a very definitive conclusion.”

The study may also bolster the case for other pipelines to carry oil derived from Canadian tar sands, he said.

The review of spills “did not find any causes of pipeline failure unique to the transport of diluted bitumen,” according to a statement from the council, part of the National Academy of Sciences that advises the U.S. government on science policy.

‘Nothing Extraordinary’

“There’s nothing extraordinary about pipeline shipments of diluted bitumen to make them more likely than other crude oils to cause releases,” Mark Barteau, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Michigan, said in a statement accompanying the report released today. Barteau was the chairman of the committee that wrote the report.

The State Department is reviewing TransCanada Corp.’s application to build the $5.3 billion link between Alberta and Steele City, Nebraska, where the pipeline would link to a project under construction to carry the oil to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast. A decision is possible later this year.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, a part of the U.S. Transportation Department, requested the council’s report. Congress directed the department to study transporting diluted bitumen in a 2012 pipeline safety law.

“Dilbit” has been transported in the U.S. for 30 years, according to the report. The U.S. has about 55,000 miles (88,500 kilometers) of oil transmission lines. Pipeline spills ranged from 80 to 120 a year from 2002 to 2011, according to the study. Any spill releasing 5 gallons or more is reported.

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