New study confirms dilbit safe for pipelines

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Author: Northern Gateway
Dated: 24 November 2012

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has confirmed that diluted bitumen does not present additional corrosion risks in transport pipelines in a study set to be posted to their website next week.

If you’ve followed the pipeline debate in Canada, you’ve likely heard pipeline and oil sands opponents say that dilbit is highly corrosive and causes pipelines to rupture more frequently than conventional crude oil. Industry has, of course, disputed these nonsensical claims publicly—it’s illogical that companies would risk their massive investments in pipeline infrastructure transporting products with significant corrosion risk to pipeline steel. But you don’t need to take our word for it… 

Government researchers have been testing oil corrosiveness for almost two decades. The latest study, conducted in 2012 for NRCan, concluded that diluted bitumen is not corrosive—it was rated 3 on a scale of 20, where anything 4 and below on the scale is considered non corrosive to pipeline steel.

If you’re inclined to believe dilbit is more corrosive than conventional crude oil given what you’ve been told by oil sands and pipeline opponents, you might be even more surprised to learn that NRCan’s study could not establish any difference between dilbit and other oil types:

"We did not see any difference whatsoever. We could not differentiate" [it from other types of oil] Sankara Papavinasam, a research scientist with Natural Resources Canada, told the Globe and Mail.   

As for the claims that heat could cause diluted bitumen to be corrosive, the Canada Research Chair in Pipeline Engineering at the University of Calgary stated, "it's not an issue." 

Alberta Innovates, an independent government body, published a literature review study in 2011 that also came to the conclusion that there is no scientific evidence supporting the claim that diluted bitumen presents a higher internal corrosion risk to transport pipelines.

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  • Northern Gateway, Feb 04th, 2013 (2 years ago)

    Hi Scott, thanks for your comment and questions.

    There's a lot of misinformation about diluted bitumen circulating these days; we understand it can be hard to determine what the facts are. Hopefully this response to you helps to clear up some confusion.

    Diluted bitumen is not "sand-like particles of bitumen suspended in oil."

    As noted by an earlier study conducted by Alberta Innovates "the characteristics of dilbit are not unique and are comparable to conventional crude oils... The sediment levels of the dilbit crudes were comparable to or lower than the conventional crudes, except for a dilsynbit crude, which showed more than double the quantity of solids than most other crudes, but was still well below the limit set by regulatory agencies and industry. The solids size distribution is unknown as is the role of larger size solids in the formation of pipeline deposits. Erosion corrosion was found to be improbable and erosion, if present, is expected to be gradual and observed by regular mitigation practices." The full study is here: http://www.ai-ees.ca/media/6860/1919_corrosivity_of_dilbit_vs_conventional_crude-nov28-11_rev1.pdf

    The clean-up cost of the Kalamazoo River has been paid for by Enbridge. In Canada, pipeline operators are responsible for clean-up costs as well. Please note, the Kalamazoo clean-up has progressed to the point where the river has been reopened and recreation opportunities have been enhanced. Monitoring and clean-up activities continue today and will continue until the job has been finished to the satisfaction of the US EPA, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the local communities.

    Here's a video Enbridge produced last year to show the progress of clean-up and restoration activities on the river: http://www.northerngateway.ca/news-and-media/northern-gateway-blogs/pipeline-safety/a-river-returns-to-its-people/

  • Scott (Houston BC), Feb 03rd, 2013 (2 years ago)

    I'm curious as to whether this study took into account only chemical corrosion (chemical degradation of steel on the molecular level) and ignored physical corrosion, essentially wear or erosion of the pipe material by the heavy particles in dilbit (the same mechanism used in sandblasting). I know that bitumen is essentially oil suspended in sand, and i can imagine pumping that through a pipeline is going to chew through it pretty fast.

    Why does Enbridge insist on piping Dilbit across BC? Your study may show that it is no more chemically corrosive than conventional oil, but history shows that it is massively more environmentally damaging. A rupture of an Enbridge operated pipeline in Michigan in 2010 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talmadge_Creek_oil_spill) has ruined the Kalamazoo river, with dilbit sinking to the bottom of the river (unlike conventional oil, which floats). My favorite part: Enbridge was fined $3.7 million (Enbridge is one of the most fined companies in the industry) meanwhile the clean up cost is pushing $765 million as of summer 2012. Where does that extra $761.3 mil come from? if northern gateway is approved, our pockets my fellow British Colombians.

    If we have to pipe anything, lets pipe conventional oil (bitumen is turned into conventional oil through an upgrading process). But enbridge is a pipeline company, not an upgrading company.

  • Northern Gateway, Nov 26th, 2012 (2 years ago)

    Hi Greig, thank you for joining the conversation.

    NRCan has not yet published the research papers on their website. When they do, they should be available on this page: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/publications/home/87

    We'll keep watching for when the papers are linked there. Once they are uploaded, we'll link directly to them.

    The Globe and Mail article linked in the post above provides additional discussion on the reports. We've also linked directly to the Alberta Innovates study in addition to newspaper commentary on that study.

  • Greig Hull, Nov 26th, 2012 (2 years ago)

    Please provde links to the research papers, as published, so people can follow up on your statements.

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