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Thursday, 23 May 2013 10:03

Alberta Tar Sands Oil Is Already Flowing and Leaking Into the United States

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Pipeline-small image seen from belowYesterday, BuzzFlash wrote about how the de facto decision to let Alberta tar sands oil flow into the US -- and particularly Texas refineries and ports -- has already been made, beginning with the third segment of the Keystone Pipeline that is almost completed.

After we wrote the commentary, the House passed a bill that is a power grab by the big oil companies, TransCanada pipeline, and Canada to build a fourth more direct Keystone XL pipeline to Steele City, Nebraska.  It would increase capacity and profit, but it is not necessary for the tar sands oil to flow in the US; it already is.

As Politico reported on the House vote, "The House approved legislation Wednesday to green-light the Keystone XL oil pipeline (the fourth optional segment), giving Republicans a messaging victory heading into the Memorial Day recess."

It's a symbolic victory -- and an assertion of big oil power -- because Alberta Tar Sands oil is already flowing into the US as revealed by two prominent branch line leaks in Arkansas and Michigan.

On April 29, InsideClimateNews ran a story asking about the toxic Alberta Tar Sands spill in Arkansas:

One month after a 65-year-old ExxonMobil pipeline burst without warning and dumped Canadian tar sands oil in the town of Mayflower, Ark., government investigators and residents are still looking for answers to basic questions about the spill.

When did the pipeline begin leaking? When and how did the oil company find out about it? How quickly did the company act? How much oil spilled from the pipeline's 22-foot-long gash? And what condition was the line in before it ruptured?

Governmental units allowed ExxonMobil, as the feds allowed BP after the Gulf oil leak, to keep the press away from the Pegasus pipeline leak of tar sands oil in Arkansas as best they could. Although ExxonMobil has not disclosed the full extent of the leak, some estimates are as high as 300,000 gallons, according to Treehugger.

Native American activist Winona Duke recently wrote an op-ed in the Duluth News Tribune warning of expanding the Enbridge pipeline, which is already carrying Alberta Sands oil into the US:

Both the Pegasus and the Alberta Clipper [Enbridge] pipelines transport tar sands oil, or diluted bitumen; it’s acidic and requires higher temperatures for transport. Tar sands oil is 15 to 20 times more acidic than conventional oil and up to seven times thicker. Higher temperatures and high acidity in any pipeline make for a bad combination. Added is that bitumen has more quartz in it, and there is pipeline corrosion potential.

Tar sands oil is 16 times more likely to breach a pipeline than regular crude oil, according to a February 2011 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Wildlife Federation, Pipeline Safety Trust, and the Sierra Club. Yet Enbridge is determined to expand its capacity and its chances of risking more oil spills.

One more time: Enbridge could nearly double how many barrels per day flow through those pipeline veins of the Alberta Clipper. Now consider our ecosystem. Wetlands are like sponges; they soak up everything: the good, the bad and the oil spills.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration is a pretty important agency these days. It covers 2.5 million miles of pipelines with a scant 110 inspectors. In turn, pipelines are getting exemptions for areas not categorized as “high consequence.” These are structural exemptions in the integrity of the pipeline operation. In the Keystone pipeline case, the administration granted a special permit to TransCanada. The waiver allows the proposed pipeline to operate at 80 percent of the minimum yield strength of the pipe rather than the maximum of 72 percent required by federal regulations....

Enbridge is responsible for 804 pipeline spills totaling 6.8 million gallons of oil since 1999, according to the Polaris Institute. That includes the Kalamazoo spill, where 800,000 barrels of oil gushed for l7 days and where cleanup costs were $800 million — so far; cleanup isn’t done. The ecological impact, health impact, and insurance economic impact, in terms of lost property values and rising insurance costs, have never been calculated.

Indeed, InsideClimateNews won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on "'The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You've Never Heard Of,' a project that began with a seven-month investigation into the million-gallon spill of Canadian tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. It broadened into an examination of national pipeline safety issues, and how unprepared the nation is for the impending flood of imports of a more corrosive and more dangerous form of oil."

BuzzFlash received a response challenging yesterday's commentary about how the completion of the southern leg of the Keystone Pipeline will start the Alberta tar sands spigots flowing into Texas, where most of the carbon time bomb, toxic viscous oil will likely be shipped overseas.  The contention of the reader with a knowledge of the oil industry is that TransCanada has said it will not transport Alberta tar sands oil unless the new larger capacity northern pipeline is built.

But why then is there a widespread belief that tar sands oil is already being stored up in Cushing, Oklahoma, the Keystone Pipeline hub, pending the opening of the southern leg?

What the northern segment would mean is more profit, more capacity and a more direct route, but it is not necessary to begin the flow of the climate-destroying and toxic Alberta tar sands oil through the United States.

It is already happening. Ask the residents of cities in Arkansas and Michigan for a start.

(Photo: Wikipedia)