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NAS Bitumen Study Confirms: Tarsands Sinks in Water

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The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) today released a new study on tarsands (“diluted bitumen”), the heavy Canadian crude that would have flowed through the Keystone XL pipeline, which backs up claims citizens have been making for years about risks to our land and water.

“Tarsands is different than traditional oil — it sinks when it hits water, it’s more complicated to clean up, and emergency response methods are not sufficient. Turns out farmers, ranchers, moms and Tribal leaders were not crazy, over the top or misguided. We were right.”
—Jane Kleeb, Bold Nebraska

ANALYSIS OF THE NAS STUDY BY NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council)

Key Takeaways from NAS Dilbit Study:

1. ES, Pg. 2: In comparison to other commonly transported crude oils, many of the chemical and physical properties of diluted bitumen, especially those relevant to environmental impacts, are found to differ substantially from those of the other crude oils. The key differences are in the exceptionally high density, viscosity, and adhesion properties of the bitumen component of the diluted bitumen that dictate environmental behavior as the crude oil is subjected to weathering (a term that refers to physical and chemical changes of spilled oil).

2.  ES, Pgs. 2-3: Spills of diluted bitumen into a body of water initially float and spread while evaporation of volatile compounds may present health and explosion hazards, as occurs with nearly all crude oils. It is the subsequent weathering effects, unique to diluted bitumen, that merit special response strategies and tactics . . . In cases where traditional removal or containment techniques are not immediately successful, the possibility of submerged and sunken oil increases. This situation is highly problematic for spill response because 1) there are few effective techniques for detection, containment, and recovery of oil that is submerged in the water column, and 2) available techniques for responding to oil that has sunken to the bottom have variable effectiveness depending on the spill conditions.

3. ES, Pg. 3: The majority of the properties and outcomes that differ from commonly transported crudes are associated not with freshly spilled diluted bitumen, but with the weathering products that form within days after a spill. Given these greater levels of concern for weathered diluted bitumen, spills of diluted bitumen should elicit unique, immediate actions in response.

4. ES, Pg. 3: Broadly, regulations and agency practices do not take the unique properties of diluted bitumen into account, nor do they encourage effective planning for spills of diluted bitumen

5. ES, Pg. 3: In light of the aforementioned analysis, comparisons, and review of the regulations, it is clear that the differences in the chemical and physical properties relevant to environmental impact warrant modifications to the regulations governing diluted bitumen spill response plans, preparedness, and cleanup.

Key Recommendations from NAS:

1. PHMSA regulation modification to require clarification of types/names of crude oil transported in pipe, identification of areas susceptible to dilbit spills crossed by pipe, spill response planning focused on dilbit’s unique characteristics, review of adequacy of spill response plans, increased reporting on types/volumes of oil transported.

2. Require development of spill remediation techniques specific to dilbit.

3. Adopt industry-standard names/classifications for types of crude oils transported.

4. Improve US Coast Guard specificity for classifying types of crude oil.

5. NOAA lead predictive modeling of dilbit spills from pipelines.

6. Increased coordination among all agencies and levels of gov’t involved in spill response.

7. EPA study of adhesion issues.

NAS Bitumen Study

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