The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on Tuesday released a report on diluted bitumen that disappointingly fails to answer the basic question of what the risks are once a spill happens. Citizens understand tarsands shares some chemical properties of other heavy crude like oil from Venezuela. However, the concerns about what happens once tarsands spills–most important the diluents like benzene that are used to thin the tarsands to flow inside pipelines–on land and water went unstudied by the NAS.
Coverage in The Washington Post:

Bold Nebraska Response:

“Moms in Michigan and Arkansas want this basic question answered: when a diluted bitumen pipeline spills what are the health and economic risks to our families, land and water. The NAS failed them and our kids by not conducting an in-depth study of tarsands and diluents, including benzene, spilling in our water and near our homes. Practical reality of the ongoing tarsands cleanup in Michigan and Arkansas show us tarsands spills are different and need independent scientific and public health attention.” -Jane Kleeb, Bold Nebraska Executive Director

National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Response:

“Like diluted bitumen, the production and export in pipelines of large volumes of heavy Canadian crudes is a relatively recent development which has not been accompanied by adequate due diligence on the part of regulators and the industry. It appears that PHMSA did not ask the NAS to consider the more relevant and useful question at hand. Does the recent influx of Canadian heavy crudes and diluted bitumen tar sands flooding the U.S. pipeline system presents an increased risk to the nation’s communities, waters and lands? Unfortunately, the NAS findings shed no light on that question.”

Key Areas the NAS Missed on Tarsands:

  • PHMSA narrowed the scope of the study they asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to conduct to such an extent that it was failed to address the key questions regarding diluted bitumen pipelines – whether pipelines moving diluted bitumen or similar crudes pose an increased risk to their communities, water resources and environment and whether our pipeline safety regulations are sufficient to mitigate these risks.
  • The study’s scope was narrowed to exclude an evaluation of whether diluted bitumen spills pose increased risks when spilled, whether the properties of diluted bitumen make leaks more difficult to detect when they occur, or whether the influx of heavy crude in the US pipeline system poses increased risks which require stronger regulatory oversight.
  • Three years after the Kalamazoo tar sands diluted bitumen spill, nearly a billion dollars spent on emergency response have failed to remove tar sands from about forty miles of the Kalamazoo River. In fact, this river may never be entirely cleaned up.
  • PHMSA asked NAS to evaluate an irrelevant question – namely, whether the influx of tar sands diluted bitumen poses similar risks as Canadian heavy crudes with similar characteristics.
  • The relevant question is whether the influx of heavy crudes, like diluted bitumen, pose a risk to the U.S. pipeline system and the communities, water resources and lands it crosses. The NAS findings do not shed light on this question, or whether our regulations are adequate to deal with an increased number of pipelines carrying heavy crude.
  • We know that pipelines in the northern Midwest moving the largest volumes of both diluted bitumen tar sands and similar heavy Canadian crudes for the longest period of time spilled 3.6 times more crude per mile over the last three years than the national average.
  • The NAS study does not shed light on whether this is a trend we can expect to continue as the US pipeline system continues to be flooded by heavy Canadian crudes.