Now that the “DEQ Open Houses” on the proposed corridor of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline are over, we’ve been hearing a lot of feedback on the information given to citizens by TransCanada representatives at the Nebraska government-backed sessions.

One of the biggest ways TransCanada is misleading the public is in the way they describe (or don’t describe) the contents of the pipe itself.  Commonly referred to as tarsands, this “Canadian Crude” (as TransCanada likes to spin it) is diluted bitumen.  

Diluted bitumen is a mixture of bitumen, a tar-like asphalt substance that is the “oil” itself, and diluent, a chemical cocktail made of natural gas condensates and other toxic, flammable and explosive substances.  

Because of the nature of this mixture, diluted bitumen is not the same as conventional crude oil, requires significantly more energy and effort to extract and refine, and contains many chemicals–some of which are known (like benzene), but many of which are unknown

So, to be clear…tarsands oil that could pump through the Ogallala Aquifer is bitumen (tarlike substance) mixed with diluents (chemicals).

TransCanada is also claiming that their oil and water won’t mix–that the oil will just float to the top and be easily removed in the case of a spill.  But experience with tarsands spills such as the one in Michigan in 2010 have shown that tarsands is much more difficult and costly to clean up than anyone could have imagined.  

In fact, the EPA has repeatedly cited “submerged oil” as one of the most expensive unintended consequences of the Kalamazoo tarsands spill. Tarsands oil sinks.

When TransCanada wants to downplay the danger of their tarsands pipeline, they want everyone to believe that tarsands oil is the same as conventional crude, that they don’t add any extra chemicals to it, and that even if they did, those chemicals are found in conventional crude, too, and are harmless. TransCanada and other tarsands pipeline companies such as Enbridge hide the truth about these chemicals behind the smokescreen of “proprietary information,” claiming that they can’t disclose “trade secrets.”

When pipeline companies want to cut corners and bend the rules to their benefit, however, they want to depend on the difference between diluted bitumen and conventional crude.  A recently-released study shows that neither Congress nor the IRS consider tarsands oil to be the same as conventional crude, and has exempted tarsands oil and pipeline companies from having to contribute funding to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.  

This amounts to an over $375 million (taxpayer paid) subsidy to the tar sands industry, with over $160 million of that total representing TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline system.  That means that when spills occur, if there is not enough money in the fund to clean it up, American taxpayers–not the corporations and industries that made the mess–have to foot the bill for the cleanup costs. So our families are hit twice–once for the subsidy at the front and again when our tax payer dollars have to pay for the clean-up.

TransCanada refuses to release any Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) that would describe the contents of diluted bitumen.  With most pipelines, natural gas lines especially, MSDS are normally required to be provided to first responders so that emergency workers can react appropriately if there is a spill or leak.  Basically, firefighters and other emergency personnel need to know what substances they are dealing with so that they can take the proper precautions and remedial actions.

By not providing the MSDS for diluted bitumen, TransCanada is also keeping the public from monitoring their drinking water.  If we don’t know what chemicals to test for, how do we know if they are contaminating our wells?  When people and animals start getting sick and dying?  

Instead of being open and honest with us about the substances they want to put in a high-pressure, high-volume tarsands pipeline in our soil and above (or inside) our groundwater, TransCanada is relying on the people and communities along their pipeline route to serve as their coal-mine canaries.

We don’t consider that to be a good neighbor.