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Risks of Northern Gateway Pipeline outweigh benefits to B.C.: report

By Gordon Hamilton, Vancouver Sun November 30, 2011

A report by the Pembina Institute claims the risk of a bitumen pipeline outweigh the benefits.

Three leading environmental groups released a report Tuesday (November 29, 2011) on Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, saying the risks of shipping Alberta oilsands bitumen by pipeline through British Columbia outweigh the benefits.

The 28-page report by the Pembina Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council and Living Oceans Society focuses on what the authors claim is the more hazardous nature of oilsands bitumen as opposed to conventional oil. The environmental impacts of oilsands extraction are well known, but hazards associated with transporting it by pipeline are less known, the report states.

Claims in the report, most of which Enbridge disputes, include concerns that bitumen is more corrosive and heavier than conventional oil, making pipeline failure or a tanker leak more likely and, because it sinks when spilled in water, spills would be more costly and more difficult to clean up.

The report, titled Pipelines and Tanker Trouble, recommends large tanker traffic be banned from the B.C. coast, the pipeline project be rejected by government, and further diluted bitumen proposals be shelved until more safety regulations are developed.

It has been endorsed by nine environmental organizations in B.C.

“The focus of this report is the enormous social economic and environmental cost to British Columbia of a proposed tarsands pipeline and the associated supertanker oil traffic it will bring to the coast of British Columbia,” NRDC’s Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, one of the report authors, said in a teleconference call Tuesday.

“While the benefits of such a pipeline would be enjoyed by the major oil companies, the cost in the case of oil spills would be borne by British Columbians for decades to come.”

Another author, Nathan Lemphers of the Pembina Institute, said risks include ruptures to the pipeline from rock slides and avalanches in mountainous B.C.

“There have been half a dozen different pipeline ruptures in west-central British Columbia. They were all natural gas pipelines, which has a very different outcome when there is a rupture than when it is a bitumen pipeline,” he said in an interview.

Lemphers said the three groups decided to release the report now to coincide with upcoming hearings by an independent panel jointly mandated by the federal environment minister and the National Energy Board.

More than 4,000 people have signed up to speak at the hearings, which begin Jan. 10, 2012 in Kitimat and will travel to 20 B.C. communities to assess the environmental effects of the proposed pipeline project.

Enbridge refuted the findings of the report, which communications manager Paul Stanway said in an interview are neither new or true.

He said bitumen has been found to be no less corrosive than conventional oil, citing studies that have been done. One recent study, by an Alberta government agency, found there is little difference in the effect on a pipeline between diluted bitumen and conventional crude. Some crudes on the market are more corrosive, some less, the Alberta report found.

On the issue of the difficulty and cost of cleaning up spills, Stanway said all spills present challenges. The report cites Enbridge’s spill in the Kalamazoo River in the summer of 2010. It says cleanup costs have hit $700 million and that more than a year later, there is still oil in the river.

Stanway concurred the job is not complete. Of the 3.8 million litres spilled, 3.5 million have been recovered, he said.

Enbridge has proposed constructing two pipelines 1,170 kilometres long from Bruderheim, Alta. to Kitimat on the B.C. coast at a cost of $5.5 billion. One pipeline would carry a dilutant east from Kitimat, where it would be blended with thick bitumen, diluting it so it could flow through a pipeline. The second pipeline would transport the diluted product to Kitimat where it would be loaded aboard supertankers and shipped largely to emerging markets in Asia.

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