Dilbit dangerous to young fish, laboratory study shows

Diluted bitumen, also known as dilbit, a mixture of oil sands bitumen and natural gas dilutants can seriously harm fish populations, according to research study at Queen’s University and the Royal Military College of Canada published this week.

At toxic concentrations, effects of dilbit on exposed fish included deformities and clear signs of genetic and physiological stress at hatch, plus abnormal or uninflated swim bladders, an internal gas-filled organ that allows fish to control their buoyancy. Exposure to dilbit reduces their rate of survival by impairing their ability to feed and to avoid predators.

Post-doctoral fellow Barry Madison works with the fish in Valerie Langlois' lab. (Queen's University)
Post-doctoral fellow Barry Madison works with the fish in Valerie Langlois’ lab. (Queen’s University)

Among the other findings from the study were

    • Embryo toxicity of dilbit was comparable to that of conventional oils.
    • Developmental malformations increased with increasing dilbit concentrations.
    • Chemical dispersion broadened the genotoxic effects of dilbit

“This new study provides a clearer perspective on the potential risks to Canada’s aquatic resources of dilbit spills, and a technical basis for decisions on dilbit transportation within Canada,” says Peter Hodson Environment Studies, Biology at Queens. “It reduces some of the uncertainty and unknowns about the hazards of dilbit.”

This study characterized the toxicity and physiological effects of unweathered diluted bitumen (Access Western Blend dilbit; AWB) to a fish used for laboratory studies. Embryos of Japanese medaka (Oryzias latipes) were exposed for 17 days to dilutions of dilbit physically-dispersed by water and chemically-dispersed by dispersants

AWB dilbit exposure was not lethal to medaka, but resulted in a high prevalence of blue sac disease (BSD), impaired development, and abnormal or un-inflated swim bladders. Blue sac is a disease of young trout and other salmonid species; usually caused by unsuitable hatchery water. It turns the yolk sac bluish and is thought to be caused by a lack of oxygen.

The research was funded by Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s National Contaminants Advisory Group and the next stage will determine whether fish species native to Canada will be affected by dilbit exposure. The work also includes the development of genetic markers of exposure to dilbit and toxicity that could be used to assess whether wild fish that survive a spill are still affected.

The research team includes Dr. Valérie Langlois (Environmental Studies, Royal Military College of Canada) and Dr. Barry Madison (Royal Military College of Canada).

Dr. Hodson is also a member of a Queen’s research team tasked to determine whether dilbit spilled into rivers would contaminate bed sediments, specifically areas where fish such as salmon, trout, chars, whitefish and graylings spawn, to the extent that the survival of their embryos would be affected.

The research was published in ScienceDirect and is one of the first studies of dilbit on young fish.

The finding could be significant because both the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and the proposed Kinder Morgan expansion will cross areas near spawning streams.

Joint Review releases first round schedule, Gateway ruling put off for a year

Energy  Hearings

The Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel has released its schedule for first round hearings for the Northern Gateway Pipeline.

The panel will visit most of the towns along the pipeline route and the coast.  One surprise is that the bulk of the northwestern hearings will be held in Prince Rupert, not Kitimat as expected.  Kitimat,  where the pipeline will reach the sea and where the terminal will be gets just two days of hearings.  There will be eight days of formal hearings in Prince Rupert.  While this may be a logistical decision, there isn’t that much accommodation available in Kitimat, the decision shows that the panel seems to consider Kitimat no different than any other community along the pipeline route.  Prince Rupert is not on the planned pipeline route (at least at this time)  There are also  six days of hearings in Edmonton, which is logical, since that city is the headquarters of the energy industry.

Here is the schedule as posted on the website of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency

Location Venue Date and Start Time
Kitimat, BC Riverlodge Recreation Center
654 Columbia Avenue West
10 and 11 January 2012
Starting at 9:00 a.m.
Terrace, BC Sportsplex
3320 Kalum Street
12 January 2012
Starting at 1:00 p.m.
Smithers, BC Hudson Bay Lodge and Convention Centre
3251 East Highway 16
16 January 2012
Starting at 9:00 a.m.
Burns Lake, BC Island Gospel Fellowship Church
810 Highway 35
17 January 2012
Starting at 1:00 p.m.
Prince George, BC Ramada Hotel Downtown
444 George Street
18 January 2012
Starting at 6:00 p.m.
Edmonton, AB Wingate Inn Edmonton West Hotel
18220 – 100th Avenue
24, 25, 26, 27, 30 and 31 January 2012
Starting at 9:00 a.m.
Fort St. James, BC Royal Canadian Legion, Branch no. 268
330 – 4th Avenue East
2 February 2012
Starting at 9:00 a.m.
Bella Bella, BC Heiltsuk Elders Building 3 February 2012
Starting at 6:30 p.m.
4 February 2012
Starting at 9:00 a.m.
Prince Rupert, BC North Coast Meeting and Convention Centre
240 – 1st Avenue West
16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24 February 2012
Starting at 9:00 a.m.
Masset, BC Howard Phillips Community Hall 1590 Cook Street 28 February 2012
Starting at 9:00 a.m.
Queen Charlotte City, BC Queen Charlotte Community Hall134 Bay Street 29 February 2012
Starting at 1:00 p.m.
Grande Prairie, AB Quality Hotel and Conference Centre
11201 – 100 Avenue
26 March 2012
Starting at 6:00 p.m.
27 and 28 March 2012
Starting at 9:00 a.m.
Courtenay, BC To be determined 30 and 31 March and 2 and 3 April 2012
Starting at 9:00 a.m.

Other locations where the venue availability and logistics have not yet been confirmed include: Klemtu, BC, Hartley Bay, BC, Kitkatla, BC and Bella Coola, BC.

After the Panel has heard all oral evidence, it will then hear oral statements and will follow this estimated schedule.

Estimated Time Frame Activity
Late March – July 2012 Oral statements from registered participants who live in or near the proposed Project area.
September – October 2012 Final hearings where the applicant, intervenors, government participants and the Panel will question those who have presented oral or written evidence.
November 2012 – March 2013 Oral statements from registered participants who do not live in or near the proposed Project area (i.e. Kelowna, Port Hardy, Victoria, Vancouver, and Calgary).
April 2013 Final argument from the applicant, intervenors and government participants.

That schedule means that the Joint Review Panel will not make any decision on the pipeline until the end of 2013. In the original schedule, final arguments were to be held in June 2012, with a final decision in early fall.

Kent attacks foreign “mischief” in opposition to Gateway:Sunmedia

Politics Environment

Environment minister Peter Kent  has attacked critics of the Northern Gateway pipeline while speaking to reporters at the climate conference in Durban, South Africa,  Sunmedia/Quebecor reports.

Foreigners funding ‘mischief’ against Canada’s oilsands: Kent

Environment Minister Peter Kent has warned that some of the opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which would run from Alberta’s oilsands to a new marine terminal in Kitimat, B.C., is not genuine.

“Our government is concerned about some outside finances that have come in to interfere and obstruct what is a legitimate development of … responsibly developed and sustainably developed Canadian resources,” Kent said from a climate conference in Durban, South Africa.

Little difference between diluted bitumen and conventional crude affect on pipelines, Alberta review says

Energy Environment

    A study by an Alberta provincial government agency has concluded that diluted bitumen (also known in the industry as “dilbit”) is little different in its effects on pipelines than conventional or ‘non-oil sands derived’ crude oil.

A review of existing studies was conducted by Jenny Been, P.Eng for the provincial agency,  Alberta  Innovates – Technology Futures.  A news release on the website describes Been as a “corrosion specialist.”  The study “concludes that the characteristics of dilbit are not unique and are comparable to conventional crude oils during pipeline flow.”

Link News release and study (pdf) 
Comparison of the Corrosivity of Dilbit and Conventional Crude

Been’s study takes on the contention that dilbit has higher acid, sulfur, and chloride salts and higher concentrations of abrasive solids than conventional crude.  As well, the study looks at the belief that dilbit transmission pipelines operate at higher operating temperatures compared with crude, which would make the dilbit more corrosive. Environmentalists and other critics say  this leads to  a higher failure rate than pipelines carrying  crude.

The study compared the  properties  of  heavy,  medium,  and  light  conventional Alberta crude oils with three dilbit and one dilsynbit (a mixture of conventional gas diluent and synthetic gas) crude.

The review  concludes “that the characteristics of dilbit are not unique and are comparable to conventional crude oils.”

While two of the four dilbit crudes displayed a slightly higher naphthenic acid and sulfur concentration than the conventional Alberta heavy crudes, the review notes that there are conventional crudes on the market that have displayed higher values.  It says while there have been corrosion problems at refineries where the temperature can exceed  200 C, it says “the  much  lower  pipeline transportation temperatures, the compounds are too stable to be corrosive and some may even decrease the corrosion rate.”

The study also says “sediment  levels  of  the  dilbit  crudes  were  comparable  to  or  lower  than  the conventional crudes, except for a dilsynbit crude, which showed more than double the quantity of solids than most other crudes, but was still well below the limit set by regulatory agencies and industry….Erosion corrosion was found to be improbable and erosion, if present, is expected to be gradual and observed by regular mitigation practices.”

The study’s recommendations note that it is a review and “It has to be understood that this was a high-level review and a focused, peer-reviewed study has not been conducted.   The scope of the work did not include interviews with industry, regulators, or colleagues.”

It calls for the industry to create a database that would further study that differences between dilbit oils and conventional crude oils,  including further study of sludge formation and deposition in the pipeline and the links, if any,  “on sludge chemistry to pipeline sludge formation and sludge   corrosivity,   including   the   ability   of   the   sludge   to   support   microbial populations.”

Been says in the study that Enbridge supports an industry working group on pipeline corrosion management  that is  “addressing these issues by correlating sludge corrosivity with a chemical and microbial geochemical characterization of the sludge.   The work is further considering and optimizing monitoring technologies to enable measurement of the effectiveness of mitigation treatments.  It is recommended that this effort will continue to be supported.”
   
While the study is a review of existing knowledge on diluted bitumen and conventional oil in pipelines,  Been’s introductory remarks clearly show a bias in favour of the bitumen sands, saying, before the Keystone XL project approval was delayed by the U.S. State Department, “TransCanada Pipeline’s (TCPL’s) $13 billion Keystone pipeline system will provide a secure and growing supply of Canadian crude oil to the largest refining markets in the Unites States.”

Been also notes

Environmental  groups  opposed  to  the  pipelines  continue  to  find  material  to  fuel  their concerns: the more than 800,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan last year came from the Cold Lake oil sands region, and the Exxon Mobil spill of 42,000 barrels of oil in the Yellowstone River may have contained dilbit.   Protestors against the Keystone pipeline are gathering in demonstrations across North America leading to mass arrests and drawing widespread attention.

The arguments of these environmental groups don’t go unheard with congressmen and other government officials, who have iterated reported statements and concerns.  The United States Department of States (DOS) has spent the last three years in review with the industry, scientific community, and other interest parties (including numerous public meetings), evaluating the purpose and need for the Project (pipeline), alternatives, and the associated potential environmental impacts.   The result was issued on August 26, 2011 in a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), a comprehensive, detailed volume of work that is available to the public. Public hearings were held and online comments were accepted.

Been notes that as part of the Keystone assessment, the US  Department of Transportation’s  Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued 57
Project-specific Special Conditions above and beyond the requirements of the United States pipeline code for  Keystone XL. Been says TransCanada agreed to the incorporation of the 57 conditions and said would result in a pipeline with a greater degree of safety than typical domestic pipelines.

Environmental groups said the 57 conditions on Keystone were not sufficient, Been noted and the report goes on to say:

Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert considers it a challenge of combating emotion with facts, and assures that the facts could be obtained without too much difficulty.  Concerns continue to surface in the media and in the face of few factual studies and a strong confidence in …  tracking statistics that dilbit is not more corrosive than conventional oil, corrosivity claims continue to be used as fuel by certain environmental groups. 

Yet if Enbridge and other energy companies are still working on pipeline corrosion, as Been notes, then there are still problems to be solved.

Given the pro-Keystone statements in the Been’s paper, it is clear that a definitive, independent study is needed on the effects of  diluted bitumen in a pipeline, one that doesn’t come from either a pro-energy industry point of view, nor one conducted by an environmental group that would bring criticism from the energy industry.

Until there is such an independent study, the doubts of the environmental activists must be balanced with assurances coming from the energy industry.

 

US State Department delays Keystone approval until 2013, new route likely if approved

Energy Environment Politics

 Updated 1915 Nov. 10, with link to TransCanada statement, 1940 with more reaction.

The United States Department of State has delayed approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline until 2013.

A news release posted on the State Department’s website confirmed earlier media speculation about a delay in the pipeline project approval until after the current US presidential election cycle.

Based on the Department’s experience with pipeline project reviews and the time typically required for environmental reviews of similar scope by other agencies, it is reasonable to expect that this process including a public comment period on a supplement to the final EIS [Environmental Impact Statement]…  could be completed as early as the first quarter of 2013. After obtaining the additional information, the Department would determine, in consultation with the eight other agencies…  whether the proposed pipeline was in the national interest, considering all of the relevant issues together. Among the relevant issues that would be considered are environmental concerns (including climate change), energy security, economic impacts, and foreign policy.

The State Department release also indicates that,if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved, it will likely be rerouted around environmentally sensitive areas, further delaying construction and likely raising costs for TransCanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline. The release says that the State Department has been “conducting a transparent, thorough and rigorous review of TransCanada’s application.”

As a result of this process, particularly given the concentration of concerns regarding the environmental sensitivities of the current proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, the Department has determined it needs to undertake an in-depth assessment of potential alternative routes in Nebraska…

During this time, the Department also received input from state, local, and tribal officials. We received comments on a wide range of issues including the proposed project’s impact on jobs, pipeline safety, health concerns, the societal impact of the project, the oil extraction in Canada, and the proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, which was one of the most common issues raised….

The concern about the proposed route’s impact on the Sand Hills of Nebraska has increased significantly over time, and has resulted in the Nebraska legislature convening a special session to consider the issue.

The CEO of TransCanada, Russ Girling, reacting to news that the US State Dept. has delayed approval of the Keystone XL pipeline said Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011, “This project is too important to the U.S. economy, the Canadian economy and the national interest of the United States for it not to proceed.”

 
Girling also said, “”We remain confident Keystone XL will ultimately be approved.

The premier of Alberta, Alison Redford called the decision “disappointing,” saying in a news release:

“It is disappointing that after more than three years of exhaustive
analysis and consultation on this critical project, we find out that a
decision will be delayed until early 2013. Our position has always been
clear that we respect and understand that approval of the pipeline is a
U.S. domestic matter, but the fact remains that Keystone XL is a key
piece of infrastructure for our province. I sincerely hope that the
State Department made this decision based on science and evidence and
not rhetoric and hyperbole from very well-organized interest groups.


Alberta is steadfastly committed to this project and my government will
continue to advocate that we are the safest, most secure and responsible
source of oil for the United States. I will seek immediate answers
from U.S. officials to determine why this decision was made and how the
process will unfold going forward.


The industry group the American Petroleum Institute was less diplomatic than Redford, in its own words, the API “blasted” the decision and directly blaming what it called “radicals.”

This decision is deeply disappointing and troubling. 
Whether it will help the president retain his job is unclear, but it
will cost thousands of shovel-ready opportunities for American workers,”
said API President and CEO Jack Gerard.


“There is no real issue about
the environment that requires further investigation, as the president’s
own State Department has recently concluded after extensive project
reviews that go back more than three years.  This is about politics and
keeping a radical constituency opposed to any and all oil and gas
development in the president’s camp in November 2012.

There has been speculation that cancellation or delay of the Keystone XL project would increase pressure to build the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

Related:

Oliver in media blitz hinting at pushing Northern Gateway in case US stops Keystone XL

Energy Environment Politics


Canada’s minister of natural resources, Joe Oliver,  has embarked on a media blitz, quietly pushing the idea that 

604-joeoliver.jpg

Canada will go ahead and build the Northern Gateway pipeline to send bitumen sands to Asia if the United States blocks the Keystone XL  pipeline from Alberta to Texas.

In a meeting with The Globe and Mail editorial board on Friday, and an interview with Reuters Monday, while attending the World Energy Council in Houston, Texas,  Oliver warns the American that if they don’t buy bitumen sands oil,  China will. 


 Speaking with the Globe and Mail editorial board Oliver said:

that he does not make this point to U.S. officials “unless they ask,” but “if they don’t want our oil….it is obvious we are going to export it elsewhere.”  

China could be a key customer in the future, he said. “As a broad strategic objective we have to diversify our customer base…..[and] China has emerged as the largest consumer of energy in the world, so it is utterly obvious what we must do.

Speaking with Reuters, Oliver made similar statements


What will happen if there wasn’t approval — and we think there will be — is that we’ll simply have to intensify our efforts to sell the oil elsewhere,” 

“It may be other parts of the United States, it may be a rerouted pipeline, and then, of course, there’s Asia.”

The Globe and Mail also reported that: 

Mr. Oliver did not specifically endorse the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would carry oil sands petroleum to the west coast, where it would be transported to Asia by tanker, saying he will respect the regulatory process that is now evaluating that project.



Reuters also says Oliver did not specifically endorse Northern Gateway in that interview.  


Which means that Oliver has changed his tune a bit since becoming minister, since in the past he has been openly supportive of Northern Gateway “in the national interest” months before the Joint Review hearings on the pipeline are even due to begin.


In the Reuters interview,  Oliver, apparently determined to promote energy from the oil sands, for the  first time apparently, hinted that a bitumen pipeline might head somewhere to the east.


“What we want to do in respect to Asia, that objective is not mutually exclusive with the Keystone pipeline. We have a lot of oil and we want to get it to welcoming markets and open markets,” Oliver said. 

“And there are also possibilities of moving it east as well. We just have to look at the whole picture. But there would be a delay, and that wouldn’t be positive for either country in our view,” he said.

Oliver also told The Globe and Mail he does not use the “ethical oil,” agrument in talks with the United States, instead emphasizing that Canada is a reliable producer. Oliver also continued his criticism of the EUropean union for an initiative that would label crude from the oil sands as dirtier than fuel from conventional sources.
Oliver told the Globe that the European Commission’s proposed fuel quality directive is “discriminatory” and not based on science.


In a news release, summarizing Oliver’s speech in Houston, the Ministry of Natural Resources quoted Oliver this way:

“Canada’s vast energy endowments of oil, gas, hydro and uranium, along with an innovative clean energy sector, provide us with a unique advantage — one that strengthens our role as a safe and secure global energy supplier….
“We welcome international investment because it is good for our economy, for our jobs and for our energy future.”
Minister Oliver reaffirmed the Government of Canada’s commitment to ensuring the environmentally and socially responsible development of the oil sands, a strategic resource that is critically important to Canada and its energy partners. He noted Canada’s energy policy is rooted in free market principles, coupled with a regulatory regime that is “efficient, transparent and effective.”
“Canada is a responsible and reliable partner in achieving a secure and sustainable global energy supply. We are fully mindful of the need to balance economic activity and energy demand with environmental sustainability,” the Minister added. “The Government of Canada is committed to the development of our energy resources, including the oil sands, in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.”



(Photo Canada Ministry of Natural Resources)


Salon article calls Northern Gateway Keystone’s “evil twin”, asserts pipeline will never be built

Energy Environment Commentary

Michael Byers, the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at UBC, writes about the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline in Salon.com, largely for an American audience, calling the pipeline The evil twin of the Keystone XL oil pipeline

U.S. opponents of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline should take take note: One of the greatest weaknesses of the proposed 1,980 mile-long pipeline from Canada’s tar sand fields to refineries in Texas actually lies in British Columbia on Canada’s west coast.

That’s where a second pipeline (“Northern Gateway”) could link the tar sands of central Canada to coastal British Columbia.

The U.S. State Department has accepted assertions that the production of heavy oil will increase regardless of whether Keystone XL is built, because the Northern Gateway pipeline would bring oil for shipment to China. Denying permission for Keystone XL would not promote the U.S. national interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the State Department says, because China will use the energy anyway.

Byers then goes on to describe in great detail the opposition to the pipeline in British Columbia from First Nations and residents of the northern part of the province. He also describes growing opposition to the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to Vancouver. (See today’s story Kinder Morgan buys natural gas pipeline) especially the hazards of sending tankers through Second Narrows.

From all that Byers concludes:

In short, there’s a bit of snake oil in the pipeline-to-China assumptions. The U.S. State Department must assess the full environmental impact of Keystone XL. It cannot ignore the carbon footprint of Canada’s tar sands because of an alternative pipeline to China that does not exist and will likely never be built.

It seems that Byers is certainly jumping to conclusions that the Northern Gateway will never be built, especially since Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and cabinet ministers John Moore and Joe Oliver has said it is in the national interest that the Northern Gateway should proceed.

China biggest customer for Kitimat LNG: Encana

Energy

564-ecanalogo75.jpgChina is probably the largest long
term customer for liquified natural gas that will be shipped through
the port of Kitimat, executives from Encana, one of the three
partners in the KM LNG project said in an investor conference call
Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011.

India could also be big customer for
LNG shipped from the Horn River in northeastern BC through Kitimat,
Encana said.

Although Japan will be increasing its
purchases of liquified natural gas in the coming years, the immediate
situation with Japan is less certain. While the March 2011
earthquake and tsunami knocked out the Fukishima nuclear plant and
prompted Japan to scale back other nuclear plants and increase LNG
purchases, Encana says the country has still not come up with any
definite policies

559-chinalng.jpgDave Thorn, Encana vice president of
Canadian marketing, who also oversees the Encana’s role in the
Kitimat project, said that China’s overseas imports now account for
eight per cent of its purchases of natural gas. That is expected to
rise to 10 per cent in the next few years. Thorn said there is a big
gap between current LNG contracts and what Encana says is long term
demand from China. He speculated that there could be increasing
demand from China during the 20 years or so the Kitimat LNG project
is exporting LNG. ( As well as projected population and
manufacturing growth, even in a weak economy, China is now heavily
dependent on coal, but is also investing in “green” projects
which means there could eventually be a switch from coal to natural
gas).

The fact that one giant Chinese
customer, PetroChina, pulled out of a deal with Encana earlier this
year doesn’t seem to be a setback. Thorn said that there is strong
interest from at least six unnamed major customers for LNG to be
shipped through Kitimat. “The expression of interest ranged from
simply LNG supply to existing or planned regasification facilities
through to participation all along the value chain from shipping,
equity interest in the Kitimat facility as well as upstream
participation,” Thorn said.

561-kitimatlngmarket.jpgThe Kitimat project is currently
undergoing a front end engineering evaluation by KBR. There is a
similar study under way on the Pacific Trails Pipeline that could
carry the natural gas to the terminal. Both studies are expected to
be complete by the end of 2011. Encana expects the National Energy
Board to approve KM LNG’s application for an export licence in
December. Encana and its partners, Apache Corporation and EOG
Resources, expect to make a final investment decision in January
2012.

If all goes as planned the Kitimat
terminal would be shipping 700 million cubic feet of natural gas a
day to Asia when the terminal begins operations in 2015. Encana and
its partners are already optimistic, talking about plans to double
capacity to to 1.5 billion cubic feet a day in the coming years.

What’s driving much of this is the
high price of natural gas in Asia, which is pegged to the price of
oil, compared to North America where natural gas prices are
determined by the marketplace. With shale gas increasingly abundant
the price on this continent has been dropping and that has affected
the bottom lines and stock prices of Encana and other natural gas
producers. Encana is also bolstering its bottom line by tapping
“liquid-rich reserves” (oil and natural gas) that may be found
in the areas where they are currently pumping natural gas.

The Horn River Basin area in
northeastern BC was a surprise discovery by an Encana crew in 2003,
said Kevin Smith, Encana Vice President of New Ventures. The company
then began to quietly acquire assets, either by buying land or by
leasing in the region. “The Horn River resource base is enormous,
highly accessible and will certainly play a large role in North
American and even global gas supply in the years to come,” Smith
told the conference call.

During the June NEB hearings in
Kitimat, witnesses described the Horn River formation as special but
were reluctant to go into detail. Smith said the shale in the Horn River
is “all the attributes for high productivity,” including large
reserves and “overpressured system” which helps extraction. “It
keeps getting better and better.”

As well as going west to Asia, natural
gas from Encana’s Horn River assets will go east to Alberta to fuel
bitumen sands production which Smith said will require an additional
1.3 billion cubic feet a day by 2020, This is likely to be
controversial with the environmental groups and bitumen sands
opponents who have always taken issue with the idea that clean
natural gas would be burned to help get crude of the dirtier bitumen
sands.

563-lnghub.jpgEncana says it has developed a “hub”
system in the Horn River where a central well site can use horizontal
drilling to tap areas where once many wells would have been needed.

“Fracking” or fracturing shale gas
requires large amounts of water. As was pointed out in the June
hearings in Kitimat, Encana has tapped an ancient, underground alt
water reservoir called Debolt which allows it to reuse the water from
the formation and minimizing use of local fresh water.

British Columbia is helping the shale
gas industry with favourable royalties in the northeast including
royalty credits for building infrastructure in the region.

Encana, however, is under pressure
from inflation. It faces rising costs from steel, labour and all
kinds of services. While it supplies the bitumen sands with natural
gas, it is also in competition with the Fort MacMurray area for
supplies and labour.

Related links

Dow Jones (via Fox) Encana Eyes Asia As Key Market For B.C. Natural Gas

CP (via Canadian Business) Encana says costs of labour, steel, services rising in energy sector

Accuracy is the best neutrality. It’s all about the bitumen.

Editorial

Memo to my media friends and colleagues:

Last Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011, the District of Kitimat sponsored an “educational forum” here at Mount Elizabeth Theatre on the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline project which, if approved, would carry bitumen from Alberta  to the port of Kitimat and on to Asia.
.
There was an hour of presentations  covering all sides the debate, followed by a question and answer period.

551-ngatepanel-thumb-500x230-550.jpgThe Enbridge educational forum in Kitimat, Sept. 20, 2011.  Left to right, Ellis Ross, Chief Counsellor, Haisla First Nation,  Mike Bernier, mayor of Dawson Creek, Greg Brown, environmental consultant and John Carruthers, President Enbridge Northern Gateway  Pipelines. (Robin Rowland/ Northwest Coast Energy News)

Throughout those two hours, the word used to describe the substance that could come to Kitimat through that pipeline was the word “bitumen.”   Panelists Ellis Ross, Chief Councillor of the Haisla First Nation,  John Carruthers, president of Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines talked about “bitumen,” so did environmental consultant Greg Brown, they all spoke about “bitumen.”  The questions from the audience were about “bitumen.”

Of course, after a couple of years of hearings,briefings and educational forums on the Northern Gateway pipeline project, with more to come (especially when the Joint Review Panel’s formal hearings begin here in January) the people of Kitimat are used to the word “bitumen.” Everyone from grade school kids to seniors know the right words to use, especially since Kitimat is also the site of proposed liquified natural gas projects (which introduced a whole new set of terminology.) 

When we talk about (and sometimes debate) the Northern Gateway project on the cross trainers and treadmills at the Riverlodge gym, the word used is “bitumen.”

While the Kitimat meeting was underway the rest of the continent, and especially the media  was focused on another pipeline project, the proposed Keystone XL project that would carry bitumen from Alberta down to Texas to be refined there.

So it was no real surprise when Open File Ottawa ran a short item by freelancer Trevor Pritchard on the debate over media use of the words “oils sands” vs the words “tar sands.”
  

Type in “Alberta tar sands” into Google, and you get 852,000 results. Perform a search for “Alberta oil sands” instead, and you end up with 334,000 results–not even half that. And if you change “Alberta” to “Alberta’s,” the gap widens even further.
So why do most media outlets tend to default to the phrase “oil sands”? Is “tar sands” pejorative? Or do both terms carry their own bias?

Pritchard pointed back to an article in the Tyee posted after the Calgary Herald attacked the late NDP leader Jack Layton for using the term tar sands.

Tyee quoted the Calgary Herald editorial (no longer visible on the web)this way:

Interestingly, the Calgary Herald didn’t so much take issue with the statements themselves, as it did with his vocabulary.
“It’s not what Layton said,” read an editorial from early April. “It’s the loaded and inaccurate language he used repeatedly, referring to the oil sands as ‘dirty’ and ‘tar sands’ — a word that’s part of the propaganda lexicon for radical environmentalists.”

Nearly two weeks later, the Herald was still ruminating about Layton’s and Obama’s language choices.
“Tar sands is inaccurate and pejorative,” wrote columnist Paula Arab.

In today’s polarized world, you might expect the Calgary Herald, in the centre of the Alberta oil patch, to be in favour of the term “oil sands” 

However, most of the mainstream media seem to have bought into the idea that if the sandy hydrocarbons found in northern Alberta are called “tar sands” (it certainly looks and smells and feels like tar) it is pejorative, while “oil sands” are neutral. As comments on both the Tyee and Open File stories show, those who tend toward the environmental point of view consider the term “oil sands” energy industry spin.

Open File asked the Canadian Press for their take on the subject, since the CP  Stylebook (like its equivalent from the AP in the United States) is considered the usage Bible not only for the Canadian media for most non-academic writing in the Canada.

Senior Editor  James McCarten responded:

Canadian Press style calls for the use of the term “oilsands” (all one word), as it is both the official term used by the petroleum industry and the least susceptible to misinterpretation or misunderstanding. It is also in keeping with accepted style for terms like “oilpatch” and “oilfield” — consistency is a critical element of any effective writing style.
It’s also important to choose the most neutral term available.

“Tarsands,” while at one time the industry’s chosen term, has been appropriated in recent years by opponents of the oil industry and has taken on political connotations, so we choose to avoid it.

To which commenter Raay Makers responded:

So let me get this straight: CP deems the term preferred by the petroleum industry “neutral,” while the term “appropriated” by opponents of the oil industry isn’t. They obviously have misconceptions of the meaning of the term neutral.

An hour after I read the Open File story,  I turned to CBC TV News and watched Margot McDiarmid’s item on the Keystone debate.  In her first reference to the Keystone pipeline, McDiarmid used the term “oil sands bitumen”  to describe what would go through the Keystone to Texas.  Relatively accurate. But then at the end of her item she said “oil” would be flowing through the Northern Gateway Pipeline to Kitimat.

Even though I worked in radio or TV for three decades and know the necessity to keep things as simple as possible  in a short item, I was appalled.  To describe the bitumen that is going  through those pipelines simply as “oil” is misleading and inaccurate.

If you’ve sat through briefings, attended hearings and read the documents, it is clear that bitumen behaves differently in a pipeline from conventional oil, whether it is crude oil or refined oil.

That difference is at the heart of the debate over both pipelines. It appears that no one outside  of the local media here in Kitimat and media along the Northern Gateway route seems to understand that difference, not even at the centre of the current debate about the Keystone XL in Nebraska.

So I checked. What term is the media using to describe what will flow through the Keystone and Northern Gateway pipelines?  The media is all over the place, calling it oil, crude oil, crude, tar sands oil, oil sands crude, oil sands bitumen.

I first checked the CBC.ca site:
 
 Max Paris in the written story tied to McDiarmid’s item uses “oil sands bitumen,”  the CBC interactive uses “oil sands crude.”

Today’s New York Times uses the term “oil pipeline” to describe the Keystone project.

In a Nebraska local paper, the Omaha World Herald, reporter Paul Hammel describes it as “a crude-oil pipeline”

In another local paper, the  Lincoln Nebraska, Journal Star   reporter Art Hovey uses “oil.”

An Associated Press story today, (at least as it appears on the Forbes site) is totally inconsistent, with the web friendly summary speaks about Keystone XL carrying “tar sands oil,” but the main body of the story calls it “oil.”

Reuters uses the term “oil” in this story 

An editorial  from Bloomberg uses “oil” in the lead

On first look, it might seem wrong to allow TransCanada Corp. to build the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline to carry oil from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast. 

It goes on to eloquently describe the situation in Alberta’s sandy hydrocarbons

What’s more, a new conduit would seem to only encourage the further development of the Athabascan oil sands in Alberta. This is a dirty business, to be sure: Vast tracts of spruce and fir are cleared to make way for open-pit mines, from which deposits of sticky black sand are shoveled out and then rinsed to yield viscous tar. For deeper deposits, steam is shot hundreds of feet into the earth to melt the tar enough that it can be pumped to the surface. Then there are the emissions associated with mining Canadian oil sands: It produces two and a half times as much carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases as oil drilling in, say, Saudi Arabia or west Texas.

Bloomberg as you might expect from a business site, goes on to give the argument for building Keystone XL in terms of jobs and the economy (and in a much more measured way than the strident columnists in the Postmedia chain here)

Bloomberg concludes

Keep in mind, the U.S. is crisscrossed by thousands of miles of pipelines carrying crude oil, liquid petroleum and natural gas. One of these is the Keystone 1 pipeline, which already carries crude from the oil sands. Yes, these pipes sometimes leak — spectacularly last year when almost 850,000 gallons of oil spilled from a ruptured pipe in Michigan. Far more often, when leaks occur, they are small and self-contained.
After the public hearings, the U.S. should give TransCanada the green light — and then make sure the company manages pipeline design and construction with care.

Get the picture. As far as I can tell, no one, no one in the major news media is accurately describing what will flow through the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines. Again the accurate descriptions come from  the local media in northwestern BC who have attended years of local briefings and hearings. 

Oil comes from oil sands, right? Here is where the use of the term “oilsands’ leads to misleading coverage.  It is where senior editors at CP and other senior editors at other news organizations are wrong.  Saying oil or crude will flow through these specific pipelines does lead to  misinterpretation and misunderstanding and it comes directly from the ill advised use of the words “oil sands.”

Say “oil” and, although it is a generic term, most people think of the substance you put in an engine, ranging from the thick, black gooey stuff that goes into a two stroke boat engine, through the lighter oil that goes into your car or the even lighter oil used by model makers. “Petroleum” would probably be a better generic term.

553-giantcrude.jpgSay crude and  most people would think of  James Dean covered in the crude from the gusher in Giant or similar movie scenes. Or for those old enough to remember, they think of the opening of the Beverly Hillbillies when the “bubbling crude” comes out of the ground at Jed Camplett’s farm.

So what is going through the pipelines?  While Enbridge uses the term “oil” in its promotional brochure on Nothern Gateway (pdf file), in the briefings here Enbridge officials always talk of “bitumen.” They know that the people living in Kitimat, again whether supporter or opponent, have done their home work. Everyone here  knows it won’t be “oil” in the pipeline.  But it seems that the public relations branches of  Enbridge and TransCanada  still believe they can spin the media into reporting the pipelines will just be carrying oil.

So what is going to be in the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines? Read the documents filed with the Joint Review Panel and you find out it is “diluted bitumen”  (The bitumen from those sandy hydrocarbons in Alberta has to be diluted or it won’t flow through the pipeline.)

Documents filed with the Joint Review Panel by Stantec, an environmental consulting company based in Fredericton, New Brunswick,  hired by Enbridge, and frequently retained by the energy industry  uses this definition:

diluted bitumen A hydrocarbon consisting of bitumen diluted with condensate in order to reduce viscosity, rendering it suitable to be transported via a pipeline.  In addition to condensate, other subjects can be used as a dilutant (naptha and synthetic oil)

So what is condensate?

Again as defined by industry consultant Stantec condensate is:

condensate:  A low density mixture of hydrocarbon liquids that are present in raw natural gas produced from many natural gas fields or which condense out of raw gas if the temperature is reduced below the hydrocarbon dew point temperature of the raw gas.

(Another angle the media has ignored about the Northern Gateway project. While it carries diluted bitumen west from Alberta, there is a twin pipeline that carries the condensate east to Alberta.)

What to call the pipelines and the product?

So let’s talk about Northern Gateway and Keystone XL first.   These pipelines are different from the other pipelines that Bloomberg and other media say crisscross North America.

These pipelines will be carrying diluted bitumen, not oil, not crude.

When the public think of oil they think of a lubricant that enhances flow, not a gritty substance that has to be diluted before it can move. Diluted bitumen is a mixture of sand and soil and crude hydrocarbons, with various petrochemicals added to so that that mixture can actually get through the pipelines.

The use of diluted bitumen is raising all kinds of questions.   There were questions at last week’s forum on the effect of the friction from the sand on the stability of the pipelines.  There were questions at the forum about the corrosive nature of the condensate added to the bitumen on the stability of the pipelines.

These questions do not arise when it comes to conventional pipelines which have been built for the past century.

While there have been major oil spills for decades on land and sea, there has never been a major spill  of bitumen in either a pristine watershed or the ocean.  There has never been a major spill involving this mixture of  bitumen and condensate.  

Unfortunately, the ultimate answer to the question of how dangerous such as spill could be, will only be found out if there is disaster.

554-enbridgekitimatriver.jpgA photo map of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline (in yellow) showing its route close to the Kitimat River, site of the town’s water supply. (Enbridge. Filed with the Joint Review Panel)

The Northern Gateway Pipeline follows the route of the Kitimat River. One of the most frequent questions is what happens to the town’s water supply if the pipeline breaks.

There are thousands of pages on the Joint Review Panel website that show that Enbridge and their consultants have done all kinds of tests, modelling and contingency planning to support their stand the pipelines  and the tankers are as safe as possible. There are documents from environmental groups and others that take the opposite position.

So to maintain its already shaky credibility the media must be accurate.  Accuracy is the best form of neutrality.

So here are my style/copy suggestions:

The media should call what is going into the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines  “diluted bitumen” on first reference and “bitumen”  on subsequent references.

It is NOT accurate to call it “oil.” It is not really accurate to call it “crude.”

It is  crude oil mixed with sand and the condensate chemicals.  To call what will go through the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipeline simply as oil  or crude is leading to gross  misinterpretation and  complete  misunderstanding.

The media should continue to use oil when they are referring to conventional oil flowing through a conventional pipeline.

The public isn’t stupid.  If you ask a Grade Three student in Kitimat about bitumen and condensate you’ll get a pretty good answer. If the media has to produce sidebars,  graphics, interactives, explainer items,  to explain what bitumen is, the sooner the better, so that those taking part in the debate and those reporting it know what they’re talking about.

Tar sands/Oil sands

It is clear that the Canadian  media managers who decided in the mid 2000s that the term “oil sands” was more neutral than “tar sands” blundered.

Yes the environmentalists do use “tar sands” and for some it can be pejorative.  But if you have ever seen the stuff it certainly is tar. 

Just as Enbridge uses “oil” in its brochure  on Northern Gateway but says the real thing “bitumen” in meetings, “oil sands” is the preferred energy industry spin term. The use of the term “oil sands” reduces media credibility.

Using “oil sands”  likely amplifies the general belief that the “corporate media” is in the pocket of big business and thus reduces the credibility  of the shrinking numbers of  hardworking reporters left working in the field.

387-Jointreviewbriefing_June_16_2011.jpgHere crowd sourcing and social media help. There are postings both on Open File and Tyee saying the terms “bitumen sands” or “bitumen-bearing sands” are proper neutral terms. I have used the term “sandy hydrocarbons” in this article, I came across it in a briefing document some while ago and it stuck in my mind (though I can’t remember where I saw it).

It is up to public editors, ombudspersons and style book editors to make the call here for their organizations.   I believe that if the media starts using “bitumen sands” as a technically accurate and neutral term for what is found in northern Alberta, the readers and viewers will  quickly accept it.

Staff of the Joint Review Panel brief residents of
Kitimat on the process, June 16, 2011.
(Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News
)


The big picture. Why isn’t the environment in the style books?

There is a bigger problem that I discovered when I was looking into this issue.  I checked the Canadian Press Stylebook to see what the editors said about the environment and found nothing. Absolutely nothing.  There are chapters on business news, entertainment, sports, even travel, but nothing on environmental coverage.

A very quick check with copy editor friends seems to have come up with same result across the media. Media stylebooks don’t consider the environment important enough to have a full chapter. (I may have missed some of course, the check was very quick) yet environmental stories are in the news every day.

The Associated Press was founded in 1848, in part so the New York newspapers could cooperate in getting the latest business news from Europe, first from ships and then from the transAtlantic cable.  So business news has been essential to the media  for at least a century and a half.  This, I believe, has created this historical, and probably   unintentional, institutional bias that favours word usage preferred by business.  If  media style books had  environment chapters then the question of  oil sands/tar sands would  have been considered more thoroughly and the “neutrality” of “oil sands” questioned. 

Who knows what other environmental issues have been considered only superficially because stylebooks don’t have a chapter on the environment?

Reporters in the field  are often left angry and frustrated by rulings from public editors and ombudspersons who may, despite their efforts, err on the side of  “neutrality” rather than “accuracy” especially in this era of extreme polarization.

Media managers often take the path of least resistance, especially if they are being inundated with complaining e-mails and letters. 

A stylebook chapter on the environment should stress accuracy over neutrality. Thus it serves the public.

A rigorous chapter in a media style book on the environment (and also on science which is also lacking) would give guidance to reporters in the field, editors at the desk  and allow managers to tell the complainers with agendas just how the issue has been examined.

This site has always used bitumen to describe what will be in the Northern Gateway Pipeline. From now on it will use bitumen sands in copy, and will use tar sands and oil sands in direct quotes as appropriate. I hope the rest of the media will follow.

Disclosure: I worked for CBC.ca from 1996 until I took early retirement in 2010. I have also freelanced for both Canadian Press and OpenFile.

 Glossary of terms used in Stantec environmental report (PDF excerpt from original file)