Edited to add extensive informative and educational links just before the Spring Equinox of 2014 Edited Winter Solstice, 2013
As the public is inundated with commentaries of outrage and gratitude on the Enbridge Northern Gateway decision by the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel regarding the proposed twin pipeline project for Northern Alberta to Kitimat at Douglas Channel in Northwest BC, everyone is missing the true point and the real issues.
The talk is all about fighting and not about being intelligent partners. Intelligence requires the faculties of reason - being able to follow a logical thought process - not emotional reactionary responses. Partners are what we are, whether we like it or not. We all require air to breathe, water to drink and healthy food. We also all need some manner of an economy to make our life comfortable. Essentially we all want the same thing. The different ways to achieve this is what should drive this debate and it should begin at the beginning not some point in the middle.The Beginning
The product at the center of the debate is raw bitumen. Currently the two fighting sides (and there are many parties on each side) use different words for where the raw product, the bitumen, is gathered; tarsands for those against the project or oilsands for those who support it. Reasoned thought demands the cessation of terms /words which provoke emotional reactions therefore we will stick with bitumen, the product the companies working in Northern Alberta and Saskatchewan wish to sell.
Raw bitumen after it has gone through the primary extraction process is very thick. For context and reference only, it has essentially the same consistency as roofing tar, thicker than molasses. One could pick it up and form it into a ball. If dropped it would stay where it was dropped.Background and Reality
Another product has a similar consistency. It is the final residue after refining crude oil; When all the thinner substances are extracted, such as diesel, gasoline, paraffin etc, the very last remaining substance is sold as ‘bunker crude’. There are different classes of bunker crude however it is an extremely dirty, usually high in sulphur content and thick just like roofing tar again. All ocean going freighters purchase this to power their engines as this is what they are designed to run on. They store millions of litres of this in the bunker hold. This region of the ship is also called the keel hold as it is the area at the very bottom of the ship. The massive amount of this bunker crude is also used for ballast therefore the ships captains like to keep it full. It has to be heated to be moved in pipes and the ships engine heat is circulated through the keel hold to raise the temperature such that the oil will pour like heated butter over popcorn.
When the MV Rena ran into a reef near the Coast of New Zealand
in October 2011, many believed it was an oil tanker as the first reports showed the white sand beaches spoiled with vast quantities of oil. The Rena was not an oil tanker, it was simply a dry goods freighter. And like all the rest of the ocean going vessels and container ships the millions of litres of bunker crude was in the bottom of the vessel, less than 1 inch of steel from the open ocean. As the MV Rena started to break up the bunker crude all leaked out.
How much bunker crude? It was estimated to have 2000 tonnes which compares to over 10,000 barrels, around half a million gallons or over two million litres; hardly a minor spill. And every ship one observes in every harbour, at every port, is carrying the same product in similar quantities. And all are susceptible to the same spillage with even a minor rupture.Moving Raw Crude and Bitumen Today
The raw bitumen from Northern Alberta also must be heated to be moved and because of this thick consistency the industry also adds a thinning agent called ‘condensate’. Condensate is a by-product from certain types of natural gas wells. Again, for context, condensate is almost identical to ‘white gas’, what we use in gas lanterns and pressurized gas cook stoves when camping. That is what the second pipeline in the Enbridge Northern Gateway plan (twin pipelines between Kitimat and Northern Alberta) is to carry. One import pipeline for condensate and one export pipeline for the heated bitumen diluted with the imported condensate; hence diluted bitumen or 'dilbit'..
When the train derailed and blew up in the town of Lac Megantic Quebec in July, 2013, it was because the train was transporting rail cars loaded with an extremely explosive heated mixture of gas infused raw crude oil. Essentially a bomb requiring only a spark to ignite. When the Enbridge pipeline burst in Kalamazoo, Michigan the residents were the first to raise the alarm as the gaseous nature of the heated condensate and bitumen drifted with the wind. It was carrying a new set of combined chemicals as the high pressure from the pipeline atomized the mixture as it sprayed into the air and waters.
There have been numerous reports of health and central nervous system damage due to the Michigan oil spill. It remains to be seen what the result will be it Lac Megantic however as the train caught fire and exploded likely all the gasses went up with the flames.
Neither of these methods of transporting the bitumen product are safe; train nor pipeline. An Opportunity To Address These Issues
What would be safe is transporting it cold and raw, no heating, no dilution. If, for example, it was heated and poured into a barrel the bitumen would soon go cold. If someone struck the side of the now cold barrel with an axe the product might leak out but likely it would only ooze out an inch or two and any spillage could be picked up with a shovel. To get it out of the barrel one would have to heat it. If the rail cars in Lac Megantic were carrying raw unheated, undiluted bitumen there might have been an accident but certainly no explosion. The spilled raw crude product could easily have been picked up.
If all the raw bitumen was shipped cold and raw by rail car a derailment would not present the tragedy we saw in Lac Megantic or Michigan. If these rail cars were made detachable and stackable just like all other containers shipped over seas we would not even require double hulled tankers. Another financial benefit for selling the raw bitumen from Northern Alberta in this manner is the loss of the need for more condensate. The only consideration is discovering a method to quickly heat the detachable tanker so the product could be emptied. Could the outer skin be blast heated so the blob of bitumen just falls out of the end, like ice cubes from a tray or home made popsicles when you run the tray under warm water?
If the MV Rena had all of its bunker crude contained in rail car sized containers, rather than uncontained in vast holds (less than an inch away for the ocean) the recovery vessels which arrived on the scene could have extracted these fuel containers. The attempt to recover the bunker crude was a futile effort as it was now a cold product and sucking it out with a large hose was almost impossible. The diesel fuel was able to be sucked out by pump but not cold raw bunker crude. It was left to spoil the beaches of New Zealand.Diversion From the Reality Rules The Day
And this is why the commentaries of outrage and/or gratitude on the Enbridge Northern Gateway decision by the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel, is a fruitless exercise. Everyone has missed the point. They choose to fight over the single issue given them to fight over.
The most touted reason by the proponents, such as the Government and those in the industry, is the need to access world markets to achieve a better return than what they now apparently get from their USA market. Yet this proposed project is not opening the product up to world markets. In the pipeline industries own words, the pipeline is “fully subscribed.” Which means the purchaser who is paying to have Enbridge build the pipeline has the rights to all of the product.
If Canada owned the pipeline then Minister Joe Oliver safely could argue Canada is offering all potential purchasers the option to buy the product in varying quantities, in fact they could sell it to the highest bidder. But that is not what is happening here.
In this case there is only one buyer and it is Government of China, which owns not just the pipeline and the refineries but also the ships and the source of the raw bitumen, the extraction mines in Northern Alberta. How does this open up anything to the world markets for a better return for Canada and Canadians? Will China charge themselves more for their own product?
No, this world markets scheme is just a lie perpetrated by uninformed politicians and a lie those who oppose the pipeline fail to capitalize on.But It Is More Than That, We Need To Reconsider What We Are Doing.
If we developed an entirely new method of managing this product we could all achieve what we want, prosperity and a healthy environment.
All movement of the product, raw bitumen and bunker crude must be done by sealed container; from source to end user. In this way any purchaser from any country could arrange for a single shipment of one long train car delivery or a long term commitment of many trains car loads of containerized bitumen.
As there is still a need for condensate to facilitate the oil movement in existing pipelines the rail tanker containers could be returned full of condensate or some other product, maybe the refined product from China?
All ocean freighters must be redesigned to accommodate the rail car sized loads to facilitate ease of recovery when a potentially tragic incident occurs. If a dry goods freighter ran aground the officers could ensure all the valves are closed and the system is set for recovery. If a large oil tanker container vessel broke up in high seas all of the product would be contained in what are essentially barrels waiting to be recovered when the time is right. If a train derailed on the route to the shipping terminal from Northern Alberta the potential spillage would be relatively minor. Even if a rail car split in two, crews with shovels could pick up almost every last speck.Concluding Remarks
In all cases, the Joint Review Panel failed Canada and Canadians with their inability to use cognitive reasoning. And it appears everyone else; from the environmental groups and indigenous peoples to the oil barrens and government officials are failing to address a reality. It is like a Shakespearian tragic comedy. While everyone is distracted fighting with each other, the real potential, the vast wealth; the economic and environmental rewards, are slipping away.
Just a generation ago the automobile industry fought against the government when they were forced to install seatbelts in cars and trucks. They complained about the high cost might bankrupt them and the customers were not asking them for seatbelts. In those days governments were known to do what was right, regardless of industries complaints.
One can count on the oil and shipping industry to make the same outrageous arguments. But time has proven the opposite to be true. Today the auto industry uses all their safety features as marketing gimmicks as people want then to protect their families. The auto industry has even determined the more ‘airbags’ the better; side impact, rear passenger as well as the front.
The only airbags the pipeline companies and ocean freighters have are executives of the oil industry, politicians, environmental and indigenous spokespersons. They have not begun the conversation at the beginning.
Someone issued a debate order in the middle of an idea and all fell into a hole of reactionary emotional torment. There is no winning when everyone is fighting.
The concept is; what is the best way to address all the concerns. Not who is right and who is wrong. And the politicians need to start work for the people again, not against them. More Stories for in-depth reporting on this JRP reportWhy two tethered tugs when seven of the Berings biggest could not hold a rig in calm seas?
Shells Kurak rig still ended up beached, how the heck are two tethered tugs going to hold a VLCC in rough weather?Design details of all Freighters
- When is a Tanker not a Tanker?The Problem and Solution for all TankersThe Future of Shipping Oil Begins With AwarenessWhat really is the "State of the Art" -the best tankers in the world
a detailed expose' by an Oil Tanker Expert who examined the Exxon Valdez and ordered the largest Tankers in the world for his company.My letter to Harper, Redford and Clark over a year and a half ago
No - none had the decency to even acknowledge it.And I explained this in depth to the NEB Enbridge JRP
when the came to listen in 2011.
And much more can be found in our Everything Enbridge section Where You Will Find Articles Such AsTanker Captain Misleads Public at Forum in KitimatRUSSIAN ROULETTE WITH OIL, CN, TANKERS AND THE SKEENA RIVER
An article on the recent Skeena River CN derailments and current state of affairs.An expose' of a large derailment into the Skeena River, in 2013, and a media/CN cover-up.
And the following two which detail all the tanker routes through narrow channels demonstrating the Douglas Channel is the most difficult, most hazardous, on the planet today.THANKS FOR THE HEADS UP MR STANWAY, BUT NO FREE FLIGHTIT IS SO ABSURD WE ARE OFFERING A FREE FLIGHT FOR TWO TO VAN201403081770
How thick the steel really is. This bottom area is loaded with millions of litres of bunker crude, the dirtiest oil. This is what spoiled the beaches in New Zealand
A lucky break for Prince Rupert - The Bovec broke anchor and drifted onto this reef.