Report: Tar Sands Oil Boosts Pipeline Risks
Host: Rebecca Williams
Show date: 02/17/2011
An oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners broke last summer. It spilled more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River.
A new report warns a corrosive type of oil flowing through pipelines in Michigan might lead to more spills.
Susan Casey-Lefkowitz is with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Sheís one of the reportís authors.
She says the pipeline that broke last summer was carrying raw tar sands oil. Itís also called diluted bitumen.
ďDiluted bitumen or the raw tar sands oil is more acidic, itís more corrosive, itís very thick so you need high pressure and heat to have it go through a pipe."
Enbridge did not agree to be recorded for this story. But in an email statement, an Enbridge spokesperson said there can be several different types of crude oil in any of their pipelines at any given time.
The NRDCís Susan Casey-Lefkowitz says Enbridge has called tar sands oil by other names in the past.
ďIn the very first news reports about the Enbridge break, the head of Enbridge himself was denying that this was diluted bitumen, and yet the reports very clearly stated this was oil from the Cold Lake region, where thatís what they produce, they produce raw tar sands oil there. And itís been since shown in court documents that thatís indeed what this was.Ē
She says raw tar sands oil is being transported through U.S. pipelines from tar sands mines in Alberta, Canada. She says Canadian refineries are reaching capacity... so oil companies are bringing more raw tar sands oil to U.S. refineries.
ďAnd really what youíve got is a U.S. pipeline system that was not built and was not regulated for anything other than conventional oil. And when you start putting material into it that is more corrosive and has very different characteristics, itís not really something our pipelines are prepared for.Ē
And she says this puts the Great Lakes region at an increased risk that another spill will happen.
The official cause of the Kalamazoo River spill is still under investigation.
In an email statement, an Enbridge spokesperson said tar sands oil is no different from oil transported by other crude oil pipelines. And that their oil pipelines meet all Canadian and U.S. regulations. The spokesperson said the company has quote: ďan intensive ongoing pipeline maintenance program.Ē
This is the Environment Report.
Like most Michigan cites, Grand Rapidsí budget is leaving little room for the extras in life. But Lindsey Smith reports theyíre still finding ways to fund the creation of new parks:
Grand Rapidsí director of parks and recreation, Jay Steffen, was excited to address city commission this week.
"When I get up and talk about this park Iím reminded of a song by Joni Mitchell, where she said Ďpaved over paradise to put up a parking lot.í Well we hope to bring paradise back. (laughs)
The city wants to take a 2-and-a-half-acre-parking lot and turn it into, as Jay says, paradise. Pleasant Park would have a rain garden, native shrubs and trees... in a neighborhood thatís one of the most densely populated, with the least amount of green space. Thatís why theyíre targeting it.
Mayor George Heartwell told city commissioners not to let the $800,000 price tag discourage them.
"Weíve been nothing if not inventive in pulling together resources from the community."
Theyíre applying for federal grants usually reserved for low income housing improvements for the park. Nearby neighborhood associations are collecting private donations. The city decides next month if itíll apply for state grants too.
For the Environment Report, I'm Lindsey Smith.
And that's the Environment Report for today. I'm Rebecca Williams.