Science trumps fiction on oil sands corrosion claims

Once again, science is helping to sort fact from fiction to support important decisions on energy policy.

This time, it’s a study by some of Canada’s top scientists who have examined whether crude oil from oil sands is more corrosive for pipelines than conventional crudes they typically carry – a claim often cited without evidence by oil-sands critics.

Maple leaf oilFor nearly two decades, scientists at the Natural Resources Canada CANMET laboratory in Hamilton, Ontario – the Canadian government’s leading national research facility – have regularly studied the long-term effects of oil on pipelines. In their most recent evaluations, they included a number of samples of diluted bitumen – known as dilbit – to better understand the potential effects of shipping crude from Alberta’s oil sands region.

Releasing their results at a conference last month, the Canadian researchers concluded that the dilbit samples they tested were actually less corrosive than several of the other oils tested.

This research provides lawmakers and regulators with facts needed to make sound policy decisions. It should also put to rest the idea that oil sands dilbit is somehow so different from other types of  crude oil that it poses unacceptable risks to pipelines.

According to lead researcher Sankara Papavinasam, quoted in The Globe and Mail, “We did not see any difference whatsoever” between crude oil from oil sands and other crudes.

Their conclusions are supported by another group of researchers at Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board.

For decades, industry has shipped diluted bitumen in pipelines safely, and in that time not one internal corrosion-related leak from a pipeline carrying dilbit has been documented in the United States. Which makes sense considering that pipeline operators aren’t likely to put anything in their lines that will harm their investment.

Still, it’s always good to see science-based research that can be used to underpin energy policy decisions and, in this case, support the best and safest ways to produce and move to market the vast resources of Canada’s oil sands.


19 Comments

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  1. Mick Jones says:

    If these researcers “”did not see any difference whatsoever’ between crude oil from oil sands and other crudes.” how did they reach the conclusion that “the dilbit samples they tested were actually less corrosive than several of the other oils tested.” No difference does not equal less corrosive.

    • Barry Williams says:

      One quote was from a conference and the other is from Sankara Papavinasam. A minor difference in interpretation of the findings.

      • Jim OBrien says:

        The corrosion is caused by the chemicals that need to be mixed with the tar sands to allow them to flow ling distances. Thes were not added in these tests.

        • KC clarke says:

          Thankyou for some truth.

        • Cary Lehr says:

          They most certainly were added in the tests, to quote the article “the Canadian government’s leading national research facility – have regularly studied the long-term effects of oil on pipelines. In their most recent evaluations, they included a number of samples of diluted bitumen – known as dilbit – to better understand the potential effects of shipping crude from Alberta’s oil sands region.” dilbit is diluted bitumen, the dilute are the chemical that DILUTE the bitumen (or oil sands) so they CAN flow, without the DILUTE they could not have tested dilbit, just bitumen, and the article CLEARLY states that they tested DILBIT. I highly suggest you understand what you read before you post an uniformed knee-jerk reactionary statement out of nothing but spite and ignorance.

        • Jack Zucher says:

          @ Carl Lehr – do you know if any consideration of viscosity frictionwear included?

  2. KC clarke says:

    Having actually worked in the oil patch of the Gulf of Mexico for several decades I can tell you ALL oil related products are corrosive and DO eat holes in steel pipelines. The Particulate matter (mineral material) that flows along with oil also abrades the inner walls of a pipeline and every turn of the pipeline creates a wear point as well, that will abrade the PL as well. So how many fairies can dance on the head of a pin Exxon / Mobil? 10-20-30? All that really matters is that they will dance and there will be damage from this action. If EM kept up with nondestructive testing on wear points they could head off some potential future spills, but in the end not all spills/leaks by any means.

  3. KC clarke says:

    We’ll see if my post makes it past the E/M censor.

  4. Clark Kent says:

    I really don’t care how corrosive it is or isn’t. I do know there is no reason on earth the Keystone XL has to go across American soil to get the oil to Exxon Mobiles Chinese customers. If you want to move here sell it here.

    • Jeff Callender says:

      Much safer than using trucks and smaller carbon footprint with a pipeline. We are also safeguarding our natural resources in North America. The future “Cold War” will not be fought with guns and bombs but with Hoarding and control of natural resources. Russia is already applying its kinder gentler approach in Europe with its monopoly on Natural gas.

  5. David Wender says:

    Please-someone at EM talk to United Conveyor Co. (Waukegan,IL) about wear charactaristics of pipelines.
    They do abrasive and water carried corrosive slag conveying and have hardened pipe corners that will handle
    ANYTHING at the corners where most wear occurs! Whatever small amount of wear will occur in a petro
    pipeline long term is micro compared to what they deal with daily. Why keep inventing the wheel if it needs
    to be invented at all?

  6. Darrell McEver says:

    Sorry, Exxon but in my professional opinion your are wrong on this one. Please refer to NACE and the section concerning Corrosion Control. http://nace.org/Corrosion-101/. Tar Sands are highly corrosive to pipelines. Unless you design the pipeline to specifically control the wear rate. Also you have not stated clearly just where the market is exactly for the tar sand crude. It is my understanding that the majority of it is headed to China and Japan thru the tax free port in Freeport, Texas to be loaded onto tankers off shore. To be burned straight away in power plants with NO POLLUTION CONTROLS. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  7. Darrell McEver says:

    Sorry, Exxon but in my professional opinion your are wrong on this one. Please refer to NACE and the section concerning Corrosion Control. Tar Sands are highly corrosive to pipelines. Unless you design the pipeline to specifically control the wear rate. Also you have not stated clearly just where the market is exactly for the tar sand crude. It is my understanding that the majority of it is headed to China and Japan thru the tax free port in Freeport, Texas to be loaded onto tankers off shore. To be burned straight away in power plants with NO POLLUTION CONTROLS. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  8. Geoffrey Crumbliss says:

    My question would be about the abrasive effects on pipe wall thicknesses, that have been down graded due to cost. We have ran enough crude to know what it does and won’t do. The question is how long will it take for the sand to eat threw metal wall of pipe. Question what is the grade of sand being moved threw pipe, how sharp, how hard is sand?
    Why would a company, again go against the recommendations of the engineers who designed this project.
    I have more but, don’t threaten the Great Lakes, or the little ones either.
    These guys went to school for this, they must not teach commonsense.

  9. Joseph Collins says:

    Go back and read it again. What they were using was dilbit, not oil sands crude. Dilbit is coal slurry, which has been transported by pipeline for many years. What they were reinforcing was the fact that, no matter where it comes from, crude oil is crude oil. Just because it was separated from sand instead of through a wellbore doesn’t mean it will be more corrosive. What this study tells me is the crude from the oil sands is sweeter than the crude we get out of some of the wells in the continental US. That means it will be less corrosive.

  10. Matthew Sailhardy says:

    People responding to those who are attempting to debunk Canadian government research should realise that Progressive science is akin to those who disbelieve geologic evidence to date the age of our planet. Their word is their Bible, and only sadists would attempt to set them straight with facts.

    • brian schoenwandt says:

      There have been TINY spills of this tar sands goo, loaded with solvent in order to flow, that have been extremely difficult to clean up. It’s actually much more efficient to create ethanol from canadian wheat stalk than to dredge this foul crap out of the sand pits. Tar sands goo means GAME OVER for the planet. We certainly don’t want this shite crossing over any area of the US. The wacky thing is that solar farms can replace ALL of the petro burning, but Big Oil has its hands around the throat of consumers and won’t slacken its grip until every burnable drop has been consumed. Long before CO2 reaches 600 PPM, you will see an exceleration in methane release from the see floor. Methane has 25 – 75 times the greenhouse effect of CO2. It is relevant to make a comparison between Earth and its neighbor Venus. The only difference is how much GHGs are present in the atmosphere

      • Ray Hochstedler says:

        Although generally I do not trust anything the oil companies have to say about pollution or their business, it has been a fact that in an oil field, the largest and most robust weeds tend to grow in the area around a wellhead where oil drips from the seals as the pump jack moves up and down pumping crude oil from the ground. Pollution from oil is mostly the damage it does to animals.
        We all use oil and its byproducts in our everyday lives and only because of our demand for these products are the companies able to make their extreme profits. You want the strangle hold these companies have on us and the economy? Try living a life without the conveniences that oil, oil sands, coal, oil shale and their products give us.
        Water leeched through coal is more corrosive than all the oil in the world, but we store it outside in piles next to rivers and streams, within the corporate limits of our cities and towns. Oil spills happen every day somewhere in the world. All the hype about the Keystone XL pipeline is not about the spills possible, but about an attitude of not in my backyard. The same attitude that has crippled nuclear power in the US, although Europe has more of its demand serviced by these plants than we do and have had fewer accidents than our own coal and gas-fired plants.
        Solar farms might replace our power needs, but who wants to live a life under all those solar panels with no view of the sky or a lack of power when nature decides to cloud up and conceal the sun for weeks at a time as happens in the winter in many localities. Wind power is possible, but… read more »

        …then the landscape is populated by all those ugly windmill towers and their 120 foot blades. Hydro-electric works but creates a problem for fish migration and propagation of the species. Geo-thermal works if you can control the pressure and temperature, though limited by available hot spots. Nothing is perfect in its ability to give us what we desire, but using everything at our disposal in a responsible manner makes more sense than cutting off one’s nose to spite the face by refusing to use the resources available to us at the time they are available.

        • Bill Pill says:

          No view of the sky? I don’t remember seeing any houses or cities completely covered with solar panels (other than rooftop ones). Also excess photovoltaic energy can be stored numerous ways for use at night – pressurized air, pumped water, etc etc.
          Wind mills also kill a lot of birds, but so does mining of coal & tar sands.
          You’re definitely correct that “Nothing is perfect in its ability to give us what we desire…”, but the devil is in the details – how one defines “use in a responsible manner” can be quite complex.
          The evidence I’ve seen indicates that we will soon meet the perfect storm of climate change, increasing energy demand and peak everything, not just oil. Will we have the courage as a species to ramp down our energy usage and to unite the entire planet in a plan for long term survival? Corporations don’t usually look at the long term outcomes of their activity – they can’t because if they did they might have to take steps that lowered their profitability.
          And yes, reducing demand of petrochemicals would be great – but it’s hard to convince developing nations of this…..Seems to me all the debate about climate change and attempts to reduce CO2 production are too little too late.

  11. Mick Jones says:

    If these researcers “”did not see any difference whatsoever’ between crude oil from oil sands and other crudes.” how did they reach the conclusion that “the dilbit samples they tested were actually less corrosive than several of the other oils tested.” No difference does not equal less corrosive.

    • Barry Williams says:

      One quote was from a conference and the other is from Sankara Papavinasam. A minor difference in interpretation of the findings.

      • Jim OBrien says:

        The corrosion is caused by the chemicals that need to be mixed with the tar sands to allow them to flow ling distances. Thes were not added in these tests.

        • KC clarke says:

          Thankyou for some truth.

        • Cary Lehr says:

          They most certainly were added in the tests, to quote the article “the Canadian government’s leading national research facility – have regularly studied the long-term effects of oil on pipelines. In their most recent evaluations, they included a number of samples of diluted bitumen – known as dilbit – to better understand the potential effects of shipping crude from Alberta’s oil sands region.” dilbit is diluted bitumen, the dilute are the chemical that DILUTE the bitumen (or oil sands) so they CAN flow, without the DILUTE they could not have tested dilbit, just bitumen, and the article CLEARLY states that they tested DILBIT. I highly suggest you understand what you read before you post an uniformed knee-jerk reactionary statement out of nothing but spite and ignorance.

        • Jack Zucher says:

          @ Carl Lehr – do you know if any consideration of viscosity frictionwear included?

  12. KC clarke says:

    Having actually worked in the oil patch of the Gulf of Mexico for several decades I can tell you ALL oil related products are corrosive and DO eat holes in steel pipelines. The Particulate matter (mineral material) that flows along with oil also abrades the inner walls of a pipeline and every turn of the pipeline creates a wear point as well, that will abrade the PL as well. So how many fairies can dance on the head of a pin Exxon / Mobil? 10-20-30? All that really matters is that they will dance and there will be damage from this action. If EM kept up with nondestructive testing on wear points they could head off some potential future spills, but in the end not all spills/leaks by any means.

  13. KC clarke says:

    We’ll see if my post makes it past the E/M censor.