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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.

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