Alberta Pipeline

“A very definite conclusion” on oil sands crude and pipelines

The president’s remarks from Tuesday garnered a lot of attention because of their focus on climate change and the Keystone XL pipeline.

Let’s hope they don’t overshadow a significant development that emerged the same day: A scientific study that provides strong support for the importance and safety of Keystone XL.

The publication was a long-awaited report from the National Research Council (NRC), which looked into the effects of oil sands crude (a.k.a. diluted bitumen, or dilbit) on pipelines. Critics have long charged that dilbit – particularly the crude produced from Canada’s oil sands region – is somehow different from conventional crudes, increasing the likelihood of corrosion, ruptures and spills. It has been one of the chief arguments against going forward with Keystone XL.

The NRC report makes clear these claims are baseless.

“Diluted bitumen has no greater likelihood of accidental pipeline release than other crude oils,” according to the NRC. “The committee that wrote the report found that diluted bitumen has physical and chemical properties within the range of other crude oils and that no aspect of its transportation by pipeline would make it more likely than other crude oils to cause an accidental release.”

That sounds a lot like what a researcher at Canada’s leading national research laboratory told the press last year about his own study into the matter: “We did not see any difference whatsoever” between crude from oil sands and other crudes.

The NRC report also confirms what the oil and natural gas industry has discovered in our years working in the oil sands. We have studied this issue extensively. After all, we have an interest in making sure our pipelines last long, operate safely, and are not threatened by the products they carry to markets and consumers.

Still, it’s encouraging to see yet another independent group of experts confirm what we and the rest of the industry have been saying.

The comprehensive nature of the National Research Council’s study should put an end to the flawed argument about oil sands corrosivity. As an official with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers told Bloomberg News, “It does provide a very definitive conclusion.”

Of course, the real conclusion will come when the president approves Keystone XL and the project finally gets built. The NRC report gives President Obama one more reason to do so.


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