The Keystone XL project is in the news again today, with Obama saying he won’t approve it if it will lead to further global climate change. That’s just about a no-brainer, since we need to produce, refine and burn fewer hydrocarbons, not more. But it’s as good a rationale as any to can this turkey. And this is some really bad stuff: news stories I’ve seen of late have led to a closer examination of it, and it’s not oil like we think of oil.
Basically, this material is some really heavy crude, so heavy that it won’t flow unless it’s mixed with some real bad actors. It’s actually called Diluted Bitumen, or Dilbit for short. (This is getting pretty close to Dilbert, and you can bet there’ve been a fair number of Dilberts working on this thing.)
A look at a Material Safety Data Sheet on dilbit is instructive. It’s “Extremely flammable; material will readily ignite at normal temperatures.” It contains known carcinogens, many of them volatile, as well as hydrogen sulfide, which stinks and can kill at high concentration. It’s super nasty and not something to trifle with, much less pump over a thousand miles. Even the Canadians don’t want pipelines transporting this stuff–British Columbia recently nixed a $6 billion pipeline over environmental concerns, pointing out that, among other issues, these guys are not at all ready for a prime time spill cleanup. And that can be really embarrassing; just ask Tony Hayward.
So, calling it an oil pipeline just marketing by the pipeline’s proponents. It’s a dilbit pipeline, and they are trying to take it to the bank.