Gateway gets the Go.

So who is surprised? Prime Minister Stephen Harper has given Canadians the finger and approved the Northern Gateway pipeline to be built by Enbridge from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, B.C. The rhetoric will rage into the election next year. While we argue, three other pipelines will take up the task—and that is not counting the Keystone XL fiasco running south to the Texas tanker ports.

The only problem for the public is to learn the warning signs if they are being conned in regard to the controversy. The best indicator of bias is the language people use to make their case. These pipelines might have once carried natural gas or crude oil but the intent today of the pipelines—Keystone XL, Enbridge’s Line 9 through Toronto, TransCanada’s Energy East and Kinder Morgan—is to push heated and diluted bitumen at high pressure to its destination. That destination is usually an oil tanker because most Canadian oil refineries do not want the pollution problems with refining bitumen.

By no stretch of the imagination is bitumen oil. By removing impurities and much of the carbon molecules, bitumen can be refined into synthetic crude oil. It is not heavy oil, nor is it petroleum (petroleum is a product of crude oil). Nor is bitumen a made-up word such as ‘dilbit.’ It has to be labelled what it is because first-responders to a spill have to know what it is they have to do to contain it.

The reason why environmentalists go ape over bitumen is because it starts life with environmental damage and continues that damage until the carbon settles back into the earth and the process starts over. Currently washing bitumen out of tar sands uses massive amounts of hot water. This is disposed of in settling tanks in Alberta that leech chemicals into the ground water, the streams and rivers of our north country. This disposal does nobody any good.

The next step is to mix the bitumen with a polymer or other accelerant, heat it and then push it at high pressure through a pipeline that might have been originally built for natural gas or light crude oil. A sensible person does not suggest there “might” be a spill.” They simply say: “When there is a spill.” If the spill is on land, the lighter chemicals in the bitumen soup go into the ground water and the heavy stuff stays on the surface. In water, that process reverses. The bitumen gradually sinks to the bottom and you have an impossible clean-up problem and a lot of dead fish.

There is a businessman who is worried about a tanker spill in the ecologically sensitive coastal waters around Kitimat and he wants to build a large refinery and refine the bitumen in Kitimat. This is an interesting idea as the amount of refining needed for all that bitumen and the prevailing winds would produce a carbon footprint that would probably make Prince George and Edmonton uninhabitable within five years.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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