Going ‘All In’ on bitumen.

There were two stories in the Toronto Star the other day from Canada’s western oil patch. The major story was the one by business writer David Olive on Suncor’s gutsiest bet yet on Athabasca bitumen. The other story never mentioned bitumen. It is a Canadian Press story out of North Battleford, Saskatchewan where the city has had to shut down its water supply from the North Saskatchewan River because of a pipeline spill.

Olive’s story was bigger because it was about Suncor betting its $14.5 billion of debt to increase its output of bitumen over the next few years to more than 800,000 barrels per day. This is in the face of the current world crude oil glut that has driven the price of crude below the reasonable profit level for ersatz crude from bitumen. When others are deserting the tar sands, Suncor is buying. And it is buying at a time when the availability of pipelines to the oceans cannot be guaranteed.

It really makes one wonder though when the Canadian Press news story does not mention bitumen but describes a diluted bitumen spill. It seems Husky Energy admitted to spilling between 200,000 and 250,000 litres of what they refer to as “crude oil and other materials” more than 40 kilometres up river near Maidstone, Saskatchewan.

As they said that there were lighter hydrocarbons mixed in as a diluent (which is how bitumen is able to be pushed, along with heating and higher pressure, through a pipeline).

It is amazing to hear Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall’s reaction to the spill. He remains a supporter of pipelines as he says it is much safer than railway transport. He thinks rail transport creates more greenhouse gases.

The reporter probably forgot to ask Premier Wall what he thought of the recent fine imposed on Canada’s Enbridge  under the Clean Water Act in the United States of US$67 million and the additional US$100 million required to improve Enbridge’s pipeline in Michigan as a result of the Kalamazoo River spill in 2010.

As a note of caution to the North Battleford city fathers, they should be aware that the State of Michigan will never be able to restore the Kalamazoo River to its previous environmental condition. While the river itself will eventually ‘flush’ out the oily sheen on the water caused by the diluent, the bitumen itself sinks to the bottom of the river and becomes a ragged but permanent paving of the river bottom.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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