US 'Dirty Oil' Imports Set to Triple as Pipeline Boom Planned

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Common Dreams

US 'Dirty Oil' Imports Set to Triple as Pipeline Boom Planned

Insatiable resource addiction leading US towards 'race to the bottom'

by
Common Dreams staff

Updated: InsideClimate News: Exclusive Map: The Tar Sands Pipeline Boom

InsideClimate News compiled a map and list showing industry's planned expansion, discovering that there are more than 10,000 miles of pipelines planned to send an additional 3.1 million barrels a day of Alberta's oil to export markets, at a cost to build of almost $40 billion.

Earlier:

Various plans and schemes are planned or under review for the United States to triple import of Canadian 'bitumen' -- aka tar sands oil, which scientists and environmentalists call the 'world's dirtiest oil' -- over the next eight years from roughly a half million barrels a day to over 1.5 million barrels.

Those numbers are estimates generated by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups in a recent report, but were confirmed by CNN, who compared them with the Canadian oil production numbers generated by the US Energy Information Administration.

Environmental groups have launched a spirited, and in many ways effective, campaign against Canadian tar sands, but the Canadians have so much of it that the push for its continued development will not die easily. "We've got all this unconventional crude, and we're completely unprepared for it," said Michael Marx, a senior campaign director at the Sierra Club. "It's definitely more dangerous" than regular oil, he told CNN.

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CNN reports

U.S. imports of what environmentalists are calling "dirty oil" are set to triple over the next decade, raising concerns over the environmental impact of extracting it and whether pipelines can safely transport this Canadian oil.

"We just don't have the technical sophistication to vacuum oil off the bottom of a river." --Michael Marx, Sierra Club

The United States currently imports over half a million barrels a day of bitumen from Canada's oil sands region, according to the Sierra Club. That number, Sierra Club says is set to grow to over 1.5 million barrels by 2020. That represents nearly 10% of the country's current consumption.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration's overall Canadian oil production numbers are in-line with the Sierra Club's projected pace.

Bitumen is a heavy, tar-like oil. It needs to be heavily processed in order to be turned into more viscous, easier to refine, crude oil. Because it's so thick, to make it more viscous and move it by pipeline, it gets diluted with natural gas liquids.

Besides the sheer amount of energy and water needed to process and extract bitumen, environmentalists say it's more dangerous to move because it's more corrosive to pipelines than regular crude.  

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"We've got all this unconventional crude, and we're completely unprepared for it," said Michael Marx, a senior campaign director at the Sierra Club. "It's definitely more dangerous" than regular oil.

Marx says bitumen is not only more abrasive than traditional crude, it's 15 to 20 times more acidic.

The Sierra Club, along with other environmental groups, recently put out a report showing that pipelines in Alberta, where bitumen is commonly transported, had 16 times the number of leaks than pipelines in the United States, which generally don't carry it.

Plus, when bitumen does leak, environmentalists say it's harder to clean up. Unlike regular oil, they say it's heavier than water, meaning it will sink to the bottom of lakes, rivers or bays.

"We just don't have the technical sophistication to vacuum oil off the bottom of a river," he said.

Bitumen currently comes into this country via a pipeline running from Alberta to Wisconsin and in the original Keystone pipeline that terminates in Illinois.

But Canada is planning on vastly increasing the amount of oil -- and bitumen -- that it gets out of its oil sands region. To get that oil out, more infrastructure needs to be built.

Along with the proposed Keystone expansion, other ideas call for pipelines to Canada's West Coast, to the Atlantic Coast through New England, and an expansion of rail lines. All of these routes would pass through sensitive ecological areas.

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