Posts Tagged ‘Enbridge’

Enbridge storage tank - photo from Dan Riedlhuber, Reuters

Enbridge storage tank – photo by Dan Riedlhuber, Reuters

A second Canadian pipeline company has its permit tied up in the State Department’s approval process. Enbridge, Canada’s largest pipeline company, is trying to expand its Alberta Clipper line, but is now facing delays.

Enbridge started up its first phase of the line, which has a capacity of 450,000 barrels per day (bpd), in 2009, after obtaining a U.S. federal permit from the State Department. Enbridge is now looking to expand its capacity, but the State Department says it needs to do further environmental analysis before granting Enbridge the go ahead to expand its Alberta to Wisconsin pipeline.

Enbridge is not looking to build another pipeline; rather, they are trying to increase capacity by 120,000 bpd for a total of 570,000 bpd. Beyond that, they would like to expand from 570,000 bpd to 800,000 bpd in the near future, which is almost as much tar sands oil as the proposed Keystone XL would carry.

“Obviously, things take longer in this environment that we’re in. I don’t think we want to draw any conclusions about the political environment. It’s not something that we can control. What we control is the fullness of our application,” CEO Al Monaco told reporters and analysts on a conference call to discuss the company’s fourth-quarter results, which included a net loss. “In this case, this is a fairly routine matter. The pipeline’s already in the ground, so we’re hoping that we move this along as quickly as possible.”

Another Canadian pipeline company, TransCanada, has been seeking U.S. approval of their Keystone XL pipeline since 2008. The Keystone XL would cut across the heartland of America bring up to 830,000 bpd of Canadian tar sands into the U.S. The Keystone XL has become highly politicized with many environmental groups lobbying and taking direct action against the pipeline.

Although Enbridge has managed to escape the same level of scrutiny as their competitor TransCanada, they have still faced opposition from activists in Canada and Michigan.

Enbridge is also the company behind the largest on-shore oil spill in U.S. history. Enbridge spilled more than one million gallons of diluted bitumen (dilbit, or tar sands oil) into Talmadge Creek in Marshall, MI, which then flowed 30 miles downstream into the Kalamazoo River in the late summer of 2010. Enbridge has spent nearly a billion dollars trying to clean up the spill over the last three years, but latest reports confirm that there is still oil in the Kalamazoo River.

Enbridge also owns several other tar sands pipelines aroung the country, including the Seaway pipeline system in Texas. Enbridge is currently expanding the Seaway pipeline system by the process of twinning. The new twin Seaway line will be a 30-inch diameter pipeline, and havea capacity of 450,000 bpd. Company officials are expecting a service date in 2014.

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This is a guest submission by Riki Ott, PhD. Dr. Ott is a marine toxicologist, author, and former commercial fisher. She was one of the first people on the scene during the Exxon Valdez oil spill, when millions of gallons of crude oil were discharged into the pristine waters of Prince William Sound, Alaska. For 23 years, she has been the voice and face of efforts for justice.

She is the featured character in the award-winning film BLACK WAVE: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez, a documentary that tells the tale of the battle between commercial fishers against the largest corporation in the world, Exxon-Mobil.

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In oil disaster after oil disaster, industry has repeatedly hidden the truth from federal agencies and the public about spill volume and extent of damages, including wildlife kills, ecosystem harm, and harm to worker and public health. This underreporting is done to minimize the spiller’s liability – often billions of dollars are at stake. If the oil industry is not held accountable for these costs, the costs are externalized and borne by the environment, local economies and businesses that depend on a healthy environment, individuals and families who suffer health consequences, and U.S. taxpayers.

Riki Ott, PhD is asking the press to pose critical questions rather than regurgitate industry press releases. The public depends on the press in order to be well informed and make important decisions. It is essential for the media to search for deeper explanations and more accurate information during incidents that threaten human health, wildlife, and the environment––and future energy choices.

Dr. Ott is offering this guide, based on her on-the-ground first-hand experience with the nation’s largest oil tanker spill (Exxon Valdez, 1989), offshore oil rig disaster (BP Deepwater Horizon, 2010), and on-land pipeline tar sands spill (Enbridge, 2010).

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Exxon says the leak was discovered on Friday afternoon. What are residents saying? People living nearby should have known immediately from the fumes when the leak occurred or once it spilled above ground. In the case of the Enbridge tar sands oil spill in the Kalamazoo River (July 2010), residents reported smelling and seeing oil two days prior to the date Enbridge claimed the spill occurred.

Media is reporting a crude oil or sour crude spill. This oil is sour (containing high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide) but more importantly, it is heavy bitumen crude – tar sands oil (sour by nature) that has been diluted with lighter petroleum distillates and other very toxic chemicals.1 These chemicals are often labeled proprietary due to their toxic nature.

“Tar sands oil” is a political red flag, so the industry also calls it “nonconventional oil,” “heavy bitumen crude,” “dilbit” (diluted bitumen), and more recently, “sour oil,” and “sour crude”. Don’t fall for it. What spilled is the essentially the same stuff that Enbridge spilled in Michigan (July 2010) and that would be coming down the Keystone XL: tar sands oil (bitumen crude oil) with diluents, or dilbit.

Common symptoms of exposure to conventional crude oil spills are well known and established within the medical community and include respiratory problems, central nervous system dysfunction, blood disorders, and skin problems.2 Unfortunately, a body only has so many ways to say it’s ill and the symptoms for chemical illnesses mimic those for colds/flu, asthma, bronchitis, COPD, bad headaches, vertigo, dizziness, tingling feet and hands, fatigue, general malaise, immune suppression (sick all the time), bad looking skin rashes like MRSA, peeling palms and soles of feet (for people walking barefoot), ear and nose bleeds (gushers), bleeding hemorrhoids, and more.3

Tar sands oil is concentrated with heavy hydrocarbons, known as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) or more commonly as ultrafine particles. Exposure to PAHs can cause the health issues listed above (and also listed as compensable injury on BP medical benefits settlement4)––and similar injury in wildlife.5

The diluents are industrial solvents, containing petroleum distillates and other toxic chemicals that that target and harm the same organs of the body as PAHs/oil––the respiratory system, central nervous system, skin, and blood. This means the body takes a double hit of toxic chemicals. Diluents contain chemicals that are teratogens (disturb development of or kill babies in the womb), carcinogens, mutagens, systemic poisons, and cause hemolysis (rupture of blood cells). Some people are more vulnerable than others to dilbit, especially children6, pregnant women, elderly, African Americans, and those with pre-existing illnesses.7 Diluents are industrial solvents and degreasers, like dispersants, that act as an oil delivery mechanism, pulling oil into the body. The emerging science from the BP Gulf disaster is finding that chemically-dispersed oil is more toxic than oil alone to wildlife and humans.

Since tar sands oil is concentrated with PAHs and VOCs/diluents, dilbit is far more toxic to humans and animals (wild and domestic) than conventional oil. The oil industry (and government) are trying to downplay the human health risks of exposure to tar sands and/or dilbit because this is extremely politically inconvenient information. It nonetheless is extremely dangerous.

No. Residents and the city are being misinformed about health risks. A recent statement released by Exxon said, “The air quality does not likely present a human health risk, with the exception of the high pooling areas, where clean-up crews are working with safety equipment.”

This is simply not true. Oil and petroleum distillates (ingredient of both dispersants and diluents) wrecked havoc with wildlife and people in the aftermath of the BP disaster8 and the Exxon Valdez disaster.9 Similarly, tar sands oil and diluents made people sick in Michigan,10 where residents of one trailer court and neighborhood along the oiled riverbank blame exposure to tar sands oil and fumes for illness outbreaks including eighteen deaths––and counting.11 Oil and diluents can cause short- and long-term harm to health if people are not forewarned (educated about chemical illnesses, exposure, symptoms, and treatment) and given protection.

Dilbit has a mandatory 1,000-foot evacuation zone. Was it uniformly enforced? In Michigan, people in richer areas were evacuated while people in poorer areas were either not evacuated or were forced to relocate when the city condemned public housing units.12 Enbridge housed workers in some of the homes it purchased, raising health concerns. If the home wasn’t safe for the original occupants, why was it safe for the workers? Unprotected workers and the general public are at risk of exposure and chemical illness. Children, elderly, pregnant women, people with pre-existing illnesses, and African Americans, in particular, and domestic animals should have been evacuated immediately.

The local department of health should issue Public Health Advisories, warning residents of the signs and symptoms of exposure, such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, nose bleeds, and cold- and flu-like symptoms, among others. Occupational and environmental medicine (OEM) doctors should be on hand to diagnose and treat illnesses that family doctors are not trained to recognize. These specialty physicians should NOT be provided by the industry; the city should hire them and ask industry for reimbursement. People should be given baseline health exams before returning to homes they evacuated; their homes should be tested for air quality. Wood and fabric, for example, absorb oily fumes and will off-gas over time. The industry should pay if homes, furniture, clothes, carpet, toys, etc., need to be replaced.

Photos from KTHV in Little Rock, AR, show backhoe operators and others with absolutely no protective gear at all. Compare what the cleanup crews are wearing with what EPA and other federal responders were wearing, especially during the early response. During the Michigan response, EPA crews wore respirators and Hazmat gear. Hazmat crews with protective equipment and workers or the general public without similar protection in the same area is a sign of trouble for unprotected persons – and disingenuous PR statements. In Prince William Sound, Alaska, Alyeska’s SERVS workers are trained, provided with, and required to wear personal protective equipment, including respirators, during oil spill response.

Photos from KTHV in Little Rock, AR, show dilbut bubbling down into storm sewers. City wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to process and remove even small amounts of oil. Individuals are fined hefty amounts for releasing even a quart of oil into sewers. Tar sands oil is thick, sticky goo and the diluents are extremely toxic chemicals. ExxonMobil needs to detail how it plans to help municipalities clean out the sewers and the wastewater treatment system––without contaminating the city’s water supply. If it is too late to avoid contamination of the city’s water supply, how will industry provide safe water for city residents?

Yes. Period. No debate. Bitumen blends are more acidic, thick, and sulfuric than conventional crude oil. DilBit contains 15–20 times higher acid concentrations and 5–10 times as much sulfur as conventional crudes. The additional sulfur and high concentrations of chloride salts cause corrosion that weakens and ages pipelines, especially when dilbit is pumped under high temperature and pressure. Tar sands crude oil also contains high quantities of abrasive quartz sand particles, much more than used by liquid sandblasters. (Keystone XL pipeline maximum capacity would mean over 125 pounds of quartz sand and alumino-silicates per minute. Common sandblasters use between 1.5 and 47 pounds of sand per minute.) Conventional crude oil does not contain quartz sand particles. Dilbit is also up to 70 times more viscous than conventional crude.13

Not surprisingly, tar sands pipeline spills occur more frequently than spills from pipelines carrying conventional crude oil because of diluted bitumen’s toxic, corrosive, and heavy composition. Between 2007 and 2010, pipelines transporting diluted bitumen in the northern Midwest spilled three times more oil per mile than the national average for conventional crude oil. Between 2002 to 2010, internal corrosion caused over 16 times as many pipeline spills per 10,000 miles in Alberta, Canada, where pipelines transport mostly dilbit, than in the US, where pipelines transport mostly conventional crude oil. Finally, in its first year, the U.S. section of Keystone 1, carrying diluted tar sands oil, had a spill frequency 100 times greater than the TransCanada forecast. In June 2011, federal pipeline safety regulators determined Keystone 1 was a hazard to public safety and issued TransCanada a corrective action order.14

The oil industry is aware of the higher risk of spills from transporting dilbit and the higher cost of spill response, based on the Enbridge tar sands spill in Michigan. To minimize liability, industry lobbyists successfully argued that dilbit was not conventional oil and therefore exempt from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Oil shippers pay into this fund, which is then used by the federal government for spill response. Now the shippers most likely to spill oil, those shipping diluted tar sands oil, do not pay into the fund. But the fund is still tapped for spill response. If the fund goes bankrupt, U.S. taxpayers would foot the bill––on top of the annual $375 million subsidy for saving the oil and gas industry from paying into the fund in the first place.15

The government and industry are pushing the press away from these scenes with claims of safety concerns. Really? Are the media crews different from the workers or residents? The media could obtain and wear the same safety gear worn by the federal responders, if this is truly government’s concern. The BP Gulf disaster set horrible precedent for media access16––and the media acquiesced instead of insisting upon, and fully exercising, their First Amendment rights. THE MEDIA IS NOT GETTING THE FULL STORY IF THEY ARE DENIED ACCESS TO THE SPILL SITE––and neither are the American people.

  • The ExxonMobil tar sands oil spill is very inconvenient for government, Congress, and industry. The U.S. State Department is taking public comment for the Keystone XL Pipeline until April 22. There will be a huge push by industry and the government to shut down the true risks and costs of transporting tar sands oil as inconvenient truths. It is the media’s job to accurately research and portray these risks to the public. In-depth research and reporting on the ExxonMobil tar sands spill in Arkansas would be a good start.

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1 Lisa Song, A Dilbit Primer: How It’s Different from Conventional Oil, June 26, 2012, http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20120626/dilbit-primer-diluted-bitumen-conventional-oil-tar-sands-Alberta-Kalamazoo-Keystone-XL-Enbridge

2 Barry Levy and William Nassetta, The Adverse Health Effects of Oil Spills, Intern. J. of Occupational Health and Environ. Medicine, 17(2):161– Apr/Jun, 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21618948

3 See: series of Huffington Post blogs documenting emerging public health epidemic of chemical illnesses across the oil-impacted Gulf Coast at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/riki-ott/; See also: on-line version of Sound Truth and Corporate Myths at: www.rikiott.com under reading for medical professionals.

4 BP-Plaintiffs Medical Benefits Class Action Settlement Agreement, Exhibit 8: Specified Physical Conditions Matrix, Table 1: Acute SPECIFIED PHYSICAL CONDITIONS, and Table 3: Chronic SPECIFIED PHYSICAL CONDITIONS. http://www.laed.uscourts.gov/OilSpill/4.pdf

5 Charles Peterson, Stanley Rice, Jeffrey Short, Daniel Esler, James Bodkin, Brenda Ballachey, and David Irons, “Long-term Ecosystem Responses to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill,” 2003; 302:2082–2086. See also Riki Ott, Sound Truth and Corporate Myths: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (Dragonfly Sisters Press, Cordova, AK: 2004), available at: www.rikiott.com

6 http://globalaccessmedia.org/consequence-oil-part/

7 Sciencecorps, 2010, Gulf Oil Spill Health Hazards. http://www.sciencecorps.org/Gulf_Spill_Chemical_Hazards_Report.pdf

8 Dahr Jamail, “Gulf seafood deformities alarm scientists,” Aljazeera English, April 20, 2012, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/04/201241682318260912.html; BP blamed for ongoing health problems,


9 Kim Murphy, LA Times, November 5, 2001. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/EVOS/message/33

10 Martha Stanbury et al., Acute Health Effects of the Enbridge Oil Spill, Lansing, MI: Michigan Department of Community Health, November 2010, http://www.michigan.gov/documents/ mdch/enbridge_oil_spill_epi_report_with_cover_11_22_10_339101_7.pdf; Dahr Jamail, “Pipeline of ‘poison’,” Aljazeera English, Oct. 17, 2011. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/10/2011101151776808.html

11 Michelle BorlandSmith, Jackson, MI, pers. communication.

12 Michelle BorlandSmith, Jackson, MI, pers. communication.

13 NRDC et al., Tar Sands Pipeline Safety Risks, June 2011, on p. 6, http://www.nrdc.org/energy/files/tarsandssafetyrisks.pdf

14 Cornell University Global Labor Institute, The Impact of Tar Sands Pipeline Spills on Employment and the Economy, March 2012, http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/globallaborinstitute/research/upload/GLI_Impact-of-Tar-Sands-Pipeline-Spills.pdf

15 Erin O’Sullivan, “Toxic and tax exempt,” Oil Change International, April 2, 2013, http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/how_tar_sands_spills_from_michigan_to_arkansas_cost_us_all/; Oil Change International et al., “Irrational exemption: Tar sands pipeline subsidies and why they must end,” May 14, 2012, http://ecowatch.com/2012/tar-sands-industry-remains-exempt-from-spill-liability-fund/ and http://priceofoil.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Irrational-exemption_FINAL_14May12.pdf

16 http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2010/07/media_boaters_could_face_crimi.html

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The following story on the threat the proposed Tar Sands pipeline poses for the state was reprinted with the permission of the Texas Energy Report.


Enbridge says public data don’t back up spill concerns

As the Environmental Protection Agency announced the re-opening of parts of the contaminated Kalamazoo River in Michigan Thursday, environmental activists in Texas warned that tar sands could contaminate water supplies in the Lone Star State as well.

Noting that Enbridge Inc. “was allowed to push tar sands through” a 43-year-old pipeline in Michigan leading to a spill “nearly impossible” to clean up, environmental experts at Public Citizen – Texas say the same could happen in Texas.

Enbridge, they say, has begun pumping the “same toxic diluted bitumen” through the 36-year-old Seaway pipeline, which runs under three major drinking water sources for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“All Texans should be deeply troubled,” the group said in a statement, noting similarities between the Kalamazoo and Texas pipelines now transporting tar sands, also known as oil sands.

“The reversal and repurposing of the aging Seaway pipeline was accomplished without any inspection or oversight from state or federal agencies despite the fact that the new tar sands feedstock is substantially more likely to cause a pipeline rupture, contains a far greater concentration of toxic diluents, and is made up primarily of Canadian bitumen which sinks in water, making it almost impossible to clean up,” Public Citizen said in a statement.

“I don’t think it’s that simple,” Larry Springer, an Enbridge spokesman based in Houston, told Texas Energy Report.

“We went back ourselves and looked and did not find any examples of pipelines that failed from internal corrosion in the last 10 years that were carrying oil that was produced in the Canadian oil sands,” he said.

Springer cites the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) as the source of data backing up that claim. He also noted that the pipeline that failed in Michigan was from a much older era.

By Polly Ross Hughes

Ramrodded by veteran reporter Polly Hughes, the Texas Energy Report’s Energy Buzz specializes in what is happening on the ground in Texas energy ranging from dedicated coverage of the Texas regulatory agencies to battles in the Legislature that affect the future of the industry. 

Copyright June 21, 2012, Harvey Kronberg, www.texasenergyreport.com, All rights are reserved.  Reposted by TexasVox.org with permission of the Texas Energy Report. 



A photo collage video by Michelle Barlond-Smith, a resident of Battle Creek, Michigan, near the Enbridge pipeline spill.

In  the meantime, an Enbridge Tar Sands victim of the Michigan spill, the most expensive in US history, is scheduled to testify on Tuesday, June 26th in front of the House Energy Resources Committee of the Texas Legislature, to describe the human cost of a tar sands pipeline spill.

Michelle Barlond-Smith is a resident of Battle Creek, Michigan, one of the communities hit hardest by the July 2010 rupture in Enbridge’s Line 6B which dumped over 1.1 million gallons of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River. Michelle witnessed firsthand neighbors and friends becoming sick or being hospitalized, has watched communities along the Kalamazoo become ghost towns, and brings a cautionary tale to Texans along the Seaway pipeline from near Dallas down to the gulf coast.  She will be in Texas testifying in front of the House Energy Resources Committee at the public hearing that will address an interim study charge examining state regulations governing oil and gas well construction and integrity and pipeline safety and construction and determine what changes should be made, if any, to ensure that the regulations are adequate to protect the people of Texas and its natural resources.

This committee hearing will begin at 9:00 am on Tuesday, June 26 in the Texas capital extension in room E1.010.  The committee will hear invited testimony only.  No public testimony will be taken, but the public is permitted to attend, and we encourage you to do so.

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