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LETTERS: Spill response was misleading
The Chilliwack Times “Are we prepared?” emergency response drill to oil spills on the Fraser River (April 17 edition) was a misleading feel-good story about something that will not even apply to the Kinder Morgan pipelines. Those pipelines will not be carrying oil.
The pipelines will carry diluted bitumen, also know as dilbit, which sinks in the event of a spill on water. A few floating containment booms such as those used in this exercise would be useless, given the historic track record of response times to spills that have happened recently. Dilbit is much more difficult to remove from waterways than the typical light crude oil. Bitumen extracted from tar sands has the consistency of peanut butter and must be diluted with chemicals to flow through pipelines.
Claims made by Enbridge where the company was promoting a page on its website saying that “crude oils, including diluted bitumen,” floats in water, was disproven when 3.3 million litres was spilled in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River on July 26, 2010. The company is still cleaning up and learning lessons about the way diluted bitumen behaves in fresh water.
The biggest lesson, simply put, is that bitumen sinks. The Environmental Protection Agency in the US believes there is at least 684,000 litres of bitumen still in the river.
When emergency responders rushed to the spill, they found that the Kalamazoo River had been blackened by oil. They didn’t discover until more than a week later that the ruptured pipeline had been carrying dilbit from Canada’s tar sands region. While most conventional oils float on water, much of the dilbit sank beneath the surface. Cleaning it up would challenge them in ways they had never imagined. Instead of taking a couple of months as they originally expected, today the job still isn’t complete.
Submerged oil is significantly harder to clean up than floating oil: A large amount of dilbit and oil remains in the Kalamazoo riverbed and that river will likely never fully recover.
To summarize, it’s clear that if there is a spill on any of our waterways, we can say goodbye to having salmon, or any other living thing spawn in or near that water ever again.