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Add cracking to fracking?
Re: The Northern Gateway Pipeline Proposal.
The whole ‘play’ has changed.
Plentiful, clean fossil fuels are now being forced out of deep shale beds all over the continent by the controversial technique known as fracking.
So other sources of hydrocarbons, such as tar sands, can compete only by presenting a burgeoning market with a clean product at the point of extraction.
Bitumen is not such a product.
What if the raw bitumen was transformed onsite, all the way to petroleum gas? This process, ‘cracking,’ is technically feasible.
Petroleum gas is a mixture of mainly butane, propane and ethane. The transportation of petroleum gas can be favourably compared to the transport, by pipeline and by tanker, of natural gas.
The gasification of raw bitumen, where extracted, offers other advantages to producers and consumers.
Cracking transforms a heavily discounted material into a premium product. Petroleum gas, as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), can be unloaded at any port, unlike bitumen.
Petroleum gas can be transported, by pipeline, just about anywhere, totally unlike bitumen. Petroleum gas can be easily tailored, if required, to meet local requirements at its destination.
The bottom line: The basic cost of producing and transporting petroleum gas would probably be much the same as the basic cost of simply transporting the equivalent quantity of bitumen.
For starters, only one pipeline would be required, no condensate would be used and pumping costs would be much less.
However, the real cost of transporting any dangerous goods anywhere has to include funds set aside to cover the cost of cleaning up the eventual leaks and spills.
The cost of cleaning up even a ‘medium’ and inevitable bitumen/condensate spill could rival the entire B.C. budget.
Therefore, nothing but nothing could be more expensive than the real cost of moving bitumen/condensate over rivers and through straits.
Perhaps the ‘technical fix’ described above is one way for those who conceived and promoted the initial Northern Gateway proposal to save face, and to respond with an alternative proposal matching present realities.
For, one way or another, not a drop of bitumen/condensate is going to reach the coast, let alone leave it.