NAS Study: Oil Sands-Derived Crude Safe For Pipeline Transportation

August 2013, Vol. 240 No. 8

The Association of Oil Pipe Lines (AOPL) welcomed confirmation from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that oil sands-derived crude is safe to transport through the nation’s pipelines.

“Oil sands-derived crude is safe for delivery – this confirmation is good news for pipelines, the environment and American consumers,” said Andy Black, AOPL president and CEO.

Congress commissioned a scientific review to put to rest concerns that oil sands-derived crude might somehow harm pipelines. Despite decades of experience safely transporting heavy crude and the oil sands crude derivative known as diluted bitumen, some opponents of new pipeline construction claim otherwise. The review found no evidence diluted bitumen harmed pipelines or caused any pipeline incidents.

The review, conducted by the Transportation Review Board (TRB), a division of the National Academy of Sciences, found specifically that there is:

No evidence of causes of pipeline failure unique to shipments of diluted bitumen
No evidence of chemical or physical properties of diluted bitumen that are outside the range of other crude oil shipments
No evidence of extreme properties that make diluted bitumen shipments more likely to cause internal corrosion or erosion than similar crude oils
No evidence of properties that make diluted bitumen shipments more likely to cause external corrosion and cracking or cause damage from mechanical forces

Pipeline operating and maintenance practices are the same for shipments of diluted bitumen and shipments of other similar crude oil.

This scientific finding of no harm from diluted bitumen is consistent with pipeline incident data collected by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) that shows no pipeline incidents listing diluted bitumen as the cause.

Opponents claimed oil sands-derived crude and diluted bitumen was different than conventional heavy crudes, though their chemical compositions are the same. A growing source of America’s crude oil supply is coming from Canadian oil sands: naturally occurring deposits of sand, clay and crude oil. After the heavy crude is separated from the sand and clay, it is mixed with a lighter petroleum product to help it flow easily through pipelines.

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