What is dilbit, that black stuff that has now found its way into the wetlands of Lake Conway, Arkansas though storm drains? We know it is diluted bitumen from the Tar Sands. What's it diluted with exactly and what gives it that noxious odor?
There is general information available about dilbit but even that cannot be published. It can be copied for personal use though.
If your backyard was full of that black dilbit like the above that burst from Exxon's Pegasus pipeline, you would not be able to get the exact composition of it from the industry. Exxon calls it "Wabasca Heavy Crude" and initially denied that it was from the Tar Sands. You can find some information about it at crudemonitor.ca. That site is prefaced with this warning:
Important Notice to VisitorsFor your personal use you can look here and here to find something about the Pegasus Pipeline dilbit's composition but you won't find the exact chemical composition of that dilbit from that pipeline. It's secret.
The data and information presented in this website are provided through the Industry Technical Services Committee, which has sponsored the collection and development of these data on behalf of its member companies. All data and information, or any analyses prepared from the data and information provided on this website, may not be reproduced for publication, presentation, redistribution or resale in any fashion. The contents of the crudemonitor.ca pages may be freely copied, but only for personal or internal company use. In order to avoid commercial exploitation, which is strictly forbidden, any copies should include the present disclaimer and include the data source acknowledgements.￼￼
What Do We Know About the Chemicals Found in Dilbit, and Why Is It Important?The clean up of dilbit is entirely different from that of oil. The industry knows that but where's the effort on their part to ensure that communities along their pipeline routes have properly trained clean-up crews. How can the clean up proceed if the crew doesn't even know what they are dealing with? As we see from the Mayflower, Arkansas spill, the clean up involved allowing the dilbit to get into the wet lands of Lake Conway and then pieces of absorbent material (looking like paper towels) were dropped on top of contaminated sections. Dilbit is heavy, it sinks. This photo demonstrates that they really do not know what they are doing.
Two websites offer information about the chemicals found in dilbit: CrudeMonitor.ca and Environment Canada's oil properties database. But those websites only list the kinds of chemicals found in diluents, not the exact chemical composition.
For instance, CrudeMonitor.ca lists the volume of octanes found in specific dilbit blends. Octanes are a class of chemicals, and there are at least 18 different octane compounds, each with its own chemical properties. "They talk about the type of molecules and not the specific molecules, and that [makes] a big difference when it comes to the dangers" of those chemicals, said Anthony Swift, a policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Swift said there are health and safety reasons for encouraging better disclosure of the chemicals found in diluents. It's harder to clean up an oil spill if you don't know what you're dealing with, he said, and "first responders need to be aware of what they're encountering."
Update to expand on this statement. The "paper towels" are not only useless, they inhibit the evaporation of the chemicals in the dilbit. From the clean-up of the Kalamazoo dilbit disaster:
But as the bitumen mixed with grains of sand and other particles in the river, the weight of the sediment pulled the bitumen underwater.This dilbit in the wetlands of Conway Lake will sink to the bottom dragging the absorbent papers with it.
Lake Conway wetlands
As you can see, Lake Conway has a convoluted shoreline with many many small coves that will trap the dilbit that will sink to the bottom. In order to save the lake and handle the contamination people have a right to all the technical information that exists.
The Nation: How Little We Know About Heavy Tar Sands Oil
But this conversation must start with a simple fact: There are too many known unknowns about diluted bitumen. We don't know exactly what's in it, and the government hasn't fully studied how safe it is to transport.
Bitumen is a form of petroleum that occurs in a solid, or semi-solid, state: It can be sludgy or even be brittle, like rocks. That’s what is buried deep in the Canadian oil sands. In order to transport this bitumen through thousands of miles of pipelines so that it can be refined, it has to first be diluted, so it flows like a liquid.
That diluent is usually a natural gas liquid—but we don’t know for certain what it is. The industry considers its diluent formulas proprietary information and won’t share it with regulators.
Researchers and regulators know roughly what’s in dilbit—just not enough. “I think what they don’t know are what the specific chemicals are in any pipeline or any batch, because companies could use different chemicals at different times, depending on what’s cheapest at hand at any one moment,” Carl Weimer, the executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, told The Nation.
The composition of those chemicals could greatly influence how the dilbit behaves once spilled—whether it sinks or floats in water, for example. In an emergency clean-up situation, that’s really good information to have.
1 Million Gallons of Dilbit Spilled into the Kalamazoo River July 26, 2010
EPA has recently ordered Enbridge to dredge the river in three places where the submerged dilbit is still accumulating. The clean up is estimated to cost $1 Billion.
A Dilbit PrimerIt's imperative that government force industry to be forthcoming with all the information. People have a right to know. In Canada, it's difficult to separate them since our government is now acting as a lobby for the Oil & Gas industry. Since the two sources of information on dilbit are Canadian links, here are the contacts for the Minister of the Environment and the Prime Minister.
InsideClimate spent seven months investigating what made the Marshall spill different from conventional oil spills. Part of the challenge was that there has been little scientific research on dilbit; most of the studies that have been done were conducted by industry and considered proprietary information.
Contact Canada's Minister of the Environment
The Honourable Peter Kent
Minister of the Environment
Les Terrasses de la Chaudière
10 Wellington Street, 28th Floor
Contact the Prime Minister
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
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