Exxon has said that the spill was of “low-quality Wabasca Heavy crude oil from Alberta.” Nothing about its being tar sands oil. Just "heavy crude." But if it were just heavy crude, the largest company in the world would be paying 8 cents a barrel into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, and it's not. The fund provides money to pay for cleaning up spills. But, as Oil Change International points out:
Companies that transport oil are required to pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, giving the government a pot of money for immediate spill responses. The Enbridge pipeline in Michigan and the Exxon pipeline in Arkansas, however, are exempt because these pipelines are not considered to be carrying “conventional oil”, despite the fact bitumen spills are more expensive and more dangerous.For tax purposes, it's tar sands oil. But for Exxon's PR purposes—and no doubt to assist the deceptions of the backers and builders of the Keystone XL pipeline who keep telling us that spills of tar sand oil are "unlikely"—what leaked out onto the streets and yards of Mayflower is conventional, heavy oil. Continue reading about the proposed pipeline decision, its opposition, and why some people are "scared as hell" below the fold.
In a January 2011 memorandum, the IRS determined that to generate revenues for the oil spill trust fund, Congress only intended to tax conventional crude, and not tar sands or other unconventional oils. This exemption remains to this day, even though the United States moves billions of gallons of tar sands crude through its pipeline system every year. The trust fund is liable for tar sands oil spill cleanups without collecting any revenue from tar sands transport. If the fund goes broke,the American taxpayer foots the cleanup bill.
As Anthony Swift at the Natural Resources Defense Council has noted, that's bunk. The real name of this stuff from Alberta is Wabasca Heavy Diluted Bitumen. The Canadian government considers it tar sands and the industry considers it tar sands. Except when it fits their public relations agenda. The stuff in the pipelines is dilbit for short, a term Americans will become much more familiar with in the years ahead unless we can curb our appetite for fossil fuels.
Meanwhile, as the nation awaits a decision from the State Department and then President Barack Obama about whether TransCanada will get the green-light to build the northern leg of its 36-inch Alberta-to-Texas pipeline to carry 35 million gallons a day of dilbit through America's heartland, some people wonder if they'll be next to enjoy an Easter like Mayflower's:
"We're just scared as hell," said Jim Tarnick of Fullerton [Nebraska], who also lives and farms in the path of the proposed pipeline. "Keystone will travel through 320 acres of my farm, and as close as 150 feet in front of my farmhouse."Keystone opponents will protest the proposed pipeline Wednesday night outside a $32,500-a-plate Obama fund-raiser and a $5,000-a-person cocktail reception in San Francisco's tony Pacific Heights neighborhood. The latter is hosted by billionaire Tom Steyer, an outspoken foe of the pipeline.