A blog to keep current on MPIRG'S fight for social and environmental justice.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Trials and Stribulations in the Mainstream Press.

Lot's of talk about Canadian oil in the Star Tribune lately. First, Neal St. Anthony's well intended/misinformed column. Then a news piece about a recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council. There there was this response from some guy at the American Petroleum Institute--the same lobbying group that have generously provided high school science teachers around the country with such fine educational videos as "Fuel-less: You Can't Be Cool Without Fuel." Who know's if they'll publish my venting--but hey, that's what blogs are for right?

The only one misconstruing the facts is the professional oil lobbyist, Peter Lidiak, whose Feb. 24 response intentionally avoided the premise of the article (“Pipeline safety questioned, Feb. 17) in order to deceive the public.

The NRDC report in question—a very manageable 16 pages—specifically focuses on “Dilbit,” a combination of the molasses like substance bitumen (the material extracted from the ground) and the array of highly corrosive chemicals used to dilute it.

US imports of bitumen have historically been refined into synthetic oil in Canada; however US imports drastically increased over the last decade, outpacing Canadian refining capacity. In response, new pipelines belonging to Enbridge and TransCanada, along with retrofitted US chemical refineries such as Flint Hills Resources in Rosemount, have allowed “DilBit” to instead be piped straight to the US for refining. The volume of this imported mixture increased fivefold in 2010 alone and has come to equal more than half of the 900,000 bpd of imported Canadian tar sands oil.

Two of the largest refineries that process Dilbit are in Minnesota and Illinois and the pipelines feeding them cross our land. To transport this new substance, pipelines will have to run at a much higher pressure, temperature and continually higher volumes. This is why Minnesotans should be worried.

The pipelines crossing our state are owned by Enbridge, the company responsible for last summer’s oil spill in Michigan. This ruptured pipeline—which is part of the same network as our own—leaked 840,000 gallons of petro-chemicals into the Kalamazoo River. And what were the contents of the pipeline at the time? According to Enbridge’s CEO, 2/3 bitumen, 1/3 diluents: DilBit. It’s going to cost them $475 million to “clean up.”

In demonstration to what American Petroleum Institute (API) would call “commitment to safety,” over the last eleven years ruptured pipelines belonging to Enbridge have spilled 1.1 million gallons of oil onto US soil and killed 3 people. Minnesota has experienced the most incidents of any state with 18 spills and 2 deaths. Those numbers are from the US Dept. of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, whose inspection staff, by their own admission, has been chronically understaffed since 1994.

The citizens of Minnesota (and columnists at this very publication, for that matter) must not be taken in by fallacies promoted by industry representatives. From extraction, through transportation unto combustion, this synthetic petroleum is neither safer nor environmentally preferable to conventional oil resources.

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