Environment Forum

Seeking answers on oil sands crude corrosion

Environmental groups and the oil industry are battling on a new front in the long-running public relations war over Canada’s oil sands. This one concerns claims that crude wrung from the massive deposits is more corrosive to pipelines and hence presents a bigger risk of oil spills.

Green groups say the crude eats away at the inside of pipelines much more quickly than is the case with conventional oil and the industry says it doesn’t.

We took a look at the issue recently, and found a surprising lack of research dedicated specifically to the risks associated with shipping growing volumes of the tar-sands-derived oil on longer pipelines as the United States seeks to cut dependence on other imported crude.

It may be time to answer the question once and for all, and since so much distrust exists among the debate’s players, it’s likely only a formal, truly independent, peer reviewed study will do.

The U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council has led the charge among environmentalists pushing the corrosion theory and has called for a focused study. At least one Canadian regulator we spoke to for our story said he would be interested to see results of one.

from Tales from the Trail:

White House commission wades into “Deep Water”

OILSPILL-BP/COMMISSIONThe great thing about presidential commissions is that they can soberly consider complicated matters and then offer unvarnished reports on what to do. The tough part is when that information rockets around Washington, as occurred after a White House commission issued its final report on the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The "Deep Water" report, apparently titled in reference to the doomed BP Deepwater Horizon rig, blames the deadly blowout and oil spill on government and industry complacency, and recommends more regulation of offshore drilling and a new independent safety agency. But as my colleague Ayesha Rascoe reports, the commission lacks the authority to establish drilling policies or punish companies.

Within minutes of the report's release, and even as commission co-chair William Reilly was bragging about bringing the report in on time and under budget, interest groups started the PR barrage, with industry critical and environmental outfits largely complimentary. Two Democratic members of Congress said they'd introduce legislation to implement the commission's recommendations.

That sinking feeling along the U.S. Gulf Coast

OIL-SPILL/The oil is no longer gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from the broken BP well, and a final “bottom kill” is in prospect — though delayed by an iffy weather forecast. That means the environment’s on the mend along the Gulf Coast, right?

Not really. There’s the little problem of subsidence to deal with.

Because the Mississippi River has been channeled to control flooding, coastal wetlands have been starved of sediment. Without fresh sediment coming down the river, wetlands can’t keep up with erosion and protective marshes can turn into open water. Subsidence is what this phenomenon is called.

This sinking is already occurring near Venice, where marinas cluster around the toe of Louisiana’s boot shape. Take a look at a road that looks like a stream in a video clip I took in mid-July:

The Green Gauge: Black mark on Enbridge

Gretchen King holds a protest sign as she joins residents in downtown Marshall to protest the oil spill on the Kalamazoo River July 30, 2010. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Enbridge’s stain on the Kalamazoo River in central Michigan pushed this Calgary-based energy delivery company to the headlines as details emerged about 840,000 gallons of crude that spilled from one of their pipelines into a creek on July 26.

Enbridge leads this installment of The Green Gauge, a breakdown of companies that made headlines July 18 to August 9 for winning or losing credibility based on environment-related activity.

Selections of companies were made by Christopher Greenwald, director of data content at ASSET4, a Thomson Reuters business that provides investment research on the environmental, social and governance performance of major global corporations. These ratings are not recommendations to buy or sell.

from Tales from the Trail:

Should U.S. oil royalties pay for studies of BP spill’s environmental impact?

OIL-SPILL/Oil caused the mess in the Gulf of Mexico. Should U.S. oil royalties pay for scientists to study what happened, and what's still happening, to this complex environment?

At least one scientist thinks so. Ed Overton of Louisiana State University figures the billions of dollars collected in royalties by the now-defunct and much-reviled Minerals Management Service -- re-named and re-organized as the Bureau of Ocean Energy -- must have enough money to pay for research into the environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon blowout and spill.

Speaking at a Senate hearing last week on the effects of oil-dispersing chemicals, Overton and other experts called the BP spill an unintentional "grand experiment" into what deep water oil exploration can do to animals, plants, water and land in the Gulf. As Overton put it, the oil and dispersants are out there now. Best to study them over the months and years ahead to figure out what they're doing to the environment.

Dalian oil spill is all cleaned up

A laborer cleans up oil at the oil spill site near Dalian port, Liaoning province July 23, 2010. China's Xingang oil port has resumed some refined fuel loading for the domestic market, but fuel exports remain temporarily halted, industry officials said amid continuing efforts to clean up an oil spill at the country's major port of Dalian. REUTERS/Stringer

The Chinese government this week announced the oil spill is all cleaned up in Dalian harbor, off the north coast of Liaoning province in China.

That was fast.

Not even two weeks ago, on July 17, a blast hit two oil pipelines and spread an estimated 1,500 metric tons of crude oil (462,000 gallons) into the Yellow Sea.  (Update: Greenpeace on July 30 said as many as 60,000 metric tons could have been spilled.)

It’s a minute fraction of the amount of crude that has spilled into the Gulf of Mexico since the BP Deepwater explosion of April 20, with an estimated 414,000–1,186,000 tons — but it’s still significant enough for 8,000 workers and 800 fishing vessels to dive in to clean-up efforts, some literally.

from Tales from the Trail:

What does an oiled pelican look like?

OIL-SPILL/You've probably seen the disturbing images of pelicans so badly mired in leaking oil in the Gulf of Mexico that they can barely be distinguished as birds at all -- they look like part of the muck.

But nearly three months after the blowout at BP's Deepwater Horizon rig, there are other pelicans touched by the oil where the impact is far less apparent, though still real.

Take a look at some video I took during a boat trip on July 15 along West Pass, a long channel stretching out into the ocean from Louisiana's southern-most tip:

from The Great Debate UK:

BP Gulf of Mexico crisis will transform the oil industry

OIL-SPILL/

-Kees Willemse is professor of off-shore engineering, Delft University.  The opinions expressed are his own.-

The news that a huge metal cap has been successfully placed over several of the leaking oil vents at the Deepwater Horizon site marks a potential turning point in the Gulf of Mexico crisis.

It is already estimated that each day some 10-15,000 barrels of the oil that are spilling out into the ocean are being captured and diverted to ships on the sea surface.

from Tales from the Trail:

Lockbox may be making a political comeback

Republicans may be coming around to former Vice President Al Gore's way of thinking. Not on climate change, but on the "lockbox."

OIL-SPILL/During his failed 2000 presidential bid, Gore talked about setting aside Social Security tax surpluses and putting them in a kind of  "lockbox"  to keep them off limits for other government spending and tax cuts. NBC's "Saturday Night Live" comedy show made great fun of the Democrat's comment.

Now Senate Republicans have revived the idea.

Not for Social Security, but for the oil spill clean up fund. Democrats are proposing to increase the oil spill clean up fund tax to 41 cents a barrel from 8 cents a barrel. The increase is part of a bill being considered by the Senate to help the long-term unemployed, offer relief to cash-strapped states and extend some expired business tax breaks.

MMS “cozy” with industry? Hardly

JDH 2– John Hofmeister is founder and CEO of Citizens for Affordable Energy, former president of Shell Oil Company and author of Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk from an Energy Insider. Any views expressed here are his own. –

How bad, really, was the Minerals Management Service (MMS)?

The quick answer is no one will ever know.

Despite all the accusations of a “cozy” relationship with industry, the recent termination of President Obama’s appointee who served less than a year, as well as the re-organization by the Interior Department suggest that any sleaze has been swept aside by political calculations in the rush to assert that the administration is on top of things in Washington.

I must admit I was surprised to hear of this cozy relationship, since my experience with the MMS was exactly the opposite.

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