Friday, May 24, 2013
As a chemist, I found the Press Herald articles regarding Alberta tar sands informative ("Maine pipeline has good safety record," June 17, and "Maine may be central as oil flow shifts east," June 18). However, both stories described the tar-like substance being "diluted with natural gas compounds." While accurate, it is not the whole story. The dilution compounds are proprietary, a trade secret, unknown even to first responders.
This sign near Sebago Lake in Standish alerts visitors to the no-trespassing zone around the Portland Water District’s drinking water intake area. A reader is concerned about the effect a chemical spill would have.
2001 File Photo/Jack Milton
In 2010, 843,000 gallons of diluted bitumen spilled into tributaries of the Kalamazoo River. The volatile hydrocarbons in the dilution compound evaporated into a toxic plume, while heavy bitumen sank in the affected rivers, coating nearly 200 acres of river bottom.
After two years and nearly $1 billion in cleanup costs, 30 miles of the affected rivers remain closed. The cleanup continues with no end in sight. This first large spill of diluted bitumen has shown that cleanup efforts are vastly different and more expensive than conventional cleanup operations.
A spill in Portland Harbor, near Sebago Lake, the drinking water supply for 15 percent of Maine citizens or where the pipeline crosses the Crooked River, the Presumpscot River, the Pleasant River or the Androscoggin River in Gilead could harm life in and around these rivers and water bodies.
The Kalamazoo spill likewise highlighted technical difficulties that pipeline operators experience identifying in remote control rooms when a disruption, even a large disruption, has occurred. Operators of the Enbridge pipeline in a span of 17 hours tried to restart the flow twice the day of the rupture, unaware that a major spill was occurring.
A profitable but destructive myth is held in Canada and the U.S. that oil can be extracted from tar sand deposits in Alberta equaling the land area of France with acceptable environmental consequences. Processing is energy and resource intensive, environmentally destructive, obviating a need to develop alternative energy systems with Manhattan Project focus and urgency.
We should applaud the petroleum tank cars crossing Maine and the predictions of the reversal of the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line to handle Canadian oil from an important perspective -- achieving petroleum independence and saving lives.
With an abundance of natural gas and tight oil released by technology, our nation's energy paradigm has changed dramatically.
Yes, environmentalists have reason to be concerned, but much less so than if these energy resources were traversing open seas. Technology can detect and help prevent spills; pipelines can be quickly shut down; and as with the Maine Responder, commercial interests involved could be required to establish a rapid response team to deal with such issues.
North American petroleum independence is realistic. With electric- and/or natural gas-powered commercial and private vehicles, energy-efficient, cost-effective alternative energies, and natural gas-powered electricity generating plants, North America could become close to energy self-sufficient.
We and Canada are now exporting petroleum products, and whereas liquefied natural gas import terminals were planned a few years ago, the talk now concerns LNG-exporting terminals!
Our military excursions in the Middle East arise from a variety of realities, but our appetite for oil is a most influential factor. Energy independence could substantially reduce the loss of military lives and the tragic maiming of our soldiers' bodies and minds.
I suggest the families of loved ones lost in our Middle East military exercises would have liked the Portland pipeline reversed long ago if it could mean that their lost family members could be with them today.
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