January 21, 2013

Another View: Tar sands oil does not pose threat to local environment

Votes in Portland and Casco misread the risk of this kind of crude, the industry says.


In response to your articles "Portland councilors to vote on not using fuel from tar sands oil" (Jan. 18) and "Casco says no to plan for tar sands oil" (Jan. 12): I was concerned to see that the Portland City Council's Transportation Committee vote and the town of Casco's resolution against the transportation of oil sands crude were both based on inaccuracies and misleading statements involving this energy resource that is so vital to our economy and security.

No study has proven oil sands crude to be more corrosive than other crude oils transported in U.S. pipelines. From 2002 to 2011, U.S. Department of Transportation pipeline incident data show that no pipelines carrying oil sands crude had experienced releases resulting from internal corrosion, including the 2010 incident in Kalamazoo, Mich. The Canadian research group Alberta Innovates even found that compounds in oil sands crude are too stable to be corrosive under pipeline operating temperatures.

More importantly, ASTM International, the highly regarded, independent standards organization, has determined that bitumen-derived crude oil, such as oil sands, is no more corrosive in transmission pipelines than other crudes.

The oil sands production process is not the "vast and destructive" industrial operation that the resolution describes. Canada's oil sands development has affected less than 0.2 percent of Alberta's boreal forest. In fact, 24 percent of the forest, or about the size of South Carolina, is under federal protection and can't be touched by production, not to mention that any land disturbed must be reclaimed by law.

The claim that oil sands crude emits "more carbon per barrel" than the production of conventional crudes is misleading. It's the combustion of a fuel that produces 70 to 80 percent of emissions -- not crude oil -- and there is no differentiation between whether it was derived from light crude of West Texas or heavy crude from Alberta.

John Quinn is the executive director of the New England Petroleum Council in Boston.


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