LETTER: Pro-Keystone editorial misleading

-A A +A


The guest editorial on the Keystone XL pipeline is way off base.

This industry insider’s opinion is dangerously misleading. In the first place, the Canadian material for the pipeline is not “oil sands.” It is known as “tar sands,” and it is an extremely difficult material to work with. It cannot be pumped out of the ground; it must be dug out or mined. And it certainly cannot be moved through a pipeline unaltered. The common name for this material is bitumen, which is very viscous and very difficult to move. Even heated it will not flow easily.

According to industry experts, this material must be diluted at least 28 percent by a condensate to be usable in a pipeline. This condensate must be manufactured, shipped to Canada, combined with the tar, forced into the pipeline and sent (presumably) to the Gulf Coast refineries. There the condensate must be extracted from the tar and disposed of. The Gulf of Mexico area already has major environmental challenges. How will they deal with all this waste?

If the XL pipeline ships 730,000 barrels a day of “mixture,” what will be done with the 205,000 barrels of waste left over from the pumping process? 

A far-better alternative is to use rail transportation, with new tank cars that have special insulation and steam heating loops that can be used to load and unload viscous bitumen. Train loading and unloading terminals are being planned at both ends of the so-called pipeline route. Unit bitumen trains, similar to the coal unit trains that run through and near Brighton every day, can be cost competitive with a pipeline, and do not have the environmental waste of 205,000 barrels — 9.2 million gallons — delivered to the Gulf every day. The thicker bitumen is safer to transport in this manner since it doesn’t have the combustive and explosive potential of lighter oils.

The railroad car-builders have a peak capacity of about 24,000 new tank cars a year of the type needed for bitumen transport. That equals a lot of jobs without the environmental devastation of this Keystone XL pipeline disaster.

Mark Slattery