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VIDEO: Vancouver's Dilbit Dilemma

Is Alberta bitumen as safe to transport as any other crude? Watch this.

By Cliff Vermette and Jordan Wade 22 Mar 2013 |

Cliff Vermette and Jordan Wade are completing masters degrees in journalism at UBC.

Earlier this week the federal government pledged steps to improve safeguards against spills by oil tankers plying the coast of British Columbia. As the Canadian Press reported, those measures include "annual tanker inspections, increased aerial surveillance and stronger measures for pollution prevention and response at oil handling facilities. Pollution penalties will be extended and Ottawa will create a tanker safety expert panel to review the current regime and make further recommendations."

Mark this the latest salvo in the ongoing debate over whether transporting bitumen by pipeline, rail car or tanker ship can ever really be safety proofed. (Notably, B.C.'s largest oil spill response vessel tripped up on a sandbar en route to the federal news conference announcing the new safeguards, according to the Vancouver Sun.) Indeed, as pressure mounts to expand Alberta oil shipments to the coast of B.C. through pipeline expansion, so too does the opposition. Kinder Morgan is planning to triple its current pipeline capacity by building a second, larger pipeline along its existing route, which terminates in Vancouver's harbour. And so it made sense that Vancouver is where the tanker safety measures were announced by Transport Minister Denis Lebel and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.

Unconvinced, opponents of the pipeline contend that the oil from Alberta, bitumen -- super heavy crude -- is fundamentally different from normal lighter crude and poses a much greater risk should any of it spill. They point to Kalamazoo, Michigan where in July 2010 an Enbridge pipeline there ruptured resulting the most expensive land based oil spill in U.S. history.

Why was it so expensive? Because the spill was of dilbit -- diluted bitumen from the Alberta oil sands. Unlike a conventional oil spill, the dilbit that spilled in Kalamazoo sank to the bottom of the river whereby conventional tactics used to clean oil were rendered useless. Kinder Morgan contends that their plans are safe and that this will not happen should any oil spill in Vancouver. But what safety measures are in place should their plans succeed? And if a spill were to occur, would the dilbit sink? Vancouver is now faced with a dilbit dilemma -- the subject of our video.  [Tyee]

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