Alberta study disputes oil sands corrosion claims

Fri Nov 25, 2011 4:39pm EST
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By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - An Alberta study has found that crude from the province's oil sands is no more corrosive to pipelines than conventional oil, but it points out there is no definitive peer-reviewed research on the issue, which has played a role in Keystone XL pipeline controversy.

A 29-page review of available data by Alberta Innovates, a government-owned research corporation, addressed warnings by environmental groups that crude from the northern Alberta oil sands was more damaging to pipeline walls in several different ways, increasing risks of oil spills.

The study found there are differences in the chemical makeup of the types of oil, but not necessarily in corrosive qualities.

The paper made several recommendations, including urging Alberta's regulator, the Energy Resources Conservation Board, to start separating safety and operating statistics for pipelines that carry oil sands crude from those that ship conventional oil to allow better information gathering.

The paper, published this month, was written by Jenny Been, a specialist in Alberta Innovates' corrosion-engineering and advanced materials section. It was prepared for John Zhou of the agency's energy and environment solutions division.

It is not clear what weight the research carries and what the next steps are. Zhou and other officials at his division were not available for comment.

Corrosion fears were part of the controversy surrounding TransCanada Corp's $7 billion plan to build the Keystone XL pipeline to Texas from the Alberta oil sands. The plan is now on hold after the U.S. State Department pushed back a go-ahead decision by more than a year. The issue has arisen with other projects aimed at shipping crude from the tar sands, the world's third-largest oil deposit.

Despite a push by Canada and its oil industry to boost exports and staunch opposition from environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), there is little, if any, dedicated research on the impact of the oil in question, bitumen mixed with lighter diluting hydrocarbons, called "dilbit".   Continued...