If indeed Alberta’s oil sands production facilities are becoming lax at controlling potential air and water emissions, should not the issue be a priority of the Canadian Government Environmental Agencies? The last time I visited Fort McMurray about 15 years ago I witnessed no significant Public or Government concerns about these issues other than improving the reforestation regulations to ensure the open pit mines were better restored.
A few comments and fact checks on Canadian oil sands synbit and dilbit crudes within the U.S. based on my Downstream Oil Business experience:
1. Pipeline spills – all those responsible should definitely be held fully accountable to cleanup and prevent repeat incidents. Yes, dilbit oil sands crudes contain a variety of hydrocarbons including lighter aromatics. There is nothing unique about the diluents (natural gas liquids and thermally cracked petroleum liquids) blended with heavy bitumen crudes. The hazards are well known and have been aggressively addressed with Clean Air and Water (Act) EPA and State regulations since the 1970’s.
2. Refining Emissions – the volatile organic carbon (VOC) emissions from the transport and processing of crude oil have also been aggressively addressed by EPA and State regulations for 40+ years. The U.S. has the most restrictive VOC regulatory limits in the world today. All crudes contain sulfur and naph. acids. Refineries are designed specifically to process crudes with maximum levels of sulfur and naph. acids safely and cleanly. Higher sulfur/acid crudes are blended with lower sulfur/acid crudes to keep overall feedstock physical properties within design limits. Very little oil sands crude has been shipped (rail) to the West Coast. The primary cause for the recent Richmond Crude Unit fire (pipeline corrosion, stress cracking, or maintenance/operation error?) is still being investigated and no final report has apparently been issued by Chevron or responsible Government Agencies. By the way, mercaptans are routinely blended into natural gas for safety reasons.
3. Petroleum Coke – many U.S. Refineries have Cokers to convert heavy residual oil into lighter, cleaner products. Existing Clean Air EPA and State regulations control the potential particulate matter (PM) from all sources including coke storage. Potential exposure to coke dust today is an insignificant issue compared to other natural and man-made sources of PM exposure within the U.S.
Connecting the many potentially reasonably and highly questionable issues identified in this post to the Keystone XL is a very weak argument due to the fact that alternatives sources of imports (U.S.) and exports (Canada) exist and will be implemented regardless of the final decision on approving or not approving the cross-border pipeline infrastructure project.