A Fraser Valley citizens' group is raising concerns over Kinder Morgan's plan to transport diluted bitumen through the Trans Mountain pipeline to Burnaby.
"We see it as an increased risk we are all having to deal with for their profits," said Sheila Muxlow, a member of Pipe Up, a citizens' group based in the Fraser Valley. "It doesn't come across as fair."
Muxlow said she wants an environmental review, public consultation and Kinder Morgan to have aplan in place to handle the risks of shipping diluted bitumen as opposed to other forms of crude. According to Muxlow, diluted bitumen is more subject to pipeline spills because it requires higher pressures and temperatures for transport, and it has more sediment.
"It's been likened to sandblasting the inside of the pipe," she said.
Bitumen is a thick tar-like solid substance that has to be blended with condensate or a synthetic dilutant before it can move through a pipeline. Kinder Morgan operates the Trans Mountain pipeline, which ships various oil products from Alberta to Burnaby, included diluted bitumen, also referred to as dil-bit.
"The first trials (for dil-bit products) were in 1985, and product starting moving a couple of years after that in the mid-to late '80s," said Michael Davies, Kinder Morgan's director of engineering.
Kinder Morgan wants to expand the pipeline's capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 750,000, to meet rising demand for Canadian crude abroad. Roughly a third of the current Trans Mountain shipments is heavy crude, either diluted bitumen or "dil-syn-bit," which is bitumen diluted with synthetic crude.
According to Davies, diluted bitumen isn't any different from heavy crude, and it's nothing the pipeline and the existing safety program can't handle.
"We're very concerned about pipeline integrity," Davies said. "We have studies on our website done by some of the research agencies for the regulators and the industry, like I say, we haven't seen any of those effects. We haven't seen any unusual corrosion or have had and other problems with diluted bitumen. At pipeline temperature, it's not more acidic or corrosive than conventional crude oil."
Davies said Kinder Morgan has plans to deal with diluted bitumen.
"But the characteristics of it are such that we don't need to do anything different from what we do," he said. "There has been diluted bitumen being moved out of Alberta for a long time, and there's no evidence it's causing any problems."
Kinder Morgan could not give figures or estimates on the volumes of diluted bitumen the company plans to ship if the pipeline expansion plan is approved.