Bitumen floats in ocean, pipeline firm insists

Kinder Morgan officials are denying that heavy oil sands bitumen would sink if it ever spilled in the ocean

Kinder Morgan officials are denying that heavy oil sands bitumen – already carried by tanker through Vancouver harbor – would sink if it ever spilled in the ocean.

Grilled by Metro Vancouver politicians July 26, company reps called it misinformation in the media that diluted bitumen sinks in water, making a marine spill cleanup virtually impossible.

“The diluted bitumen and other products don’t sink,” said Mike Davis, Kinder Morgan Canada’s director of marine development and engineering. “They’re less dense that sea water. They float.”

He added any heavy crude oil could eventually sink if it “weathers” on the surface for too long, but added there’s no indication that would happen if a bitumen spill was boomed and cleaned within a reasonable period of time.

Mayors at the Metro port cities committee said later they were surprised to hear the claim – and skeptical.

So was B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake when asked for comment.

“The prevailing view is that bitumen will sink rather than float,” Lake said, but added more information might be needed.

The province’s newly released technical report on heavy oil pipelines specifically lists bitumen’s different properties  – and its potential to sink and complicate cleanup – as a source of higher risk.

Davis said the first trial shipments of bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands via the Trans Mountain pipeline through the Lower Mainland began in the 1980s.

He estimated between 20 and 30 per cent of the 300,000 barrels per day now flowing down the pipeline is either diluted bitumen or similar types of heavy crude oil.

If federal regulators approve the company’s plan to twin the 60-year-old pipeline and increase the capacity to 750,000 barrels, an estimated 300 tankers a year would go through Vancouver, up from about 70 now.

– Surrey/North Delta Leader