Study eats into oil-sands opponents’ corrosion claims – by Nathan Vanderklippe (Globe and Mail – November 23, 2012)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

 CALGARY — t has taken on the air of fact among those seeking to halt pipelines designed to carry crude from the oil sands. The diluted bitumen those pipelines would carry, critics say, is more corrosive than “normal” crude. In other words, the chemical nature of oil sands crude places the steel it travels through at risk.

But a new study conducted by federal scientists finds exactly the opposite: Diluted bitumen is not more corrosive. In fact, when comparing four types of dilbit, as it’s called, with seven other kinds of oil, the dilbit is among the least corrosive.

The study is a major strike against a key argument made by opponents of pipelines such as TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL and Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway.

Just last week, Quebec Environment Minister Daniel Breton argued that Alberta crude was found to be more corrosive on older pipelines and could result in spills, as he warned Quebec could oppose a plan to pipe western oil through the province to eastern markets. The challenge to those claims comes from work conducted by a Natural Resources Canada lab in Hamilton.

It builds on efforts that have seen government researchers test the corrosive qualities of oil since 1993. For the latest study, conducted this year, they compared various types of oil with a salt solution, which corroded pipeline steel at a rate of nearly 20 milli-inches per year. Anything below four is considered non-corrosive. The dilbit came in at three and below.

In fact, “we are not seeing any corrosion rate which is more than around four … in all the around 100 crude oils we have tested so far” in two decades of work, said Sankara Papavinasam, a research scientist with Natural Resources Canada.

As for dilbit, “we did not see any difference whatsoever. We could not differentiate” it from other types of oil.

Dilbit also tends to be a more acidic crude, but “we did not see any correlation between TAN” – that refers to Total Acid Number – “and the corrosion rate under pipeline operating conditions,” said Mr. Papavinasam.

Alex Pourbaix, president of energy and oil pipelines for TransCanada, said the study could be “meaningful” to efforts to get Keystone XL built.

“All of these things coming out make it more difficult for the opponents of this pipeline to continue spinning the misrepresentations and exaggerations that they have been prone to,” he said.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: