A 50-year-old ExxonMobil pipeline running through an Arkansas neighborhood ruptured recently and 12,000 barrels of heavy, corrosive, diluted bitumen unconventional crude oil poured through streets and over yards. The town is uninhabitable and the overpowering smell drifts for miles. Dead and oiled ducks are being found.
The State Department asserts there is little environmental impact of shipping bitumen. Effects of a similar 2010 spill are still being felt by Michigan residents. On March 27, a train derailed, dumping 30,000 barrels of bitumen into a Minnesota lake.
Because of a technicality, diluted bitumen is not classified as oil, and companies transporting it in pipelines do not have to pay into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Conventional crude producers pay 8 cents a barrel — 54,000 barrels of pipeline oil spilled 364 times last year.
The bitumen comes from ecologically critical Canadian boreal forests, where it is strip mined or boiled loose from underground formations.
Ten of these mines are creating one of the greatest environmental disasters on the planet. Twenty more have been approved, largely due to the promise of being able to ship across the U.S. for transport around the world.
Bitumen requires more energy to produce than is gained by burning it, and vast amounts of water. It is not intended for use in the U.S.
The Keystone XL pipeline being ramrodded through Texas will carry roughly 575 barrels of bitumen per minute across streams, farmlands and neighborhoods, and industry will pay nothing toward cleanup of devastating spills.
Peggy B. La Point,