Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

It's hard to predict how bitumen from the Alberta oil fields will behave in the event of a spill, making it difficult to understand the risks, says a U.S. government emergency response official.

Gary Shigenaka, a marine biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's emergency response division, said the U.S. organization has many questions about the pipelines proposed through British Columbia and the product that would flow through them.

"As we tried to understand all of the facts about this product, it was very confusing," Mr. Shigenaka told those attending the Salish Sea Ecosystem conference this week. "We're going to be worried about how it's behaving."

Story continues below advertisement

Even figuring out if the diluted bitumen, or dilbit, would sink or float was a complicated process, he said.

"Does it float? Yes it does. When it's mixed and when they put it in a pipeline it floats," he said. "But it can also sink. It can sink if you mix it with sediment, so if you spill it in the environment, it mixes with sediment … then it can sink. So, there's your answer."

Canada's pipeline plans are a hot topic among scientists and conservation groups at the conference in Seattle. Those pipelines include Enbridge's Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain proposal, as well as the Keystone XL line into the United States.

Washington state also has several oil refinery and export proposals of its own that would add vessel traffic to the Salish Sea, Mr. Shigenaka said, most from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota.

More than 1,200 marine scientists, tribal leaders and policy makers from both sides of the border are gathered at the conference organized every two years since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada agreed to work together on cross-border issues in 2000.

The "poster child" for a fresh water oil spill remains the 2010 Enbridge pipeline rupture in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, Mr. Shigenaka said. Enbridge is the company behind the Northern Gateway project, he noted.

"There were a number of people who testified in Canadian hearings that it can't sink, it absolutely can't sink, then there were studies that came out that said, well, it can sink," Mr. Shigenaka said. "It sank in Michigan during the Kalamazoo spill. They're still working on that spill from 2010. … They're hoping to have that cleaned up this fall. So, four years later they're still cleaning up."

Story continues below advertisement

There are also concerns about the toxicity of the diluent mixed into the "peanut butter-like" bitumen. The recipe is proprietary, so his agency doesn't know what exactly is in it, he said. "We're sort of wary about occupational exposure to that diluent portion of the product."

Eric De Place, policy director for the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based sustainability think tank, said Oregon, Washington state and B.C. are facing a huge increase in oil traffic.

Debate in the United States has focused on the Keystone XL pipeline, but that project would carry less than the two pipelines proposed through B.C. to the Salish Sea, Mr. De Place said. Keystone would carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day to Gulf Coast and Midwest refineries.

The Northern Gateway would carry up to 525,000 barrels a day to a marine terminal in Kitimat, on the north coast of B.C. The expanded Trans Mountain pipeline through the B.C. Interior to Metro Vancouver would nearly triple capacity, from 300,000 barrels a day now to 890,000.

"It's a huge, huge, deal," Mr. De Place told about 150 people at the conference. "When we are having fossil fuel debates in Washington state or B.C. or Oregon, we are having debates that have genuinely global significance. There is no place, I would argue, in the world – except possibly the Gulf Coast – where we have this much responsibility on our hands and where we have this much threat."

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies