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Lui warns of tar sands shipments on waterways at US conference

Ottawa-based Council of Canadians water campaigner Emma Lui spoke at the Save the River conference in Clayton, New York yesterday on the risks posed by transporting crude oil extracted from Alberta’s tar sands on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

She was on a panel described on the conference website as follows: “To Ship or Not – with the pace of oil extraction from the U.S. Midwest and Alberta tar sands picking up and increasing the pressure for ways to ship it to overseas markets the waters and watershed of the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence River are being considered as potential routes to the sea.”

The Watertown Daily Times reports, “The Council of Canadians believes that all transportation of tar-sands oil should be banned on and near the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, Ms. Lui said. …[She noted] research shows that the Canadian government, for example, would be ill-equipped to handle a crude oil spill of about 10 percent from a standard-size Aframax oil tanker. The government would have a maximum of about $1.4 billion to cover such a spill, she said, which would cost at least $2 billion to clean up. ‘That’s a huge concern’, Ms. Lui said. ‘And I appeal to everyone in the room that it’s our responsibility to be highlighting this. If we’re not ready for a spill, we shouldn’t be going ahead with it.'”

“Tar sands are a type of petroleum deposit that contains sand, clay and water saturated with a dense kind of petroleum called bitumen, Ms. Lui said. Because bitumen has the consistency of molasses, it has to be separated with chemical diluents to be transported by pipelines. Diluted bitumen floats briefly when spilled, she said, but then it sinks as its light components evaporate. As a result, it becomes more difficult to clean up and poses a greater risk to watersheds than conventional crude oil.”

“To illustrate, Ms. Lui cited a massive spill in July 2010 in southwestern Michigan, in which nearly 4 million liters of diluted bitumen spilled into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. A ruptured pipeline operated by Calgary-based Enbridge Pipelines Inc. was responsible for the spill, which resulted in a cleanup cost of about $1.2 billion. ‘And even after 1.2 billion dollars was put into it, it’s still not clean’, she said.”

The article adds, “Though the St. Lawrence River isn’t now used much to transport diluted bitumen, Ms. Lui said, that could change. Last fall, the first oil tanker to transport diluted bitumen on the St. Lawrence made a shipment from the port of Sorel-Tracy in Quebec, east of Montreal, she said. Owned by Suncor Energy Inc. of Calgary, that tanker carried about 700,000 barrels of the oil to Italy, while a second tanker carried a load in October to the Gulf of Mexico.”

As noted on their website, “Founded in 1978, Save The River is a non-profit, member-supported environmental organization whose mission is to restore, preserve and protect the ecological integrity of the Upper St. Lawrence River through advocacy, education and research. Since 2004 Save The River has been a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance as the Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper.”

For information on the Council of Canadians campaign to protect the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, please click here.