“What is dilbit, anyway?” During the 116 open houses we’ve hosted along the proposed Energy East Pipeline route, you asked us many questions about diluted bitumen – also known as “dilbit.” That’s because the pipeline will transport different kinds of crude oil, one of which is diluted bitumen, a heavier oil derived from the Canadian oil sands.
What is dilbit?
Bitumen has a consistency similar to that of peanut butter so it needs to be diluted or blended with a light refined petroleum product – like the gasoline you put in your car – in order to flow in the pipeline.
There are a number of misconceptions about this heavier oil blend. Here are five myths about diluted bitumen:
#5 – Diluted bitumen is not really crude oil
Actually it is. Diluted bitumen has the same chemical and physical properties and density and viscosity levels than other types of crude oils.
This oil sands-derived crude oil has been travelling through North American pipelines for decades and is well understood by the industries responsible for producing, transporting and refining it.
#4 – Heavier oil blends are not safe to transport
Not true. We are heavily invested in making sure that every batch of oil we transport moves safely through our pipeline network. It’s important to remember that while every batch of crude oil has its own unique characteristics, each batch must meet strict specifications before we can accept it into our pipeline system to transport to refineries that convert it into gasoline and other petroleum products.
The physical and chemical properties of the more than one billion barrels of crude oils transported safely by the Keystone pipeline since 2010 are very similar to the heavy crude oils refined in the U.S. from sources, including California crude, as well as crudes imported from Venezuela, Nigeria and Russia.
#3 – The diluent is sent back out west on rail cars after refining
No, it’s not. Diluent is a thinning agent added to the oil blend to make it easier to transport over long distances.
Regardless of the diluent used, it will be part of the refinement process for Energy East crude oil and it will typically become part of the gasoline that is created by a refinery and usually consumed locally.
Any diluent not used for gasoline can become a component of other products consumed locally, such as propane heating fuel.
#2 – Heavier oil blends sink if spilled in water
No they don’t, at least not for several days. Heavier blends of oil have the same characteristics as conventional crude oils, which float in still or slow-moving water. Crude oil can sink if it is allowed to weather and mix with dirt over an extended period of time – making a swift response to a spill in water critical.
#1 – Heavier oil blends are more corrosive than other crude oils
Absolutely not. Several studies by scientific organizations (U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Battelle Memorial Institute, Penspen Institute, Natural Resources Canada and the American Petroleum Institute) have concluded that heavier oil blends behave the same way as conventional crude oils.
Heavier blends are no more corrosive in pipelines than conventional crude oils. Corrosiveness in pipelines can come from water content and elements such as mud and sand. That’s why each batch of oil we receive is tested for viscosity, temperature, water content and suspended solids before it can enter our pipelines.
For further information, check the FAQs from Natural Resources Canada and a factsheet by the American Petroleum Institute.
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