The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Study: Oil Sands Crude is Indeed Oil

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted June 25, 2013

An article of faith with the anti-oil sands crowd is that the crude from Canada is dangerous because it’s more corrosive to pipelines than other crudes and therefore more prone to cause pipeline failures, leaks, spills and … you know the rest. You can sample some of that rhetoric here and here. But then consider something so much more authoritative than rhetoric: science.

A new study finds that Alberta oil sands crude is, well, oil and just as safe to transport via pipeline as other types of crudes. From the report of an expert panel formed by the National Research Council (an arm of the National Academy of Sciences):

The committee does not find any causes of pipeline failure unique to the transportation of diluted bitumen. Furthermore, the committee does not find evidence of chemical or physical properties of diluted bitumen that are outside the range of other crude oils or any other aspect of its transportation by transmission pipeline that would make diluted bitumen more likely than other crude oils to cause releases.

Detailed findings:

Diluted bitumen does not have unique or extreme properties that make it more likely than other crude oils to cause internal damage to transmission pipelines from corrosion or erosion.

  • Diluted bitumen’s density and viscosity ranges are comparable with those of other crudes.
  • It is moved through pipelines in a manner similar with other oils in terms of flow rate, pressure and operating temperature.
  • The amount and size of particles in diluted bitumen are comparable to those in other crudes and do not increase the risk of deposits or erosion.
  • Organic acids in diluted bitumen are not corrosive to steel at pipeline operating temperatures.

Diluted bitumen does not have properties that make it more likely than other crude oils to cause damage to transmission pipelines from external corrosion and cracking or from mechanical forces.

  • There is no evidence that operating temperatures and pressures are higher or more likely to fluctuate when pipelines transport diluted bitumen than when they transport other crude oils of similar density and viscosity.
  • Transportation of diluted bitumen does not differ from that of other crude oils in ways that can lead to conditions that cause mechanical damage to pipelines.

Pipeline operation and maintenance (O&M) practices are the same for shipments of diluted bitumen as for shipments of other crude oils.

  • The study did not find evidence indicating that pipeline operators change or would be expected to change their O&M practices in transporting diluted bitumen.

API Pipeline Director Peter Lidiak:

“Canadian oil sands crudes have been transported safely in the U.S. for more than 40 years. All crude oils have to meet the same criteria when put in a pipeline, which protects the pipeline and communities along its route, as well as the quality of all transported crudes. Since the U.S. Office of Pipeline Safety began keeping detailed statistics in 2002, not a single corrosion-related pipeline release from pipelines carrying any Canadian crude has been reported. Pipelines remain a safe and reliable mode of transportation for the vital energy resources Americans needs. We hope the NAS study will finally put false claims to the contrary to rest.”


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.