National Academy Study on Dilbit Spills

Following two major spills of tar sands oil (in the form of diluted bitumen) in 2010 and 2013, it became clear that years of warnings from scientists and the environmental community about the dangers of transporting this thick, toxic substance were significant and poorly understood. Indeed, NRDC raised many of these issues in a 2011 report on tar sands pipeline safety hazards, which highlighted a number of risks posed by tar sands transported as diluted bitumen and called for new regulations aimed at addressing these risks. Now, the National Academy of Sciences has released a reportexamining the environmental fate of the most common form of tar sands oil–diluted bitumen–when it is spilled from pipelines. In the NAS’ latest report, researchers confirmed that diluted bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands differs substantially from other types of oil commonly moved by pipeline across the U.S. These differences can lead to extremely difficult spill response situations where oil that initially floated begins to submerge and finally sink after only a brief period of weathering. On top of this, the NAS also found that our first responders and the various local, state, and federal agencies that respond to oil spills are poorly equipped to deal with spills of diluted bitumen. In light of this lack of preparedness, the NAS called on key agencies–from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Agency (PHMSA) to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)–to implement a number of significant changes to their spill response regulations in order to address the unique threats and challenges posed by tar sands oil being moved as diluted bitumen

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