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Keystone XL: DilBit Through the Heartland

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Massive corporate attacks on the environment are often heralded by wildly-inflated promises of jobs, a standard brilliantly reflected by Keystone XL.

TransCanada purports that Keystone XL construction will create 20,000 American jobs.

Numbers from independent analysis seem more realistic, freer of agenda, averaging out to: 50 permanent jobs and 2,500 temporary jobs--but wait a minute. Considering jobs in emergency-response, clean-up, and environmental rehabilitation (where possible) created by DilBit erupting from Keystone XL... 20,000 jobs might seem like an underestimation.

Could tar mop-up be a new major growth industry, brought to us by a neighbor we thought was friendly?

Perhaps TransCanada was simply not open and transparent regarding the kind of jobs Keystone XL will create. After all, TransCanada was open and transparent on September 17, 2009, when they described Keystone XL as "... a boon for corporate profits, but a burden to American consumers."

Tar With Attitude

Corrosion is a huge menace to DilBit pipelines, but corrosion takes time. An immediate and permanent hazard is called "column separation".

The "column" is a mass of DilBit up to thirty miles long being squeezed along like toothpaste. Variations in pipeline pressure cause diluents to change from liquid to gas, creating a bubble, or column separation, within the pipeline. Collapse of bubbles can result in pressure spikes capable of deforming or even rupturing pipeline.
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Column separation can also make it very difficult to detect leaks. A bubble can impede the flow of DilBit to and from nearby pump stations, giving pipeline operators signs similar to a leak. If the impeded flow is interpreted as a column separation, more DilBit is forced through the pipeline--which can be horrific if there is a leak.

Keystone uses leak-detection technology developed for crude-oil pipelines. 294,000 gallons of loss per day is needed to activate automatic-safety responses. In the Marshal spill, the Enbridge pipeline erupted Dilbit into the Kalamazoo River for over twelve hours before pipeline shutdown.

If a leak is detected and safety valves block the flow of DilBit, a potentially devastating phenomenon called a "fluid hammer" can elevate pressures far above the pipeline's operating pressure. A column of DilBit at high pressure is like a freight train 30-miles long--impossible to stop quickly. Tons of inertia feed a train wreck inside the pipeline... a fluid hammer.

Yet another unique DilBit hazard: in a pipeline rupture, diluents can explode--natural-gas condensates so flammable they can even set raw bitumen on fire. Burning raw bitumen boils up toxic clouds containing a gas lethal in minute concentrations: hydrogen sulfide.

Emergency personnel responding to a DilBit pipeline eruption must be fully trained and equipped to deal with hydrogen sulfide drifting toward populated areas. The gas is heavier than air, creating severe exposure potential because it hugs the ground, pooling in hollows, canyons, valleys... populated areas, generally.
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U.S. Best Interests

TransCanada so rarely tells the truth, when it happens it's an  event--especially when something as profound as Keystone XL being "... a boon for corporate profits, but a burden for American consumers" is spilled.

Keystone XL... a pipeline for the blackest goo that ever shined doom in all colors.

$5.2 billion and counting spent to extend fossil-fuel dependence. $5.2 billion that could have funded energies that offer a future.

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Rand Clifford lives in Spokane, Washington. His novels and earlier essays can be found at

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