Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Dilbit is not Oil! (again)

Comment here:

Thanks Julie/Desmog. But you should never, ever refer to Dilbit as "oil".

Dilbit is not oil, it is not "crude", it is not "heavy crude" or "crude oil". It is none of those things.

For 250 years these words have referred to a raw, natural, complex mixture of a broad spectrum of hydrocarbons which comes out of the ground.

Dilbit is a brand new (only since 1995), high-tech, SYNTHETIC Franken-fuel never before seen on planet.

There are at least aa dozen important distinctions between your grandfather's "crude oil" and dilbit.

Even experts get this wrong:

> "Dilbit is not the same as crude oil," Vokes told DeSmog.


> "It is processed crude that has more benzene in it than crude oil." 

Bzzzzt. Not only is this logically an error (how can "processed crude" not be "crude oil"?), but it is also technically incorrect.

Since 1745, when the first oil well and refinery were built in Ukhta, Russia, the term "crude oil" has referred to a NATURAL product. Poke a hole in the ground, and up comes the bubbling sticky black stuff, a mixture of the light methane (C1), ethane (C2), propane (C3), butane (C4), pentane (C5), ... to kerosene (C6-C16), natural gasoline (C5-C10), naptha, heavier diesel (C8-C21), lubricating oil (C20-C30), fuel oil (C30-C40), grease and waxes (C40-C50), and bitumen (C50+).

But the global supplies of natural, broad spectrum "crude oil" are almost all gone. It takes extreme tech like arctic drilling or deep ocean drilling to recover the few remaining global deposits of crude left on the planet (outside of Saudi Arabia and other places in the middle east).

Just like how drug addicts turn to sniffing glue to get high, in utter desperation, the fossil fuel addicts looking for a fix have turned to the dregs of hydrocarbons: mining extra heavy bitumen, at great capital costs, energy inputs, as wells as social and environmental costs.

Bitumen, aka, "pitch", or "asphalt" is the heaviest of hydrocarbon tars, often made up of 60+ Carbon ions per molecule.

Raw bitumen is not oil -- the word denotes a "slippery liquid". Whereas bitumen is a semi-solid, resembling coal, and fractures like a rock when struck with a hammer.

There are two problems with trying to make refined products like gasoline out of bitumen.

First is that, while it is possible to smash the extra-long hydrocarbon molecules into smaller bits, which can then be recombined into useful products, it takes extremely high energy levels to do this, upwards of 800-1,000'C. It is also expensive in terms of capital: one refinery which can "upgrade" bitumen is the Suncor Upgrader in Ft. Mcmurray Alberta, which cost nearly $12 Billion Dollars.

The next problem is that only a few refineries can process bitumen in this way, most are on the Gulf Coast. So how do we get it there when raw bitumen, being a semi-solid, cannot be shipped in a pipeline?

However, in 1995, a Canadian scientist wrote a paper on how to change the viscosity of bitumen by adding light hydrocarbon fractions (variously called "natural gas liquids" or "condensate") as solvents, thus allowing it to flow in a pipelinem. Thus, "dilbit" was formed. 10 years later, the first dilbit pipeline was constructed, the Keystone-1, to take this product of the Alberta Tar Sands formation to the refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Here's the bottom line: for 250 years, the term "crude oil" has referred a natural product.

Dilbit is an ultra high-tech, SYNTHETIC (man-made) Franken-fuel.

It can be thought of as a form of SYNTHETIC crude, but it is really different and should be called something different.

There are many other important distinctions: the chemistry is different, the spill/cleanup properties are different, implications to human health are different, the corrosivity is different, it is regulated and taxed differently. The way it is produced is different.

Please, do not refer to dilbit as oil, even if Transcanada calls it that. Dilbit IS NOT OIL!

May you, and all beings
be happy and free from suffering :)
-- ancient Buddhist Prayer (Metta)

1 comment:

Leland T Snyder said...

Benzene is highly carcinogenic, the fact that this is a large component of gasoline and it easily enters a gaseous state is why NJ put in rules that you can't pump your own gas. Since this dill-bit uses a large amount of benzene as a solvent it would be equally dangerous for long term cancer prospects.

It is pretty well documented that there is a strong correlation between benzene and leukemia .