While no Canadian “tar sands” crude oil is currently being shipped across the Great Lakes, the infrastructure for doing so is being put in place.
Now we learn that the first oil tanker full of the toxic, sinkable crude has been loaded onto a huge oil tanker last month at Sorel-Tracy, a Canadian port on the St. Lawrence River just downriver from Montreal. The oil sands bitumen traveled from Alberta by train, was stored in tanks and then loaded onto the Minerva Gloria. Three million people get their drinking water from the St. Lawrence River before it mixes with saltwater near the Atlantic. The Canadian government recently allowed the larger tanker ships into that area of the St. Lawrence. The CBC reports that 20 to 30 tankers full of oil sands bitumen are expected to travel on the St. Lawrence every year.
According to the oil company Suncor, the tanker that will carry the bitumen is double-hulled for safety and “diluted bitumen” is no more risky than other types of crude oil. “Diluted bitumen does not have any properties that augment the risks in relation to conventional crude” the company told Radio-Canada. But research suggests that is not the case, for diluted bitumen is more likely to sink and is harder to disperse than regular crude should a spill occur.
It was first reported that the oil sands tanker was bound for American refineries on the Gulf Coast. But Reuters reports that the Minerva Gloria actually went to a port in the Mediterranean, the first time oil sands crude was shipped directly across the Atlantic to Europe.
Getting the Alberta bitumen to lucrative foreign markets seems to be a corporate priority, which is why the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast refineries is so important to the oil companies and so resisted by people opposed to both the destruction of Canada’s boreal forest and further dependence on climate changing fossil fuels. If the Alberta bitumen can be transported via pipeline, train and ship to Great Lakes refineries, or sent directly via tankers to foreign nations, the oil companies now mining Alberta can move a lot more of their highly polluting, toxic oil even without the Keystone connection.
Of course, environmental resistance to shipping oil sands crude through Canada and its waters has begun. The Council of Canadians opposes the St. Lawrence bitumen tankers, and Environmental Defense of Canada is mounting strong opposition to the proposed Energy East pipeline that will carry Alberta bitumen to Eastern Canadian ports. We concerned conservationists here in the Great Lakes region must also make clear our opposition to putting oil sands crude in ships that sail our waters.