Studying for Safety – Oil Sands

<<Back to Articles

Would you be surprised to know that oil sands, tar sands, and diluted bitumen all refer to the same material? Oil sands refer to a type of petroleum hydrocarbon that is associated with sandstone.

Our neighbor to the north, Canada, is home to some of the largest oil sand reserves in the world. New technology and its location make the reserves more accessible and affordable than in the past.

There has been much discussion and even public debate as to the need to develop and transport oil sands. Production of oil sands has occurred since the late 1960s. And, oil sand producers have depended on pipelines to move the oil to refiners in the U.S. and Canada.

Arguments have been made that oil sands are more corrosive than that of traditional crude petroleum and therefore there is an increased risk of a leak or rupture. To address this issue, a major study has just been completed by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The study was directed by Congress to determine whether existing regulatory requirements are sufficient to address the transportation of oil sands.

Information was provided to the TRB regarding the history of crude oil releases. Specifically, from the time period of 2002 to mid-2012, there has been no reported release of Canadian oil sand caused by internal corrosion. Ultimately the final report found that:“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.”

The complete report can be found at: