Prince Rupert final Canadian stop in first successful shipment of semi-solid bitumen, what are the impacts?

Company says shipment proves the viability of the BitCrude transportation

Prince Rupert was the final Canadian stop in the world’s first successful shipment of semi-solid bitumen before it makes its way over to global markets, announced Calgary-based Melius Energy on Thursday.

The company announced they successfully transported bitumen from Edmonton, Alta, to Prince Rupert, then to Asia in custom 20-foot shipping containers utilizing intermodal rail and vessel infrastructure.

The shipment is the company’s first BitCrude transportation process demonstration, proving the ability to move bitumen safely and efficiently, in adherence to Canada’s regulatory framework.

The BitCrude process uses electrically powered diluent recovery unit (DRU), avoiding fossil fuel combustion and requires no chemicals, additives or diluent.

“It’s a product that can alleviate a lot of concerns with moving Alberta’s heave oil through the community in British Columbia. The goal is a safe product and economical product with the focus being on safety,” Cal Broder, chairman on BitCrude Energery LP, said.

“The test shipment of a container of undiluted bitumen through Fairview Terminal, like all products that move through the Port of Prince Rupert, adhered to Canadian regulatory requirements, policies and procedures. This pilot was a proof of concept for this method of transport for the product inventor, and it is unknown if it will be proven viable and lead to more volumes,” stated the Prince Rupert Port Authority.

There are different types of crude oil, each with their own characteristics and impact on the environment.

READ MORE: Trans Mountain pipeline: The economics of oil

Environmental Impact

What is unique about this proof of concept is that it is a heavy crude oil like diluted bitumen however, it is not diluted. Broder compared it to the consistency of butter.

“What we do is approach things from the different perspective that we transport it when it is in a semi-solid form, so if something were to happen to that container it’s not going to leak or spill or mix in the environment.”

Broder said the company designed a specially built shipping container that holds the product.

Designed in such a way that there are no doors on it, the product is poured in from the top while it is still warm as a liquid before transforming into a semi solid.

Broder said the container won’t float much in fresh water and seawater, but just enough to the surface that they can spot them and pick them up in the event that a container tips overboard during transportation.

“It’s a matter of just picking them up. If the container were to bust open, the water of the ocean is cool enough that even at room temperature this bitumen doesn’t flow and it doesn’t mix. So water isn’t going to disperse it. And so that’s what’s very unique about this transportation is that keeps the product in one homogenized volume that really has no means of escaping,” he said.

Luanne Roth, who works with T. Buck Suzuki in the North Coast protecting fish habitats, said she thinks the idea is a lot better than tanker transportation.

“I must say, I thought a lot about how to ship this stuff and it seems pretty close. My daughter lives in Vancouver and I am worried about dilbit spills. Shipping by containers alleviates that concern,” she said.

When it comes to protection of the marine life, in the event of a spill, Greg Goss, professor of Biological Sciences specializing in marine biology, said bitumen is not the most toxic chemical on the list of products shipped overseas, but not the least either.

“When it comes to oil, there are literally 100 different types and they all have different toxicity, but for the most part the same types of responses for fish and level of toxicity,” he said. “There are just slight differences in the way it behaves in the environment. Toxicity is more based on dose or concentration. Any hydro-carbon spill is of concern to the ocean,the important part is having different responses to the spill.”

Goss said a high enough dose of toxicity can have lethal effects on fish, like cardiac development and swim performance, although it is dependent on the concentration.

Broder said the company’s BitCrude innovation meets the regulatory requirements of the recently passed federal oil tanker ban, Bill C-48, passed in parliament to protect the coast and its marine life.

READ MORE: Feds and First Nations to collaborate on monitoring oil spills


Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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