Bill would earmark PG&E fines for better pipelines

Two Bay Area lawmakers want to use revenue raised from fines leveled against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. – in connection with 2010’s San Bruno gas line explosion – to pay for upgrades to the utility’s transmission system, saying the move will save ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Under current state law, any fine assessed by the California Public Utilities Commission goes to the state’s general spending account, which pays for schools, prisons and other state programs.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, on Tuesday introduced legislation that would dedicate money raised from the explosion fines to pipeline upgrades. The measure is co-authored by San Francisco Democratic Sen. Mark Leno.

Hill said state regulators are expected to level at least $200 million – and probably far more – in penalties against the utility in connection with the deadly explosion. If that money is used for pipeline replacement instead of general state spending, he said, ratepayers would save at least $660 million.

“PG&E should not be allowed to profit from what has occurred,” Hill said. “The way it works now … PG&E will borrow the money for capital improvement costs and ratepayers will have to pay the principal back as well as interest.”

But the PUC also has authorized PG&E to grant its shareholders an 11.35 percent profit on its capital improvement projects – money that gets taxed. All these costs are to be paid for by ratepayers unless the bill passes.

Hill said that when you add up all of the additional costs, every dollar of penalty money spent on pipeline upgrades will save ratepayers $3 to $4.

“To me, those ratepayers within the PG&E service area are ones who have suffered the most … by living with an unsafe pipeline system,” he said. “I feel that those are the ratepayers who should benefit, or at least be made whole, from the penalties related to San Bruno.”

The PUC has not yet assessed fines against PG&E in connection with the San Bruno incident, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. But the utility’s managers set aside $200 million last year, saying they expect penalties could top that amount when three separate state investigations are complete.

Hill said PG&E is expected to spend more than $5 billion, including interest, over the next 50 years upgrading its transmission system to comply with federal recommendations.

Brian Swanson, a PG&E spokesman, said the utility has not taken a position on the bill but supports the concept.



Minister hits back at Apache’s claims

Mines and Petroleum Minister Norman Moore has hit back at suggestions he had misrepresented the public of Western Australia by not releasing certain documents requested by Apache North West.

The criticism of the Minister was made in court today by Apache’s legal representative.

“All I have done is provide to the public the State Government-commissioned report into the Varanus Island explosion incident, and I did that only after allowing Apache reasonable time to review and comment on the contents of that report,” Mr Moore said.

“Any suggestion that I ‘cherry picked’ any particular documents is grossly offensive.

“Ironically this is what Apache is doing in seeking the publication of only two documents out of many others.”

The US-based oil and gas producer on Tuesday took action in Perth Magistrate’s Court to bring about the release of a report by Curtin University Professor of Corrosion Chemistry Rolf Gubner on the 2008 disaster, which slashed the state’s domestic gas supplies by about a third.

Apache last week threatened to bring the matter to court if WA mines minister Norman Moore did not table the Gubner report in parliament along with the state government-commissioned Bills-Agostini report, which was damning of Apache.

The Gubner report said Apache had reasonable grounds to believe the pipeline that exploded was in good repair, the court was told by Robert Richter, QC, representing the company.

The Bills-Agostini report, on the other hand, said the pipeline ruptured and exploded at the shoreline because of corrosion that was “not only foreseeable but to some extent foreseen” by Apache.

Mr Richter said the Gubner report took a “very, very different view” and was “most vital and important to counterbalance the criticisms” of the Bills-Agostini report.

“He (Mr Moore) cherry-picked, leaving out that report,” Mr Richter told reporters outside court.

“Mr Gubner effectively said that Apache had every right to have an honest and reasonable belief, and that they had an honest and reasonable belief, that the integrity of the pipe was sound.

“This was a completely unforeseen episode of highly accelerated and unusual corrosion.”

Mr Richter argued Apache could not itself release the Gubner report because it would breach an aspect of the Criminal Procedure Act applying to current court matters.

Mr Moore said the two documents in question, together with a range of other information, were supplied by the State Government and Apache under the discovery process for the prosecution.

Mr Moore said the documents from Apache’s employees were obtained under Schedule 3 of the Criminal Procedure Act, which prohibits publication of evidence obtained in a pre-trial examination.  However, Apache is able to disclose information held by its employees if it chooses to do so.

“As far as the Government is concerned, as stated in the court today, we would be prepared to make the Government documents available to the public, provided Apache makes its material available,” he said.

“The State submitted to the Court that Apache should not be allowed to cherry pick two documents which suit its purposes and use those documents, out of context, in a misleading manner.”

The state government recently abandoned its criminal prosecution case against the company and also ruled out civil action because it had received advice that it had no case.

However, court permission is still required before the Gubner report can be released.

Mr Richter said Apache sought to “untie its hands” so it could defend itself properly.

State Solicitor’s Office lawyer Rob Mitchell, SC, said the WA government would not seek to obstruct the release of the report.

The matter has been adjourned until Friday.

Road cave-in caused by corrosion in slab

MUMBAI: The Andheri (E) road cave-in on Tuesday was caused by corrosion of steel in a slab, it has been revealed prima facie.

Consultant D S Joshi, who made the submission to the BMC, told TOI that material from the site had been sent for laboratory tests to ascertain the reasons for the corrosion. “I would be able to give the exact reasons once the report is available. It would take about a week,” he added.

Meanwhile, the BMC on Wednesday decided to conduct an audit of all concrete slabs over nullahs across the city.

The 30-ft road in Gundavali village has two lanes on either side of a 20-ft-wide nullah. The road was built by laying slabs atop portions of the nullah in 1985.

N V Merani, chairman of the Standing Technical Advisory Committee (STAC), said the nullah’s water could have eroded the earth below the slabs. “The other possible reasons could be lack of maintainance or poor quality,” he said, adding that laboratory results could only shed light on the extent of loss of strength due to corrosion and not the reasons behind the same.

“This can be found out only through close inspection of the corroded section by an experienced engineer,” he said.

Two weeks ago, the STAC had raised the issue of old civic bridges with the BMC. There are 253 bridges in the city; of these, 102 are over waterways, 17 are flyovers, 41 road overbridges, 93 foot over-bridges and subways.

“We did a study of 34 old bridges three years ago. By now, they should have been repaired or reconstructed. But nothing has moved,” said Merani.

The STAC had recommended that a separate chief engineer be appointed to exclusively monitor bridges and concrete roads. The BMC has created a post not filled it up. “The MMRDA is constructing flyovers and roads and handing them over to the BMC. The corporation needs to appoint a person to that post. We have even suggested that if they cannot promote an engineer, they can get someone on deputation. But decisions in the BMC are ad-hoc,” he said.


Cessna offers training on corrosion inspections

Cessna Aircraft Co. has developed a training program for service technicians to support a far-reaching effort to identify and correct corrosion, fatigue, and cracks in high-time aircraft.

The 40-hour training course in Wichita, Kan., is designed for mechanics, covering techniques for visual inspection, as well as ultrasound and other methods for visualizing airframe structures. The program is geared toward the massive fleet of 100-series aircraft built between 1946 and 1986. In December, Cessna announced pending updates to service manuals for 100- and 200-series aircraft. The FAA this month issued a direct-to-final-rule airworthiness directive (AD) requiring one-time inspection of the lower wing spar caps installed in Cessna 210, P210, and T210 models following reports of spar cap cracks in Australia and Canada.

Inspections there revealed five aircraft with cracks in Australia, and one in Canada, according to the Cessna Pilots Association.

Cessna spokesman Andy Woodward said procedures and repair requirements for any 200-series models found with spar cap problems is “an issue we’re still looking at.”

For the 100-series fleet, several times larger than the estimated 3,000 to 4,000 Cessna 210 models in the active U.S. fleet, the new inspection requirements vary by model and total time. According to Cessna, there are about 47,000 100-series aircraft registered in the U.S. that are subject to the inspections, out of roughly 84,000 made prior to 1986.

“Corrosion and fatigue are inevitable on any make and model of airframe with a high amount of hours. However, with early detection and proper maintenance, severity and effects can be minimized,” said Beth Gamble, Cessna’s principal airframe structure engineer. “The 100-series inspection requirements are very simple, and begin with a visual inspection that can be done quickly by a trained inspector during an annual inspection.”

Varanus Island gas explosion report slams Apache

US oil-and-gas giant Apache Energy has failed to block a scathing review of the Varanus Island gas explosion, which cut 30 per cent of Western Australia’s supply and cost the economy an estimated $3 billion.

Apache claimed the explosion at its plant off WA’s North-West coast in June 2008 was “unforseen and unforeseeable”.

But a long-awaited WA Government-commissioned report into the disaster, tabled in Parliament, contradicts those claims.

It found the company should have been alerted to the risks by evidence of corrosion of a 30cm pipe that later ruptured and exploded, causing $60 million damage to the plant and cutting industrial gas supplies to the state.

“We believe the risk of this occurring was not only foreseeable but to some extent foreseen,” the report stated.

The report also found Apache did not properly assess risks to the pipe network and did not have enough safety measures in place.

Apache has tried to suppress the report since it was completed in June 2009.

WA Mines and Petroleum Minister Norman Moore told the Legislative Council today the report was scathing of Apache’s gas pipeline operations.

“I can inform the House that the report is highly critical of Apache, particularly regarding the company’s technical and operational failings as the operator,” he said.

“The report concluded Apache Northwest had the ultimate responsibility for maintaining the Varanus site in good condition and repair.”

The State Government tried to prosecute Apache over the disaster, but was forced to drop the criminal proceedings in March on a technicality.

It said it could not prove the gas giant failed to adequately maintain its “pipeline”, under the legal definition, as the corroded section of gas piping was described as “pipeworks”.

The tabling of the report in WA’s Upper House may now lead to civil action against the company.


PG&E Names New Executive to Gas Pipeline Team

PG&E added another executive to its gas operations team to help rebuild the company following the 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno.

Jesus Soto Jr., who is currently the vice president of operation services for El Paso Corp.’s pipeline group, will now become PG&E’s senior vice president of gas transmission, operations, engineering and pipeline integrity.

In his new role, Soto Jr. will be responsible for four areas for the company:

  • public safety and integrity management;
  • project engineering, design and management;
  • gas transmission; and
  • gas system operations.

“PG&E and our customers are fortunate to have someone with such a strong background working to make our system the best in the country,” said Nick Stavropoulos, PG&E’s executive vice president of gas operations, who was recently hired himself to help chart a new path for the utility following the San Bruno disaster. “We have already made excellent progress in turning our operations around, and there is still more to do. I have every confidence Jesus will play a major role in meeting this challenge.”

PG&E has been steadily making strides to revamp its pipeline operations by bringing in Stavropoulos and new CEO Anthony Earley and following through on the pipeline safety recommendations the National Transportation Safety Board issued following the explosion.

The utility also is trying to get a $2.2 billion plan approved by the California Public Utilities Commission to modernize its pipeline system throughout the state.

Meanwhile, PG&E has still been beset with problems stemming from its pipeline operations.

The CPUC recently fined PG&E $3 million for failing to comply with the commission’s orders to provide records for its gas transmission pipelines following the explosion. The company has set aside another $200 million for pending fines that are expected for the explosion.

More than 250 people have filed lawsuits against PG&E for the explosion, and the jury trial starts in July. The lawsuits are expected to be costly.

PG&E also just reached a settlement with the city for $70 million as restitution for the fire.

Soto said he hopes to help turn the company’s operations around.

“I look forward to quickly integrating myself into the PG&E Gas Operations organization and reinforcing a team and a culture that are driven to operational excellence anchored in public, employee and contractor safety, facility integrity, regulatory compliance and system reliability,” he said in a statement.


Golden Gate celebrates 75th with help of engineers

The Golden Gate Bridge was heralded as an engineering marvel when it opened in 1937. It was the world’s longest suspension span and had been built across a strait that critics said was too treacherous to be bridged.

But as the iconic span approaches its 75th anniversary over Memorial Day weekend, the generations of engineers who have overseen it all these years say keeping it up and open has been something of a marvel unto itself.

Crews had to install a bracing system after high winds lashed and twisted the span in the 1950s, raising fears it would collapse. Years later, they had to replace vertical cables when they were found to have corroded in the bridge’s damp, foggy climate, potentially destabilizing the span.

The bridge, which rises majestically above a Civil War era fort on the San Francisco side and arches across to the Marin County headlands on the north side, is currently in the midst of a seismic upgrade that has seen many of its key structures replaced or modified. Plans for a moveable barrier to separate north and southbound traffic and a net system to prevent suicides are also moving forward.

“When (one of the bridge’s designers) made his final speech during opening day ceremonies in 1937, he said, ‘I present to you a bridge that will last forever,'” said Daniel Mohn, the bridge’s former chief engineer, who co-authored a book about the span. “What he should have said is, ‘I present to you a bridge that will last forever if properly maintained.'”

The idea for a bridge across the Golden Gate strait, where San Francisco Bay meets the Pacific Ocean, was championed by the engineer Joseph Strauss in the 1920s. Strauss’s original design, submitted to San Francisco city officials in 1921, called for a hybrid cantilever-suspension bridge. The idea for a full-suspension span — the design that was ultimately built — came later.

At a little more than three-fourths of a mile in length, the Golden Gate Bridge would become the world’s longest suspension span.

It had to be light enough to hang from its own cables, but still strong enough to withstand the strait’s fierce winds and the possibility of earthquakes. Some said it was impossible.

Engineers also had to calculate all the potential forces on the bridge without the help of computers.

“In those days, you had (notebooks) and a number two pencil and you wrote it out, did all the math at your desk,” said Kevin Starr, a history professor at the University of Southern California, who has also written about the bridge.

Eleven men died during construction from 1933 to 1937 — ten of them when scaffolding fell through a safety net that had been set up to protect workers.

The conditions were difficult, cold, foggy and windy, and workers who helped construct supports for the south tower had to contend with dangerous tides.

But it was the wind that would continue to vex engineers years after the bridge’s completion. In 1951, it was closed for several hours when wind gusts approached 70 mph and caused the bridge to flutter.

It was twisting so badly, Mohn recalled during a recent phone interview, that the light standards at the center of the span were striking the main cables.

“It sure almost destroyed the Golden Gate Bridge,” he said. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington — a suspension bridge whose designer also worked on the Golden Gate — had twisted and snapped in about 40 mph winds a little more than a decade earlier. That 1940 collapse was captured on film.

Although the Golden Gate Bridge had stiffening trusses that made it less susceptible to wind, it did sustain damage, Mohn said.

Officials decided to add lateral bracing that made the trusses more stable and reduced the chances of the bridge going into a potentially catastrophic twisting motion.

The bridge would be able to withstand winds of 70 mph today although the goal is to eventually increase its tolerance to 100 mph, according to Ewa Bauer, the bridge’s current chief engineer.

The wind is not the only element to take its toll on the span. The damp, foggy air has also kept its painters and engineers busy.

“You couldn’t have put the bridge in a more corrosive atmosphere than in the middle of the Golden Gate with that salt fog coming in,” Mohn said.

Engineers discovered in the 1970s that the bridge’s suspender ropes — the vertical cables that connect the deck to the main cables — had corroded, some so badly that they could be picked apart with a pocket knife.

The problem in part, Mohn said, was that bridge maintenance had been neglected for many years, particularly during World War II. A design flaw also hastened corrosion.

All of the cables were replaced in the mid-1970s.

There was another scare on the bridge during its 50th anniversary in 1987 when an estimated 300,000 pedestrians gathered on the span, which was closed to vehicle traffic.

The weight of the crowd flattened out the arch of the bridge deck and caused some revelers to suffer motion sickness as the bridge swayed.

Although the bridge supported its heaviest load in 50 years that day, Mohn would later conclude the weight and movement had not exceeded its design capacity.

Today, among the engineers’ most pressing concerns is the potential effect of a major earthquake.

The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which occurred during a live broadcast of the World Series, caused two 50-foot sections of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge to collapse.

The Golden Gate Bridge was not damaged. But the quake still spurred bridge officials to undertake a massive retrofit of the span — a $660 million project that began in 1997 and is still underway.

Bridge pylons have been reinforced with steel and towers under the bridge’s two approaches were replaced, all while keeping the bridge open and its appearance unchanged. Retrofitting the suspension span is the project’s final phase although experts say its flexibility makes it less vulnerable in an earthquake.

“If I knew when an earthquake was coming, I’d get to the suspension span of the Bay Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge,” said Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl, an engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley who studied the Golden Gate Bridge after Loma Prieta. “They are safest places to be.”

The goal is to withstand an 8.1-magnitude earthquake when the retrofit is completed years from now.

The bridge district is also moving forward with plans for a steel net below the span to prevent suicides.

The Golden Gate Bridge has long lured people looking to end their lives. More than 1,200 people have plunged to their deaths from the span since it opened.

The bridge’s board of directors approved the net system in 2008. Funding for the project, which is estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars, has not yet been secured but work on its final design is underway.

The bridge, like other infrastructure, has a lifespan. But Bauer and Mohn say with proper maintenance, the Golden Gate Bridge will endure. The retrofit project alone will buy the span another 150 years, Bauer estimated.

“I believe the bridge was built to absolute great standards of workmanship,” she said on a recent morning at a vista point overlooking the span. “What we are doing right now is repairing…and you can truly do it indefinitely.”

Hammersmith tunnel ‘solution to crumbling flyover’

A west London council has said building a tunnel is the long-term solution to replace a “crumbling” flyover.

The Hammersmith Flyover has been under repair works since December and is scheduled to reopen fully on 30 May.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council said: “We must continue to push for an alternative solution, and that is a tunnel.”

Transport for London (TfL) said the flyover “would be able to survive for several further decades”.

A council spokesman said: “TfL must realise that we cannot simply accept patch-jobs to prolong the life of this monstrous outdated and crumbling structure.”

TfL Surface Transport spokesman Garrett Emmerson said: “Our engineers, contractors and traffic control operators continue to work flat out to deliver a permanent fix to the Hammersmith Flyover well ahead of the 2012 Games.

“The structure would be able to survive for several further decades.

“However the Mayor has also asked us to consider long term options for the area and that work will consider a range of possible solutions to the area’s future needs.”

The strengthening works, which began in January, have seen about 200m (650ft) of the central reservation along the flyover removed, a new structural slab and concrete barriers installed, as well as tailored anchorages for the new cables installed within the structure.

TfL has been carrying out two weeks of overnight closures to flyover since 15 May to carry out the final parts of this work.

It said it would return to the structure in 2013 for more strengthening work which will be carried out, where possible, with no weight or lane restrictions and minimal closures to the flyover.


Lockheed’s Littoral Ship ‘Corroding Before Our Eyes’

Bloomberg — Lawmakers say they want Congress’s auditing agency to investigate how the Navy has handled failings with its new Littoral Combat Ship, including when the service learned of cracks and corrosion.

“It’s disturbing the Navy would accept a ship that fails to meet the basic requirements for a tugboat,” Representative Jackie Speier said in a statement yesterday as the House Armed Services Committee endorsed her request that the Government Accountability Office review the $37 billion, 55-ship program. “The future of the fleet is corroding before our eyes.”

The Littoral Combat Ship is intended to clear mines, hunt for submarines, defend itself against swarming small vessels and provide humanitarian relief in shallow coastal waters. Cracks were found in a version being built by a team led by Lockheed Martin Corp. Corrosion was found in the first vessel made by Austal Ltd. and General Dynamics Corp. The review would involve both models.

The amendment by Speier, a California Democrat, was adopted during the House committee’s consideration of legislation to authorize defense programs for fiscal 2013. The Senate has yet to take up its version of the bill.

Even with demands for more scrutiny of the Littoral Combat Ship, the full committee supported the $2.2 billion requested by the Navy for the next four vessels, including $429.4 million in development funds, in the defense authorization measure it approved today. The House defense appropriations subcommittee also has approved funding for the four ships.

Support ‘Remains Solid’

“Our impression is that congressional support remains solid,” Rear Admiral James Murdoch, the program executive officer, told reporters yesterday on a conference call. “Obviously, I am held accountable for any concerns about ship construction issues, and I welcome the scrutiny. We take all issues seriously.”

Republican Representative Reid Ribble, whose Wisconsin district includes the shipyard where the Lockheed Martin vessels are built and many of the workers, issued a statement to “rebuff baseless claims that undermine their work.” He said “the small issues that are normal for any newly designed vessel” have been corrected.

Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Dana Casey said questions raised about its first vessel, the USS Freedom, “appear to be based on selective information that is outdated or inaccurate.” The vessel was deployed two years ahead of schedule and “is providing important lessons that are being incorporated into future ships,” she said in an e-mailed statement.

‘Getting Job Done’

Austal USA spokesman Craig Hooper said his company’s first vessel, the USS Independence, “has been quietly getting the job done, doing the critical yet low-profile work required to deploy cutting-edge mine warfare tools and sensors.”

Representative Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, and Senate Armed Services Committee leaders Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, and John McCain, an Arizona Republican, also have requested that the GAO assess concerns about the ship’s sea frame and mission equipment.

“Sure, there are criticisms and we kind of welcome those, but it helps us kind of sharpen our focus on what it is we need to go work on,” Rear Admiral Thomas Rowden, the Navy’s director of surface warfare, told reporters yesterday. “But these are incredibly capable ships, and we are finding the issues and addressing them.”

Lockheed, General Dynamics

Lockheed Martin, based in Bethesda, Maryland, is leading construction of its ship model in Marinette Marine Corp.’s shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin. The other version is being built in Mobile, Alabama, by a team led by Austal, based in Henderson, Australia, and General Dynamics, based in Falls Church, Virginia.

Completion of 55 ships in the class would represent about 17 percent of a surface fleet with aircraft carriers, destroyers and amphibious assault ships.

The Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan group that has criticized the ship, issued a report last month using year-old Navy documents to highlight construction difficulties.

McCain said cracks, flooding and corrosion problems on the first ships have been corrected, and construction costs have declined from a peak of more than $700 million a ship to less than $360 million.

Mission Modules

“Over the last year, nearly all of the reported deficiencies have been fixed on the lead ships and design changes have been integrated into the follow-ships with minor cost impact,” McCain said in an April 30 statement. He said his concern now is with the ship’s “mission modules,” equipment that can be installed depending on the combat assignment.

A lack of progress in developing the modules may “throw the program out of sync and threaten its success,” McCain said in the statement.

The equipment includes an $89.4 million “mine- countermine” module designed to detect and neutralize mines at varying depths. Northrop Grumman Corp. is the prime contractor for the modules.

The mine detection system isn’t meeting its combat specifications for distinguishing between mines and other objects in a search area as well as detecting and pinpointing a mine’s depth, according to the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation.

The Navy program office rates the counter-mine module’s performance characteristics as “yellow,” the middle category in a grading system with green for best and red for worst, according to program review documents.

Debate Intensifies Over Oil Produced From Canada’s Oil Sands

As the U.S. continues to increasingly rely on Canada as its most important foreign oil source, environmentalists and scientists are concerned about the repercussions of the partnership.

The U.S. has worked to fundamentally alter domestic oil and natural gas drilling over the past decade, as lawmakers work to achieve the long sought after goal of energy independence. While drilling activity has jumped both on and offshore in the U.S., the nation has increased its Canadian imports target as well.

However, Canada’s oil sands produce a kind of oil that engineers assert has a greater negative impact on the environment. Refining such oil requires new technology that releases a substantial amount of greenhouse gases, environmentalists say, and they are growing more concerned by the symbiotic relationship between the two North American neighbors and allies.

CNN reports that imports of oil from Canada’s oil sands are poised to jump more than 300 percent over the next 10 years. The failure of backers to ensure the construction of a pipeline that would transport such oil directly from Canada to refineries in the U.S. underscored how environmentalists have opposed the jump in what they deem “dirty oil,” but proponents are pushing forward with plans to build even more ambitious pipelines over the next few years.

By 2020, the U.S. is expected to import almost 10 percent of its total oil consumption from Canada’s oil sands, with more than 1.5 million barrels reaching the U.S. each day according to data from the Sierra Club. Such a precipitous uptick would require a major restructuring of the nation’s domestic refining facilities, and could spur a major wave ofengineering research and development as scientists work to improve such a process, experts say.

Canada’s oil sands produce bitumen, unlike wells in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world where crude oil is extracted. Bitumen, according to scientists, is significantly heavier than crude and, as a result, requires a more demanding refining process. What’s more, it is so viscous that oil companies must first dilute the fossil fuel with natural gas liquids before it can be transported through pipelines.

The debate over the transportation of bitumen has become the focal point of controversy as imports surge, according to the news provider. Environmentalists contend it is exceedingly dangerous to send bitumen through pipelines, as it could spur corrosion. However, scientists have thus far been unable to conclusively prove a causal relationship.

Moreover, some industry watchers have questioned whether the nation’s existing pipeline architecture is capable of transporting bitumen. UPI reports that pipeline operators said such an assertion is unsubstantiated, but the Sierra Club has argued the U.S. is not prepared for the coming deluge of bitumen imports.

“We’ve got all this unconventional crude and we’re completely unprepared for it,” said Michael Marx, a campaign director at the environmental organization.

Marx also said that bitumen is more difficult to clean up than conventional crude, as it is heavier than water and sinks. “We just don’t have the technical sophistication to vacuum oil off the bottom of a river,” Marx said.

Officials in Canada have strongly argued against the “dirty oil” label over the past few years. While they concede it requires a more thorough refining process, they noted that the U.S. routinely imports non-crude heavy oils from other nations. Still, environmentalists have increased their efforts to slow the surge in oil imports.

Oil engineers at the U.S. Department of Transportation, which is tasked with regulating oil pipelines, are currently working to more effectively study the subject. The oil industry and environmentalists are awaiting the results.